Five tips for getting started with social media

I’ll start off by saying social media are here to stay. We are well past the beginners and honeymoon stage at this point. Your customers are using social media, and more importantly your competitors are. It’s never too late to get started and you must start somewhere. Let’s talk about five components for getting started with social media:

Fish where the fish are. Deciding on which platforms to create a presence and engage comes down to demographics research. What platforms are your customers using? Is your business strictly B2B, B2C or both? Simple market research should give you these answers. If you’re a law firm you probably would want to focus your time engaging on LinkedIn if you’re a restaurant your time would be probably better spent engaging and building community on Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare.

Put your rabbit ears on. Listening is key in social media. There is a good chance on a national, or more likely a local level, that your brand is being talked about. You need to be responsive and monitor this chatter – more so for negative sentiment that could potentially go viral and threaten your brand’s reputation. In today’s online world things spread fast, really fast and people expect an answer in real-time. By virtue of using social media you are giving your customers an online customer service tool. When they have an issue, make no mistake about it: they will post it on Facebook or Twitter. A survey was recently conducted and it stated that 90 percent of disgruntled customers will stay with a company, so long as their complaint is resolved promptly. Even more amazing, 50 percent will become an advocate of your brand. Rather than being reactive, take a proactive approach and reward positive fan chatter. After all, these are your brand advocates. There are many free tools at your disposal for brand monitoring. Start by setting up Google Alerts; monitoring Twitter and Facebook. There are also paid brand monitoring solutions such as Radian6.

Don’t forget about a blog. Blogs are a core component of social media. The content from your blog can fuel your social media platforms and be the catalyst for conversations. The bigger aspect of blogging is the ability to brand your organization as authoritative experts. Blogs are also good instruments for creating fresh content, content that search engines love. Your blog should add value to its community and not be overly self promotional. It should also have a variety of multimedia. Photos, YouTube videos and even podcasts can be used as blog content. Ask your readers questions, answer comments and be as authentic and transparent as possible. And don’t forget to give your blog some personality!

Don’t automate everything. There is only so much time in a day. You might be tempted to automate your social media activities – what I call a “set it and forget it approach”. Well, don’t do it! Facebook’s edgerank algorithm, the system it uses to determine what items populate your fans News Feed, actually demotes content that is posted to the system using automation. There certainly is a role for automation and it should be used sparingly, it should not take away from the fact social media is social!

Create a social media policy. Your organization probably has a communications policy in place, but what about a social media policy? There needs to be clearly defined guidelines for any employee using social media on the organization’s behalf. Employees should undergo any necessary training, understand best practices and most importantly realize that they are representatives of your brand, even though they may never speak to actual customers or shake someone’s hand. They also should understand the differences between personal and professional networking and how it relates to their employment.

In closing: You will learn by trial and error what works and doesn’t work. The core difference with social media is the two-way form of communication as opposed to traditional methods of marketing. The dialog will happen, and when it does, be prepared to join the conversation. Build your brand and build your community and rest of the pieces will fall into place.

By: Mike Fruchter
Director of Digital Strategy
Twitter: @Fruchter