Improving Your Social (Media) Skills

It’s not enough to hop onto social media sites and start posting. You need a strategy and a plan when you use it in your business. By Samuel Greengard

During the last few years, social media has swept over the business world like a tsunami. It has altered the way organizations interact with customers and how they market their goods and services. Today, “The challenge for many companies is trying to find ways to build social media into the overall framework of the business,” states Jennifer Carroll, social media and content marketing strategist for Pole Position Marketing Inc., a Uniontown, Ohio, marketing consulting firm.

It's no simple task. Putting social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube to work in a meaningful way is fraught with obstacles. And for VARs and MSPs, the task is further complicated by the strong business-to-business underpinnings of relationships. Some sites, such as Facebook, are better suited to the B2C space. The end result for many businesses is a scattershot approach that devours time and resources but does little to raise brand awareness and sales.

Marketing experts say, however, that navigating social media and achieving bottom-line results is within the reach of almost every business. “Like any initiative, it's all about focus and investing adequate time in an initiative,” notes Jennifer Cario, president of SugarSpun Marketing, a Bentleyville, Pa., consulting firm. “The idea isn't to be everywhere; it's to be where you can make the greatest impact and improve the way you interact with your customers.”

MOVING BEYOND “LIKE”

It's no secret that social media has changed the dynamics of marketing in remarkable ways. According to digital marketing firm Econsultancy, 73 percent of companies with annual revenues of less than $150 million agree that social media is integral to their marketing plans. Yet measurable results are often elusive. It's not OK to simply shovel sales pitches and product information at an audience. “There must be a real connection and real value associated with a 'Like' or 'Follow,'” Carroll notes.

A starting point for developing a social media plan is to identify what an organization hopes to accomplish with the medium. For one firm, the objective may be to emerge as a thought leader and use a blog to disseminate best practices advice. This may lead to new customers. For another, Twitter or Facebook could be used to deepen relationships or provide better service and support. For still another, YouTube videos could provide a visual overview of a new product or explain how to use it.

The biggest mistake a lot of organizations make, Carroll says, is posting randomly and too often. “Business executives frequently wind up posting whatever bubbles to the top of their mind. There's no link to the overall business strategy.” Instead, organizations should focus on the characteristics of their audience. As she puts it: “What are their needs? What are their pain points? What obstacles prevent them from using your product and service? What are their biggest pressures and concerns?”

An effective social media strategy also addresses customers at the right point in their buying cycle. This, of course, varies for different customers. It's important to make content available - marketing materials, videos, white papers, product briefs, technical support documents - and use social media to direct customers to these resources. This means using different social media sites for different purposes and needs, Cario says. It also means using search engine optimization (SEO) techniques to make content visible - and raise a company's overall visibility.

For example, “Facebook is probably not ideal for B2B communication whereas LinkedIn and Twitter are often useful,” Cario explains. “You can ask a question on LinkedIn and initiate a discussion that might allow you to discuss a feature or explore a solution more thoroughly.” Ultimately, she says, “The goal is to deliver useful information and content over a few social media channels that make the most sense.”

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