This is a special early release of our next article being published in The Enterprise business newspaper in Salt lake City next Thursday.
So, what is Social Media and why do I need it?
Social Media is a way of communicating with people over the internet using social networks and other online tools. Think about a group of friends. When friends need advice or recommendations, they generally trust the opinions of their peers. Social media works in the same way, but using the internet, a business’s reach can be much wider. Using social networks like Facebook and Twitter, and publishing a blog, businesses can communicate to a much broader audience in a way that is more personal.
Social media also allows for interaction. Traditional marketing and advertising is one-sided, meaning businesses can announce their products and services, but rarely maintain ongoing contact. Readers can comment on blog posts, forward tweets to their network of friends on Twitter, and can join Facebook groups and fan pages. Using social media to market your business can be an effective way to gauge how the company’s message and brand is perceived.
How do I get started?
Signing up for various social networking websites is easy and straightforward, however, using those sites, in conjunction with each other, can be a bit daunting at first. A good first step is to sign up for a Facebook account, since it is probably the most social of the social networks.
Start by following the prompts to search for people that you know, and begin inviting them as friends. You can also add applications, join groups and causes, and build a business page. Be cautious with your posts. It is a good idea for businesses to follow the 95/5 rule. Ninety-five percent of your Facebook posts should be informational, funny or personal. Use the remaining five percent to talk about your business, offer special deals or coupons, and provide contact information. You don’t talk to friends and family about work in every conversation (if you do, stop it), so avoid doing the same here.
Twitter allows you to post updates quickly and easily. This form of micro-blogging has become a popular way to quickly publish information for your “followers” to glimpse. Known as texting for the internet, your posts can only be a maximum of 140 characters. People who are interested in what you have to say can subscribe to your posts, known as “tweets.” Many people receive “tweets” on their computer, phone and instant messaging programs.
A blog allows you to publish longer articles and information that may interest a wider audience by offering information, tips, and knowledgeable insights into your industry. If you provide easy to follow information in a way that is not pushy or “salesy”, people who read or follow your blog may be inclined to choose your business over a competitor. Your blog design can be customized to match your business branding, and used as a gateway to your business website. Most blogs don’t require a reader to be a member of a social networking site, and they can be found through any major search engine, like Google or Yahoo. WordPress and Blogger are probably the two most popular blogging websites, and only take minutes to set up.
It seems like a lot to manage.
Although the benefits of utilizing social media can be positive, successfully maintaining it can be quite an investment in time. A good rule of thumb is to schedule time on a daily or weekly basis for social media. Set aside 20-30 minutes daily to update posts, manage friend requests, and other tasks. Schedule this time out and it will soon become an automatic part of your day.
A good way to save time and make it easier to post to Twitter and Facebook is to use a social media management suite. There are several companies that offer a one-stop portal to help manage your social media accounts. Hootsuite allows you to update multiple social networking sites from one easy interface, tie those together, and schedule posts. Scheduling posts is a very effective way of keeping your social media presence active, without having to engage those sites all the time. You can schedule posts to Facebook, Twitter and even LinkedIn months in advance.
You can also schedule future blog posts through Blogger and WordPress. For a successful blog, you should have at least one post per week. If you can write multiple posts at once, and schedule them to appear on future dates, your time will be much more productive. Most blog sites also have features that allow you to post a blog update by simply writing and sending an email.
Ok, but what do I write about?
Any published author will tell you that you should write what you know. As a business professional, there is much that you have to offer. You have experience in your profession that makes you an expert, and your social media offerings should reflect that.
A blog can be written as a helpful tool for your potential and current customers. Try to keep your blog entries short and sweet (200-600 words). Include links to your business website, other articles on the internet, or any other reference to the subject you are writing about. Try to include 2-3 links per blog entry. Try to include pictures in as many blog posts as you can, but at least one picture every couple of blog posts. Pictures break the monotony of words, and can maintain longer interest from your readers.
When posting to Twitter and Facebook, shorter entries can be used to promote your blog, specials and coupons, and other pertinent information for your business. Just remember to keep your posts light and somewhat entertaining. The last thing you want is for your network contacts to “un-friend” you.
Social Media is a great tool for reaching potential clients, but don’t tackle all of these options at once. As you comfortably develop the basic skills of social networking, consider incorporating more social media platforms, or use more advanced strategies for optimizing your existing social media offerings. Regard social media as one of the tools in your marketing strategy, but don’t be fooled into thinking it’s your single golden ticket.
Blogs, Facebook and Twitter posts can help your business gain a better presence on the internet, keep your brand fresh and on the minds of your customers, and help you reach potential clients that you may have not been able to attract through regular marketing strategies.
So, what are you waiting for? Go get social.