Jun 27, 2011

Friend, Follow, Like? Are you using social media appropriately?

The term social media is being used pretty much everywhere now. It’s popularity is on the rise, and in turn the methods for sharing through social media are also growing. It can be a bit overwhelming choosing how to share and what to share. I would like to share some guidelines on using social media effectively for your business. This is going to be a long post, so you may want to bookmark it for future reference.

Social Media

What is your strategy?

In order for social media to pay off for you, you will need a strategy. There are a lot of questions that many people have about how to use social media for their business. Other business are doing it (along with your competition), but going in with no plan can have damaging effects. Your customers expect certain things from social media. Can you effectively navigate the popular channels and turn this social experience into more business? To begin creating your strategy ask yourself some basic questions:

  • Who should you be sharing with?
  • What should you be sharing?
  • Why should your readers take action?
  • When should you share it?
  • How should you track it?

Who should you be sharing with?

This requires a little research and insight to your readers and/or customers, and an understanding of the major social media platforms. Facebook and Twitter are the big two, so lets talk about them for a bit. Twitter is labeled as a ‘micro-blogging’ platform. You can share whatever you want in 140 characters or less. This can be plain text or links to photos, videos, or other websites. Facebook allows you to write more content and share photos and videos in the same space. Anyone can ‘follow’ you with either service. So what’s the difference?

Facebook is truly a social platform. Users are encouraged to stay logged in and engaged, by connecting with friends, chatting, and viewing photos. Many Facebook users are using the site from a desktop browser. The tone of Facebook is like a high school reunion, lots of mingling with old friends and a comfortable atmosphere. Facebook users will ‘like’ businesses or brands that they feel connections to, and this generates long lasting and high quality contacts. Think of Facebook as a more intimate atmosphere to share with your ‘followers’. You have the ability to carry on more detailed conversations with Facebook. You can embed media and pictures, share links, and chat in real time. You have what equates to a mini interactive website centered around your business, to use in a way that compliments you social media strategy. Facebook users are likely to be looking for more of a curated conversation on Facebook and will want to be engaged with your brand. This is due to the social environment of Facebook, and relationships are at the core of the service. This information is something to keep in your mind when communicating with your Facebook following.

Twitter is a fast paced real time environment, twitter users are digesting content frequently and are likely to use it as a way to stay connected with people or brands that matter most to them. A very large percentage of Twitter users are using the service from mobile phones, contributing to its real time style stream of information. Twitter encourages you to share bite size chunks of information with your ‘followers’, and readers are likely to be looking for inside information or updates about products. Twitter’s tone is very different from Facebook – more like a large scale social event where you know fewer people and need a way to stand out and spread your name. Think of twitter as your brief moment to step up to a microphone at a huge gathering and say what is most important about your brand. But you can do this over and over as much as you like. Keep in mind genuine and useful information can travel through twitter at an alarming rate, reaching millions of potential customers very quickly. However it is also very easy for twitter users to ‘un-follow’ you as well, if they deem your ‘stream’ to be ‘spammy’. Twitter can also be used as a soapbox for people to vent their frustrations. It can be very beneficial for you to use twitter to keep your finger on the pulse of this type of feedback to resolve issues and keep customers happy. Customers love to be taken care of, and a surprise response that you would love to make a bad experience a good one can win a lot of hearts.

So you may see one winner, or you may see the benefit of both channels, and there are still many more out there. My advice to you, think about your business, think about your users, and choose which atmosphere is easier for you to try. Don’t be afraid to experiment, try one then the other, try both. See how each method of communication fits you.

What should you be sharing?

What you should be sharing will largely be dictated by who you are sharing with. But a quick answer is a question: what is important to you? When deciding what to share, ask yourself if it’s newsworthy. Would you be excited to read this? Is it worth passing along? The ultimate goal for social media is to expand your circle, more followers means more potential business. Share what is truly noteworthy, share what would be passed around the water cooler. Generate interest. Do you have a sneak peak at an upcoming product, or do you need testers for a soon to be released service? People love to be on the inside – give them a sneak peek or special pass, and if they enjoy it, they are likely to tell their friends. The value of social media is the value of what you are sharing. Keep your stream of information clear; don’t muddy the waters by adding unrelated information or posting every thing your company is up to, only share the milestones. Keep the focus of what to share on your unique identifiers, whether that is products, services, prices, or knowledge and expertise. Tips for sharing – highlights, milestones, news, inside information, sneak peeks, anything that will wow your ‘followers’.

Why should your readers take action?

So now you know who to communicate with and how, and what to communicate. How do you get people to ‘follow’ you? Honestly if you have done a good job with the first two items, you are probably doing OK here. Newsworthy items shared with the right audience are actionable on their own, but we need to make sure that people can find them. This is something to be attacked from two sides: your website and your social media outlet. You have readers of your website that will look to share your content through social media. They can do this through widgets or buttons, or pushing out to their own preferred network. On the other side you have readers who may not be familiar with your business at all, who are experiencing your content for the first time though a social media channel. This is where things can get complicated.

First, your website. Adding like, follow, friend, plus one buttons and other social media sharing buttons to your site can be very tempting. But remember, you need to make sure you are communicating effectively. If you give your users too many methods to choose from they can be lost in a sea of choices. Don’t hinder your users’ ability to focus: find the avenue(s) of social media that work best for your audience and share through those. It is fine to experiment with others but don’t give users too many options and make them wonder what is the best way to share. Users can also get sucked into the social experience from your website… be careful you aren’t urging readers off of your site and onto one of the many social channels instead.

From the social media channels. Facebook and twitter will only allow you to write so much: are you writing sensational headlines? Readers may only see a small image and a limited amount of text. You need to sell yourself, craft tweets or status updates that will call out to readers. Make sure you send your ‘followers’ to content that they can in turn share if they choose to. It is also a good idea to think about the user who isn’t a follower and found your content from someone else. How can you entice this new reader to follow you, do you have something to offer them from your social media channel? Are you clearly communicating this if you do? Your social media outlets may be the first contact a reader has with you. Facebook and twitter are huge sites with high page ranks that are visited by Google and friends frequently. It is possible that your announcement or product launch can be indexed from Facebook before your site. Make sure you have sold the reader on learning more when you share.

When should you share it?

There has been a lot of research into activity on social networks based on time of day, and day of the week. So how can you use this to find the best time to generate traffic from your social media channels? It has been found that most people engage in checking Facebook and blog posts in the morning, during the first few hours of work time. Twitter users tend to ‘tweet’  more in the afternoon and ‘re-tweets’ pick up significantly in the evening. Many people wait until middle to end of the week to spend time on social media sites. Smartphone users pick up activity in the afternoon through evening hours. How can you use this information to increase your social media effectiveness?

Find statistics for the social channels you are using. This information may be hard to find, but some focused searching can yield helpful results, or a social media consultant can help you with this. Use these statistics to create a publishing road map. If you are using Facebook and want to share something newsworthy, perhaps sharing Friday morning works best. You capture your users when they first log in and check their recent activity stream, and they have the weekend to share with their friends. If you are using twitter, a lunchtime tweet will work better, when more users are active and you have a greater chance of being ‘re-tweeted’ that evening. This will all come down to research and planning, and likely some experimentation, to find out what times work best for you.

How should you track it?

Of course all of this strategy doesn’t mean much if we don’t track its results somehow. Facebook has tools built right into their pages for tracking. You can also use current website analytic software to track referral URLs or use third party tracking referral URLs. You can even use a ‘URL shortening’ service to track your link traffic. However, measuring the effectiveness of building relationships can be tough. You will want to make sure that you have searches and alerts set up for mentions of your brand name and products, and always keep an ear on the ground for what others are saying about you. You can use ‘hashtags’ as identifying markers for searching for mentions of your business or products across social media channels. This can be a complicated piece of the puzzle, and will require some knowledge and understanding of site analytics to really be beneficial.

Strategy takes time.

Of course this all takes time. Research, planning, writing, tweaking, and analysis for what can be multiple messages a day. You may want to start small at first, maybe just mentioning a single item a week or even month. Keeping in mind that many users will want to see content at least that frequently. Don’t get frustrated if you don’t have legions of followers in your first week or month. Keep experimenting and revising your plan to be more effective. Always compare the data you are collecting with analytics to ensure that you are making incremental progress with each revision. Maybe consider a managed social media campaign from a knowledgeable marketing company. A company like NetSource will help you identify your goals and channels, help you craft a strategy for delivering content regularly and how best to present and track your social media campaigns. All while keeping your time free to focus on what you do best. You should contact us today if you are looking to make a splash with social media.

6 thoughts on “Friend, Follow, Like? Are you using social media appropriately?”

  1. Great write-up Dan! I loved the explanation of Twitter as a place where you can “step up to the microphone” so to speak. Very accurate analogy!

    I am surprised that you didn’t touch on the use of LinkedIn at all. I find that LinkedIN seems to be a more natural platform for social media than Facebook; especially for smaller businesses. Perhaps you’ll do a dedicated write-up on LinkedIn in the future. Thanks again for a great blog post!

    1. Dan Higbie

      Rishona,
      LinkedIn is another great outlet, but decidedly less focused toward a general audience. Facebook has a higher membership count and is more aimed to the general population than business to business or business professionals.

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