Are You Integrating Social Media Into Your Marketing Plans?

Social media popularity has grown at an unbelievable pace in recent years and many business owners have been overwhelmed by the various facets of it. Not long ago the main online focus of a business was its website. Now business owners are faced with making decisions on the use of numerous social media technology platforms. These platforms can be loosely categorized into three functional areas – those that enable you to network with others, those that provide product/service promotion capabilities and those that enable users to share information easily.

In a recent article in the Social Media Examiner they reported that 80% of all active U.S. internet users visit social media sites on a regular basis and consumers are spending 25% of their total online time visiting those sites. Of these, Facebook is the most widely visited. What this should be saying to the business owner is that their customers are likely to be online.

From a marketing perspective, what benefits should you expect from having a presence on the social media platforms? Some key benefits that are being reported include growth of brand awareness, engaging in dialogue with customers, increase of sales and partnerships and reduced costs.

The biggest social media marketing challenge facing business owners, especially small to medium size businesses is where to invest their time and energy. Hard cost can be minimal but there can be a soft cost associated with the investment of time spent using the existing platforms, keeping up with changes in those and adapting to new platforms that emerge.

Let’s take a look at some of the platforms that are currently in play within the three categories identified above. The social media platforms that enable you to network with others tend to be the most popular. These would include Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and more recently Google+.

The sites that can be used to most directly promote products and services come in a wide variety of technologies. The most common form of online promotion is having your website found (and highly ranked) by the search engines – Google, Yahoo and Bing. A lesser known form of this is being ranked high in local searches by having a complete and up-to-date profile on Google Places, Bing, Yahoo and numerous local directories.

Within this same category are blogging sites such as WordPress, Blogger and Tumblr. There are also Discussion Boards and Forums such as Zoho and Vanila. Email marketing, while not technically social media, is used heavily to promote products and services through sites such as AWeber and Constant Contact. Also in this category has been the explosion in the use of video and photographs with site such as YouTube, Vimeo, Flickr and Picasa. Lastly, within this category would be podcasts through the use of a site such as iTunes.

The third category of social media sites is made up of those sites that make it easy to share information with others. These sites tend to utilize the others that we’ve mentioned by providing an added level of functionality. For example, a dashboard site such as HootSuite provides a single interface for posting information to multiple sites. Also in this category are the social bookmarking platforms such as Delicious, Digg and Reddit. These platforms enable users to communicate what they like by way of a voting mechanism.

Your marketing plan becomes a critical tool in helping you to sort through all of these various social media platforms in order to select those platforms that will provide the most benefit for growing your business.