Your potential customers and clients are spending more time browsing the online ecosystem we know as social media. In fact, a recent study from marketing agency Mediakix estimated that the average person will spend more than five years of their life on social media. It trailed behind watching television, and totally beat out eating, grooming, socializing and laundry.
With traditional marketing mediums, such as print and broadcast in decline, businesses can no longer afford to ignore this platform. In this guide, we detail the most important aspects of social media, explain the latest terminology and help you understand the latest tools.
Social media cannot be an afterthought. It takes planning and forward thinking. It will take plenty of trial and error to discover the right way to attract an audience and then convert that audience into customers and clients with any degree of brand loyalty. The traditional rules of marketing don't always apply to social media, and different platforms require different strategies.
Social media marketing cannot be a one-way street. Pushing out your posts while ignoring any incoming feedback or comments from your audience won't be effective. The big advantage social media has over other outlets is that you can directly correspond with your audience. In most cases, social media platforms reward posts with more attention when they detect lots of conversation surrounding it.
Engaging with your audience means replying to their individual comments. This can be as simple as a "thank you" or a "glad we could help" when consumers praise you. It's a great place to answer customer questions about your business, products and promotions.
Social media also offers opportunities to address criticism and make things right with customers or clients who are unhappy. You can and should respond to customers who leave comments about a bad experience with your business. It offers your business a chance to rectify an unfortunate situation and win back goodwill. All this is done in a public setting, letting your audience know how willing you are to address your customers' needs and, most importantly, that you're listening. This is essential for building a strong community around your brand.
When engaging with your community, it's important to have a voice behind your posts and interactions. Social media posts should be natural and conversational, not sterile sales pitches. Not only will people be more inclined to comment and post about your business, they'll be more open. Social media can be just as effective as any focus group testing, giving you insight into what your clientele wants.
There are numerous enterprise-level applications for managing your social media channels. Programs like Hootsuite, Marketing 360, Adobe Campaign, Buffer and Sprout Social offer business-focused features to help you track your posts and responses. They provide detailed analytics to help you determine which strategies are working, not to mention they save you vast amounts of time and energy you'd otherwise spend with managing each social media platform individually.
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Know the lingo
If you're new to social media, here are some basic terms you should familiarize yourself with:
- Hashtag is a term you'll hear often in relation to Twitter, Instagram and Google+. They are keywords (preceded by a #) used to make your posts more searchable and make you part of bigger conversation. Compile a list of hashtags that fit for your business and for the audience you're trying to attract. For example, “#business #startup #nyc #finance.”
- Trending means a post or subject is being shared by thousands or even millions of users. A popular buzz term you've probably heard is viral video or viral post; this is a video, meme or post that is copied and shared across multiple social media channels and has generated a lot of likes, comments and shares.
- Conversion rate is the measurement of successful call to actions from your posts, which include people following a link to your website or other signups.
- Reach is the number of users who see a post at any given time. These are also called impressions by some platforms.
As of June 2017, Facebook is the largest social network platform, with more than 2 billion active users. Not only home to individuals' pages, there are pages for businesses. If you're going to start a business profile, Facebook is a wise choice. As of 2017, there are 65 million business pages on the site, according to Facebook.
Many companies opt to create a Facebook page over a traditional website. The reality is, today, a presence on Facebook makes your business much more accessible to consumers. A company Facebook page is customizable and can be filled with information about your business, such as contact info, user reviews, event calendars, job postings, menus and more.
Engagement on Facebook works just as personal pages do. Your audience can reply to posts on your wall, and you reply to their posts. Posting often will further foster customer engagement, but knowing the right frequency (along with the right voice) will depend on your business and audience, which social media management software can help with.
Facebook offers businesses opportunities to bolster their likes and promote individual posts through paid boosts. These paid exposure boosts have different prices depending on how many people you want to reach. For example, Facebook will present your page to 1,000 users for $1.50. Of course, this doesn't guarantee any of the people that see your page will hit the Like button. These are separate from normal advertisements, which you can also buy. You set a daily budget for how much you want to spend on promoting your page, and you target who you would like Facebook to show your page to, narrowing it down with specific demographics.
Facebook has a robust analytics page that shows your reach, post engagement rates and demographics of your audience, allowing you to balance your promotion budget for the best ROI. Besides the paid promotion boosts, starting and running a Facebook company page with its Business Manager app is free.
Twitter is often considered the steam of consciousness of the internet. Twitter accounts gain followers who view tweets on a chronological timeline. Tweets are limited to 140 characters, so careful consideration and crafting of your message will make them more effective. A call to action, such as a link to your website (or another social media page) can keep readers engaged and learning more about your business.
Tweets live a short lifespan so tweeting often is essential. Your success will depend on the total reach and engagement you have with the public. The way to increase your reach so your tweets are seen by more people is to get it shared by as many people as possible. Social media management software can be a real help in evaluating the success of your efforts.
Engagement on Twitter is commonly done through retweets of your content that others share with their followers. Twitter boasts more than 300 million active users, so there's great potential for wide reach. A tweet that's retweeted even just a few times exponentially expands the pool of people who see it.
Twitter offers paid promotion campaigns to boost your tweets so they're seen by a larger audience. Prices for promoted tweets vary depending on how wide your campaign is. Unlike Facebook, this doesn't require a separate business account, and anybody can start campaigns to boost their reach.
Further, there are tools to give access to other users to your account to other users. Often these tweets show up in a person's timeline marked as promoted.
As the world's premier search engine, becoming part of Google's social platform can put you on the map – literally. Google+ is the internet giant's own social network that's connected to all the company's many other apps and services.
One of the most important reasons to get involved with Google+ is to boost your own search engine optimization (SEO). Google owns 65 to 70 percent of the search engine market, according to Quick Sprout. Linking your business to a Google+ account is a "plus" for Google's search algorithm, mainly because the search engine directly lists your posts in their search results (Facebook and Twitter have more privacy and logistic issues that prevent them from directly showing up), according to Seattle Web Search.
Increasing your SEO value helps consumers find your business on Google's search engine. Having an active Google+ page can boost your chances of showing up higher in search results. Another benefit: businesses with a Google+ page are featured more prominently on Google Maps.
Google+ utilizes its "circles" to connect people in different categories and subcategories. You can selectively share content to the specific circles you create. Google+ has potential to raise awareness of your business, since the more than one billion users who have a Gmail account also have a Google+ account (in addition to access to other services).
Other big platforms
Facebook, Twitter and Google+ are far from the only platforms to consider. As technology evolves, the younger generations inevitably try out the hot new thing. Here are a few others you might want to consider dabbling in, particularly if Millenials and younger are key to your demographics.
- Linkedin is a networking and career-oriented social network. Having a presence on this platform is most useful for fielding potential employees and forming relationships with industry contacts.
- YouTube allows you to share videos by your company and has a voting-based comment system that you can interact with your audience on. It is owned by Google, and like Google+ posts, videos show up in its search engine results.
- Instagram is a photo-based network that offers plenty of marketing opportunities and ways to promote your brand. It's owned by Facebook (and thus shares its advertising and promotion platform).
- Foursquare is a geo-based platform the allows users to directly connect with businesses by checking in. Check-ins are shared to friends, further spreading your brand. You can offer incentives for users to check-in.
- Snapchat is an image and video-sharing application that allows users to share temporary posts either publicly or privately. Gaining followers on Snapchat can be a creative outlet to communicate with your audience.
Interacting on social media isn't limited to the platforms themselves. There are plenty of useful third-party apps and services to give you an advantage. This is a sample of some of the most popular tools:
- Hootsuite is an all-in-one social media monitoring platform from which you can manage your Facebook, Twitter and Google+ accounts. You can schedule posts in advance, view analytics and set up different streams that gather user posts based on select keywords or criteria. For example, you can set up a Twitter stream that displays users tweeting about your industry or your area. The base application is free, but many of its enterprise features require a paid subscription.
- Buffer is a scheduling program that automates your social media posts. If you want to share news articles or other consistent posts, you can automate posts from RSS feeds to spur engagement.
- Sprout Social has many essential social media monitoring features, but it also includes tools useful to sales for finding new leads. It integrates with the major social networks and analyzes your ROI. Plan campaigns ahead of time and determine the most optimal time to post content on each platform.
- Bitly is a simple but powerful service; its main function is shortening URL links for your posts. It may not seem like much, but including simple links to your website or other social media profiles will keep your posts simple, clean and appealing (plus, they will save you space for character-limited platforms like Twitter). With Bitly, you can track exactly how many clicks you get.
- Klout is a social media tracking and analytics application that rates users' influence, giving insight into your brand's online reach. You are assigned a Klout Score, which is your measure of social media influence. On top of tracking your digital impact through useful statistics, Klout has plenty of resources to help you boost your influence.
This is a small sample of the strategies, tools and lingo you'll need to succeed at social media marketing. With careers and marketing courses now built around this new industry, it's more important than ever that your business doesn't fall behind.
There are hundreds of social media platforms online, with more cropping up all the time. Some end up as short-lived fads and others end up becoming mainstays. The number one rule that can be applied to nearly all of them is engage with your audience.