Social media is not an end in and of itself. It's just one tool in the broad range of options you have available in your business toolkit that can help you accomplish your goals.
When I've talked to business partners about social media, many of you have told me that many of you are still unclear of its value proposition; that is, why you should use social media as opposed to the vast array of tools that you already have in your arsenal.
When you are ready to take the plunge into social media, it's a good practice to have a plan in place for how you want to use it to bring value to your business (although, it's certainly ok to let that plan evolve as you learn). One
of the worst things you can do is start a full-fledged social media campaign, for example, just because it's the latest trend in marketing,
without a clear understanding of what your goals are, or whether your
intended audience is even using the social media channel that you've decided to build your campaign around. So here are some tips on how to make sure that you're extracting value from your social media program:
- Listen to what the marketplace is saying. One of the ways social media can add value to your business is by providing a means to access real-time data about your brand. People will be out there talking about your brand whether you're listening or or not, but if you take the time to listen, you can gain insights on things like: what is the volume and frequency of conversation about your company, are people are speaking positively or negatively about you, and are the most vocal parties are actually influencing other people's opinions? Thus, social media can provide you with feedback about what is happening in the marketplace at any given moment.
- Take action on any market insights gained. If you use social media as a listening tool to but don't act on the insights gained, or if somebody asks you a question and you don't respond, it can be more damaging to your brand than if you never participated in the first place. It is critical to have a plan in place for how you're going to handle the insights that you gain once you do take the plunge.
- Be targeted. Use the insights you've gained to develop a targeted plan for which social networks you're going to use and how you're going to use them. For example, if you find that all of your potential customers are on LinkedIn and none are on Facebook, don't waste your time developing a Facebook presence. When using traditional media, you'd be targeted about the demographics that you're trying to reach, and you should be just as targeted when developing your social media strategy.
- Be social, but use common sense. Once you've refined your plan, get out there and start interacting. Don't be afraid to let your personality shine -- after all, social media is social (duh!), and you need to give people a reason to connect with you. However, do mind your manners and be professional at all times. If you wouldn't put it in print or say it in front of your boss, you probably shouldn't share it over your social networks. You never know who's going to see (or reshare) what you've said. (Check out another video in the Social Soundbyte series, Network Smarter by Understanding Social Media 'Body Language', for more tips on this topic).
- Provide a value-add to your community. Audiences have access to more digital stimuli than ever before, and studies have shown that people can only actively participate in a limited number of social communities at a time. In order to get value our of your social media program, you need to ensure that your followers keep coming back. Give stakeholders a reason to be active in your community, as opposed to another, by providing a value-add to them. Value-adds may include interesting or helpful content, improved customer service, real-time access to experts, or any number of other benefits. (Watch Social Soundbyte video Becoming an Influencer by Leveraging the People and Content You Already Have for tips on how to create value for your community while leveraging your existing assets.)
- Integrate social media into how you already do business. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to treat your social media program as totally separate from your other business processes and objectives. Social media should be viewed as a tool to help you accomplish those business processes. If you're marketing needs to be in compliance with government regulations for your industry, make sure you have a process to ensure social media compliance. If you use it for lead generation, make sure any leads generated from social media get entered and tracked in your lead management system. Social media is a tool that should be an integrated part of the whole.