Your Social Media Plan: Why you need one and first steps
(This blog was origionally published on the Digital Brand Marketing Education Blog – www.digitalbrandmarketing.com )
Over the years I have conducted workshops and sat on panels discussing social media and marketing. From these interactions it has become clear that many businesses and individuals struggle with understanding and using social media to market effectively. However, social media is an important marketing tool for every business and an element that needs to be incorporated into every marketing plan. According to an August 2011 survey Marketing in the Digital World conducted by Zoomerang.com, nearly half of the small businesses surveyed are utilizing social media to market to customers. This survey noted that the most effective tactics for businesses to reach customers through social media is with wall posts and direct messages. The survey stated that the most important reasons small businesses use social media are to connect with customers, enhance visibility and self-promote.
Social media strategies need to be tied together with a comprehensive marketing plan. Without a plan, social media marketing can be a colossal waste of time. However, with the right approach it can reap tremendous branding and marketing rewards. A social media marketing plan outlines the proper use of time, effort and money. Unfortunately most small business owners are not marketing professionals and do not approach social media with a marketing perspective.
It is impossible to outline a complete plan in this blog, but I will discuss the first important steps needed to get started. A successful plan does not have to be complex and it can be created and implemented quickly.
To successfully harness the power of social media for marketing, users need to understand it, understand how their customers and contacts are using it and how they are going to use it. I purposely did not mention sales because one of the greatest misconceptions is that social media is a sales tool. Social media is a branding and marketing tool used to build relationships and brand awareness, which can lead to referrals and sales.
The first step in the process of creating a plan is education. Individuals and businesses must learn how their target audiences use social media and what sites they use. It is essential to find out as much as possible about the behavior of clients and prospects. Collecting and reviewing this information is an important part of the process. For example, LinkedIn can be an ideal site for your business if you want to connect with other active business networkers. According to a Lab42 survey of 500 Americans who were registered with LinkedIn, 35 percent check the site daily and 42 percent update their profiles regularly. From this we can see that a large number of LinkedIn users are active on the site. These users are interested in keeping their profiles up-to-date for others to view. Therefore LinkedIn’s business-focused online community is an ideal social media platform that should be included in a business’ social media marketing plan.
The research and information gathering phase will allow you to understand target audiences and choose the right social communities and sites to use.
Ask questions such as:
- Where do clients, potential clients or referral sources interact online?
- Where are my clients and prospects gathering, posting and commenting?
- Who are the leaders in my sector and where can I find and listen to them online?
- Where can I listen and participate in conversations online to grow my personal or business brand?
With this information in hand, strategies can be implemented and goals can be set directing where, how often and what messages should be posted.
Based on the research and information gathered about current and potential followers and customers, set up or expand your social media accounts. This may mean creating a Facebook business page and/or group, a LinkedIn company page or group, a YouTube channel or a Flickr account for photos. Twitter, Google+, Stumbleupon, Tumblr and other accounts may be part of this initial effort as well. Each site has its advantages, and each has strategies for its use. Currently, Facebook remains dominant in many categories including time spent on any U.S. website according to the NM Incite – Neilson State of Social Media: The Social Media Report Q3 2011. The numbers are truly staggering to look at. Facebook visitors spent over 53.5 billion total minutes on their site in 2010 according to the Neilson, Netview, Home and Work (May 2011) study of the Top 10 Web Brands.
Successful plans set realistic goals. Goals should include consideration of ROI (return on investment), but must also consider the amount of time and effort put forth, what I call ROE (return on effort). Social media marketing ROI is difficult to measure in terms of direct sales, but can be achieved when time and budgets are set. At the beginning of a social media marketing campaign or program it may be difficult to judge how much time should be spent. Start slow and allocate a specific number of hours necessary to achieve desired results. Only add time when warranted. Social media is not a waste of time, but it can be a tremendous time-waster. You limit your exposure and potential losses by managing time wisely.
The investment of time and resources is worth it. According to information published by CrowdSpring, 51 percent of Facebook friends and 64 percent of Twitter followers are more likely to buy the brands they follow or are a fan of.
This outlines the first steps in the process of creating and implementing a social media marketing plan. Stay tuned for additional posts in which I will cover topics such as creating social media campaigns and marketing messages, personal branding, strategies for monitoring success, enhancing the power of media coverage with social media, online reputation management and protection, crisis management, business development strategies using LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube and others.
Don’t stop using social media – start using it now with a plan and goals.