Do you ‘Tweet?’ Have you been getting ‘FB’ friend requests? Have you felt like everyone is in ‘MySpace?’ Are you ‘LinkedIn?’ Twitter, Facebook, Plaxo, MySpace, and LinkedIn are a few of the many Web sites that have opened new doors and opportunities to everyone from teenagers looking to express themselves, to middle-aged adults reconnecting to old friends, professionals looking to network, and just about everyone in between; they have also opened new doors for many businesses – small and large – to market and advertise their businesses. But in the ever-changing World Wide Web, there are also many pitfalls that can make or break a company.
Social Media Marketing (SMM) is a process of using various social sites dedicated to connecting users and utilizing them as a platform to market a company, promote sales, increase exposure, and/or generate traffic to a Web site. It has become one of the most important elements in the continued promotion of a business by other users.
Take for example Facebook. In 2008, it generated over $300 million in revenue and had over 200 million active users. Needless to say, when a phenomenon like this takes place, businesses often scramble to figure out how they can benefit from it. So you see ‘Fan Pages’ for everyone from Presidential hopefuls (Facebook/Social Media played a large role in the election of our current President), to celebrities, and companies like Starbucks and Jeep. When you open up your home page (personal command central) you see what groups and fan pages your friends have joined and you get the option to join in on the fun. When you go to your ‘Wall’ (where all your information and comments are posted), you will see banner ads on the side bar, most of which, are targeted to you based on your information and networks. While these ads are great ways to get the word out, some companies take it even further.
For instance, say my friend Chris updates his status with, ‘Chris is wishing it was 5:00! Thinking of pulling a Costanza and sleeping under my desk!’ So, you help him out by sending him a cup of java via the Dunkin’ Donuts application (games and tools to create more interaction). Now of course, he’s not really getting a cup of coffee from you, but he did get a message that put DD coffee in his thoughts. Then he feels the urge to send his friends a chocolate glazed donut, and all those people send their friends an Iced Latte Lite, and so on…
The key to Social Media Marketing success, however, lies primarily in the name itself – SOCIAL. For all of these sites, you need to build a network of people to communicate with. While so many companies and business owners are investing large amounts of money and resources, they cannot continue to expand their message if users don’t proliferate it.
The question is then, how does a small business owner with limited time and resources effectively take advantage of Social Media Marketing as a way of achieving marketing, sales, and branding initiatives?
The great aspect of SMM is that often it is free. Being a member of these sites often requires little more than registering on them. The greatest investment is really TIME. If you want to invest further, you are often able to create banner ads, which can then have specific criteria for the audience it reaches. If you choose to manage and execute your SMM plan on your own, here are some of the pitfalls to avoid:
1. Create a Plan
Don’t just jump in because someone told you, ‘you HAVE to have a Facebook page,’ or, ‘you HAVE to start Tweeting on Twitter’! Make sure that you have clearly defined goals and they are consistent with your marketing and branding initiatives. You should also develop methods of tracking the success of whatever efforts you put into it.
2. It’s not a Panacea
Yeah, it may look good, market your business, and seem like it provides decent results, but there is no substitute for the real thing – your Web site. Realize that your Web site still must be your biggest and most effective element of your Internet presence. No matter how you engage in SMM, users will (and should) go to your Web site. If they see current and regular information from a knowledgeable professional and then go to the dated, amateur, futile Web site of your business, it will leave them feeling uncertain of who you really are and whether you are a trust-worthy professional.
3. Don’t be a Bragger
This is one of the most common mistakes small business owners make. For most users, these applications are a way to connect with friends and family or take a break from their hectic or stressful lives. They often will consider someone who is spending most of their time talking about their latest and greatest professional acts as boasting and your page then becomes nothing more than (as my friend Steve affectionately calls it) a Vanity Page.
4. Actually BE Social
This often coincides with bragging. When you are running a Vanity Page, you often get so caught up in talking about yourself; you don’t engage your ‘friends.’ Respond to their posts with genuine interest, comment on their pictures, send them ‘gifts’ with applications, and let them know that the relationship is not one-sided. Any good marketing initiative should be considered initiating a conversation – contributing information, which will engage the reader and create a call-to-action. That action may be further dialogue with your company creating a relationship, conveying your message to their connections and friends, or (hopefully) creating a sale of goods or services. At the very least, it should create a positive impression that will be memorable.
5. Don’t Rape your Friends
One of the most appalling acts a user can do is view their friend’s friends and then send them all ‘Friend Requests’ when you actually have no idea who they are. This action is equivalent to stealing information, or scraping a mailing list. Not only will this often annoy the person that you send the request to, it could very well irritate your friend causing them to engage in the ‘de-friending’ process.
6. Personal is Personal – Business is Business
If you want to run a page dedicated to your business, then do that. If you want a personal page, then do that. Try very hard to keep them separate. For example, in all of these platforms I have a personal page and a page dedicated to my business. My personal pages have status updates and information specific to me personally and I use the media as a way to stay in touch with friends and family – most of which could really care less about the specifics of my work and would rather not be inundated with mundane information about it which has no relevance to them. However, if they become a friend on my business pages, then I know that they have an interest in what is going on in that arena of my life.
7. The World is Watching
Remember, anything and everything you post now has the potential to reach every person connected to a computer. Whether it is an email, a Blog entry, or a post/status update on one of your pages, once it is out there you cannot take it back and you have no control over who it reaches ultimately. It is important to be thoughtful and plan what you write because these posts can otherwise determine your Brand Identity in a way that you never intended.
8. Pictures are Worth a Thousand Words!
The same applies to the pictures you post on these sites as the words you type. Don’t make your personal page your business vanity page by adding only, or mostly, pictures of the work you do. On the other hand, do not put inappropriate pictures there either – you never know where they will end up and the message they will ultimately send about you.
9. Show your Professionalism
SMM is a great way to build your professional reputation and demonstrate your knowledge in the industry – and you can do without being vain and arrogant. Provide information that people will find helpful and useful without directly promoting yourself. Add links to articles and data that users can refer to and find beneficial in their lives. Avoid frequently adding your link to your posts, as this will over time be seen as another form of SPAM.
10. Invest your Time
All of these initiatives require time. Do not jump in hastily and think that you can post a comment once or twice a week and that will be sufficient. Again, they key is actually being social. Like any relationship that is going to be successful, it entails daily effort and commands a respect for the process and the medium, which you are using.
The greatest caution I offer to most of those who inquire about the benefits of Social Media Marketing is that if they do not have the time to properly plan and execute a marketing plan in their current circumstances, then they should be very hesitant to launch a SMM strategy without first spending some time to see how they function on a personal level and whether they have the time to devote to making endeavor successful.
Ultimately, the ever-growing and changing Internet is a cost-effective way to market your business and full of opportunity; but, you can’t know where you are going to end up if you don’t first have a plan that you were willing to invest time and resources in.