Social media sceptic or convert?
By Doug Bentall
Posted 18 October 2012
I speak to many business owners who are worried they might be missing a trick by not participating in social media, while others remain sceptical as to its value.
Social media can be an effective and free marketing tool for your business. In its various forms it can also drive traffic to your website and assist your SEO (Search Engine Optimisation), meaning people looking for you - and what you do - can find you more easily on a search engine like Google or Yahoo.
The first thing to do is choose the media you want to use. There are dozens available and new ones emerging all the time. For business-to-business organisations you could start with the now ubiquitous Twitter (140 character microblogging site) and Linked In (for business contacts and networking).
If your organisation includes a consumer brand, then Facebook will be a higher priority. Facebook, like Twitter, has become much more than a vehicle for friends telling each other over the 'ether' what they had for breakfast.
Another important medium is YouTube for video sharing, meaning you can showcase what your product does, not simply that you have such a product in stock. If your products are very visual, think about Pinterest, a content-sharing service for photographs, artwork and videos.
Know your limits
A key to using social media is knowing how much time to spend on it. Much better to post once a day than post seven things on Monday and forget about it for the rest of the week.
Social media isn't a substitute for other types of marketing, but it can be a very effective complement to the other tools you have. Many journalists use Twitter to source stories and it can be a great way to pitch what you have say about your company.
Think of social media as a way to connect with your customers, potential customers and the media in a more personal way. It's an extra way to establish a rapport.
The key thing to remember is don't be afraid of the technology. You can create a Twitter account and a basic Linked In profile for your company in less than an hour.
Some things to bear in mind: if you use Twitter as an individual, make sure that's always from a separate account. Identify influential Tweeters and follow them. Conventional media (@prwnews), trade exhibitions and events (@pdm_event) and industry organisations (@thebpf) are a great place to start. Also, look for competitors and start following their followers too.
Create a personal Linked In profile. Start building up your industry contacts. This can be great for sales and recruitment, as well as broader business networking. Join Linked In 'groups' that interest you.
A Linked In profile will be good for your business; add information about your organisation, its products and services.
Adapt and thrive
If you're new to social media, spend some time looking for businesses like yours and in your field. It will help to see what they are doing and think about whether you can adapt any of their tactics.
You should display social media links prominently on any outgoing emails, on your website and in promotional material, but don't use your social media solely to push out advertising messages as blatant advertising is boring and will turn people off.
Give people a reason to like and interact with you. Offer advice (and a link to your website for more information). Talk about current issues from your business's perspective and have an opinion, but don't be too controversial.
Using hashtags (#) will help you find other people tweeting about relevant topics and to flag what you are tweeting about. However, don't try to hijack major trending tweets with something totally unrelated or overtly promotional; it doesn't work.
And enjoy the social media process and try to develop a personality that fits your business.
A footnote. For companies, it is important to have a social media policy so everyone knows their responsibilities when using social media at or about work. Policies needn't necessarily be heavily proscriptive, but they must be clear and adaptable as social media change.
Doug Bentall is director of Iona Communications
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