Why Social Media Should be Part of Your Business Strategy (& How to Start Right)

Social media as a marketing medium is the current rage. Blogs are appearing on corporate websites. Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn are hot properties adding thousands of new members every day. Most articles or posts suggest that businesses join them as a marketing strategy. Actively participating in them does improve traffic, branding, and opportunity. Using them solely for marketing is shortsighted. They are powerful communication and relationship building tools when used correctly.

A few months ago, I started a crash course in social media. The experience confirmed some suspicions, improved my education, and left me committed to encouraging my clients to find the right social media mix for their business. Along the way, I found examples of people doing it well, their way.

Tony Hseih (@zappos), CEO of Zappos.com, has expertly incorporated social media into his business strategy. His twitter account has over 300,000 followers and continues to grow. His tweets range from inspirational to hilarious with a few direct marketing messages in between. The April fool’s tweet today, “To save on costs, we installed bunk desks at Zappos. It’s actually not as uncomfortable as it looks – http://bit.ly/zbunkdesk” is brilliant. It links to a post describing how they are resolving space issues. In the post, their innovation is directly linked to their core values. It is a little fun with a lot of message.

What if you have a small company and don’t have a clue about how to make every thing work together? And, even if you had the know how, you don’t have the resources to do it. Mission Pie (@missionpie), a café in San Francisco tweets about their ingredients, customers, and pies. Their following is small, but a sampling show that most are local residents. (Translation: Their target market.) Mission Pie doesn’t spend a lot of time tweeting. The tweets are simple, interesting, and newsy. It fits their business without depleting their resources.

You are most likely somewhere between Mission Pie and Zappos.com. Your strategy has to match your corporate culture and resources. The following tips will help you get started based on my research and experience.

  • Test the waters. Join the sites you think fit your corporate culture. I recommend that everyone start with twitter and grow into the other sites. If you are joining to watch and learn, begin with a handle that is different from your corporate name. Wait until you have a plan to launch your company’s account.
  • Social media is a process, not an event. There are plenty of people willing to sell you the “marketing gone viral” pipe dream. While it happens, it is not controllable or predictable. There are some things you can do to increase the chances (like participating), but the odds are against orchestrated viral marketing.
  • Not everyone you meet in the social networking world is an expert (even if they say they are!) One thing that struck me as odd when I started twittering was the number of members who identified themselves as experts. There is a lot of debate in the social media world as to what defines an expert. I try to keep it simple. Learn from every one who has something to teach. The title is only a title.
  • Build the social media network that makes sense for your company. Set clear business objectives and develop a plan to meet those objectives. Monitor the results and modify as needed. Business objectives include growth and profitability goals, customer acquisition and retention, and cost and traffic management. They do not include the number of followers, connections, or friends. While it is cool to have lots of people following you, if you can’t convert it into business success, then it is meaningless.
  • Use your social media network to solidify your relationships with your customers and introduce your company to prospects. Don’t start it if you are unable to respond in a timely manner to comments and questions. If your purpose is to help your customers and prospects, you are on the way to successful implementation.

Social media offers a way to interact with and engage your customers and prospects. Failing to take advantage of this unique tool is shortsighted and limits your opportunities. If you do it well, your company will grow and prosper with a strong return on investment. While social media is not free, it does provide a low cost customer relationship solution.

If you would like to join me, I can be found on twitter (@wilsonellis) and LinkedIn (debrawellis) I look forward to seeing you in the social media pool.

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