It’s fast! It’s easy! It’s free!
These are the promises of social media from so-called experts as they try to sell businesses on the idea that hopping on social media is like signing up for effortless sales.
It’s no wonder, then, that so many business owners approach social media with the highest possible expectations only to be let down when it turns out social media isn’t the El Dorado they expected. The web is littered with abandoned accounts and half-baked attempts to channel social media that were doomed from the start.
Then again, even in 2014 there are businesses who believe social media is a waste of time or that there’s little benefit to being a part of those online conversations.
It’s time we had a down-to-earth discussion about social media — no buzzwords, no hype, just smart business sense.
In this piece, we’ll cover what social media really is, how you should be using it, and what you should reasonably expect heading in.
Social Media Is Not Just Another Advertising Platform
The first thing to understand is that while you can absolutely buy advertisements on social media like Facebook and Twitter, the heart and soul of social media platforms is far removed from advertising. They are — as the name implies — for being social.
If you try to use social media platforms like a megaphone, shouting your sales, deals, and advertisements at people, you’ll be on the fast track to failure.
That doesn’t mean you can never be overtly promotional, but the expectation you should head in with is that, like telephones, email inboxes, and face-to-face meetings, social media is all about starting and continuing conversations.
How Should Social Media Be Used?
Understanding that social media is about discussion, there are myriad ways social media can become useful to your business, including:
- Customer service and support. While many companies fear negative backlash on social media, they shouldn’t. Social media accounts give you a chance to respond to customer questions, complaints, and inquiries in real time. It’s not just about generating new sales — doing this will help you save potentially lost sales, too.
- Communicating brand personality and values. Social media accounts give your audience a direct line to communicate with your brand. Essentially, whatever you write, share and discuss on social media reflects back on what your brand cares about, so this is a chance to build brand equity and showcase the things that make your business special. It gives people a personified version of your brand they can latch on to and talk to.
- Sharing timely news and updates. Keeping your audience abreast of developments in your business is just one more way to keep them informed.
- Promoting your content. Social media works best in tandem with other marketing efforts. To have something worth talking about, you’re likely going to need to be producing content. But, as already mentioned, social media isn’t solely about promotion — but it is a killer way to spread the compelling, customer-centric content you are creating and can become one of your best owned media channels.
- Networking. It’s not just customers and clients who will make use of your social media presence. When you share the content of others, you can build strong relationships with influential people and learn from others doing similar work to your own.
You Definitely Need a Plan
Flying into social media blind means you’re likely to make a lot of mistakes, some of which can be business-ruiners. So, you have to go in with a strategy.
If you’re just getting up and running, you’ll love the Essential Social Media Checklist we’ve put together that will walk you through everything you need to have in place.
Social Media Is a Commitment, not a “Campaign”
If you’re looking at social media the same way you think about a billboard campaign, it’s time to rethink things:
- A presence is a promise. If you’re on social media, it is expected that you will continue to respond, engage, update, and interact — indefinitely. That sounds like a serious commitment, and it is. Unlike other marketing efforts that can be executed and then moved on from, hopping on social media means committing to being there for whomever wants to speak with you.
- Someone needs to be made responsible and accountable. While there are tools that can help you automate parts of your social media activities, a real, live human being needs to be at the helm responding and orchestrating everything that happens. There’s a time commitment involved.
There Are No Shortcuts
Never, ever think you can get ahead of the game by buying followers or purchasing fans, likes, or even faux-engagement. Social media users have a B.S. detector; they can sniff out when you’re trying to look more beloved than you really are.
- Go in knowing that engagement will likely start slowly. In the beginning, you will need patience and persistence to cultivate an audience who wants to hear what you have to say.
- Quick wins are usually temporary. Don’t subscribe to the idea that one successful piece of content or one awesome conversation will be enough to propel you to success right away. Take a “slow and steady wins the race” mindset — and celebrate the wins as they come.
Authentic, genuine relationships are what you should strive for, and those aren’t built overnight.
You Don’t Need to Be Everywhere
Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that you MUST be on Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook, or any particular social network. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, and you’ll need to choose according to your strategy.
- Take stock of your limited resources. Chances are you may not have the time to update eight different social networks. Be realistic about the time and attention you can put into your social media so that it neither overtakes your life nor goes ignored.
- Go where your customers are. Don’t be on a platform “just in case.” Do research to find out where your audience congregates, then join in. For heavily visual businesses, that might mean Instagram or Pinterest over Facebook. For professional services, Twitter might make for a great option. The point is to assess your own goals, objectives, and audience and limit your attention to where they’re hanging out.
While you absolutely want to be a part of the online conversations being had about your brand, the truth is that an abandoned or neglected account looks much worse than simply not having one at all.
What ROI Should You Expect From Social Media?
What’s the ROI on a telephone? If that sounds like an odd question — it should. But, it’s no less odd a question than, “What’s the ROI on social media?”
It’s difficult to accurately measure the net impact of a single conversation, and measuring the ROI from social media is a little more complicated than other channels that focus solely on generating an immediate sale or conversion.
While it’s possible to directly measure the impact of social media on sales when it comes to advertisements placed on social networks (like Facebook or Twitter), that number won’t tell the whole story. In fact, to get a real picture of how your social media efforts are performing, you need to look at multiple metrics as a whole, not just one by one.
Other metrics that matter include:
- Meaningful engagement. It’s important to track how your followers, fans, likes, shares, and comments grow over time to get a sense of whether or not you’re starting discussions that people actually care about.
- Referral traffic. How much of your site’s traffic is being generated by your social media efforts? Are your social channels bringing people back to the source of the discussion and generating interest in your content?
- Sentiment. What are people saying about your company? How do the interactions with your business online make them feel? Are the comments you’re receiving generally positive or negative?
- Solved complaints. In addition to telling the world how much they love a brand or experience, consumers also frequently turn to social media to vent their frustrations or ask questions they want answers to. Your presence on social may save you sales or endear you to once disgruntled customers.
- Lead quality. Are you seeing a marked improvement in the quality of the leads coming in through your system? As people interact with your brand, they learn what you’re all about and whether or not you’re the right solution for them.
- Lead quantity (awareness). Is social media helping to generate an increase in new leads? This is partially attributable to social media’s ability to create awareness of who you are and what you do.
- Micro-conversions. We tend to think of a conversion as a sale, but there are many actions a lead could take that might not be a sale in the moment but show progress. Things like email sign-ups, resource downloads, and even time spent consuming a resource you’ve shared can all be indicators that your social efforts are paying off — and remember, social media is a communication platform, so it works best when tied into these other sorts of marketing efforts.
Aim High, but Keep Your Head out of the Clouds
Going into social media with unrealistic expectations will only sour your experience.
It’s good to set big goals and think positively about the huge things social media can do, but remember that it’s actually not really about you or your business — it’s about your customer! As you plan to move into social media, keep in mind that it’s about reaching out and talking to real, live people with interests, values, ideas, and personalities.
This is your brand’s speaker box out to the world, and there’s so much more at stake than sales.
Need Help With Your Social Media Strategy?
Digital Current understands the online habits and emotional buying triggers of your brand’s target audience. Let us show you how to develop and promote great content that amplifies your social media marketing strategy.