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.

What’s Your Social Media Marketing Plan?

If you are a marketer you’ll already be familiar with a marketing strategy and plan. Social Media Marketing is no different – to succeed you must have a strategy.

Whether you want to use Social Media Marketing to launch a new product, promote an existing one, improve customer loyalty or improve brand awareness, a social media strategy is crucial for knowing where you are going, what you want to achieve from your Social Media Marketing efforts and what resources you will need. As with most things in business, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.  

So what should your Social Media strategy contain?

I recommend that you include details of these 9 important areas and add as many more as you need for your particular business. Use this article as a checklist and brainstorming tool.

1. Your target audience – who are they and how do they prefer to network? What Social Media tools do they currently use?

2. Your goals – what are they and how do you plan to achieve them? Do you want to attract more prospects? Improve customer loyalty? Attract a new audience? Get buzz for your project? You must know the answers to these questions.

3. Your success measures – how will you know you’ve succeeded? Will it be through product downloads or trials? The number of people clicking through to your site? Or the number of qualified leads you gain?

4. Your competitors – Do they have a large Social Media presence or none at all? What type of campaigns are they doing? If they are doing nothing, you could grab the advantage. Google your competitors and see what you find.

5. Your Social Media content – are you planning to use video, audio, or written content?  See what your audience likes and use what they like to use.

6. What’s “your soft offer?” – How will you convert your prospects into sales or customers? What’s your lead capture/nurturing plan? It could be a free whitepaper or a case study or a report. Whatever it is, outline it in your plan

7. Your Social Media Tools – Will you use YouTube, a blog, Twitter, Facebook? Community forums? Not every tool will work for you, some will work better than others. Often  the only way to  find out is to try them and see. Having a strategy makes it easier because you can make a decision as to what to try and why.  You can track the results of each tool you try.

8. Your resources – Most Social Media tools cost little or nothing to set up and run. However, there is a considerable investment of time required for any Social Media effort to have long term success. For example, who will keep your blog updated? How will you address comments so that the blog is truly interactive and conversational?  How many people do you need to allocate? What’s your plan for tracking – and acting on what your stats tell you?

Most people don’t consider these questions until after they’ve started. If you can answer these questions early on you will be prepared and more likely to avoid frustration and failure.   You should also carefully consider the time you can afford to invest compared to what’s actually needed.

9. Last, but certainly not least, how will you encourage word of mouth marketing and the viral nature of Social Media? How do you plan to get people talking about you without “you talking about you?”  This is a significant advantage of using Social Media, however it doesn’t simply happen.

The sheer volume of social media tools and opportunity can be overwhelming. A Social Media strategy will help you cut through the noise, make better choices and select what works for your audience, your company and your objectives. It will position you to meet many of the seemingly huge hurdles to getting started and will almost certainly make you more successful in your Social Media efforts.

Think of it as your road map to success.

Social Media Advantage For Brands

Social media has become mainstream and as someone said: every media becoming social. I always think some brands and their attitudes to social media, content marketing, management. It is clear from every angle, except from view, that most brands are overlooking the “social” in front of the social media. This is what sets social media apart from other kinds of media. To excel in social media, you begin with cultivating a social media mindset. Most have not understood what this platform offers.

All that we are currently doing is majorly titled toward social media abuse which is based on advertising and shameless ego promotion. This affects corporate brands more though.

Most have concentrated mainly on mainstream traditional media. They have neglected or can we say they are unaware that the only way to survive in this time is a two-way communication media which embraces not only the traditional but online media platform. As we know, the current trend today is for brands to first learn about their brides-customers, get their attention through the use of social media platforms like blogging, Youtube, Xing, Facebook, Del.ici.ous, Bookmarking, RSS, Podcasting, videocasting, Wikis among many other available online media.

The evolution of these new media has opened up opportunity to seek opinion, interact, court, date and offers irresistible proposal that will hook the bride. Today customers are no longer buying one mode fits all offer by the traditional media. Some corporate brands here seem to hinge non-participation in online community building on such excuses that we are not yet online, neither are there recognized consumer fora which have major convergence of consumers online. Also no regulatory authority here pays attention to or gives any attention to whatever they have to say can. They also claim that online forums here have no impacts on corporate performance. Some also claim that social media is alien to us. My answer is that social media is not alien. The fact remains that many things had been part of us only that we do not accurately labeled them until the westerners help us out.

The idea of social media, content marketing is rooted in cultural rituals where a couple gets engaged before they could start dating. The process require that suitor’s intention has to be established through family contacts, integrity checked and a cogent promised is made that he is interested in a serous relationship and not flings. Without these background checks, no one officially allows the intending couple to start dating. If this is violated then, the bride to be would be disciplined.

Drawing a parallel in this ancient ritual, the customers want the brand today to show that what matters is her, not money making. The customers want to be sure that out of arrays of suitors-products, services- your brand can take the initiative of starting a conversation, the customer wants to be sure your brand is not just flirting, looking out for short flings but a real relationship that will enhance her lifestyle. Brand through social media, content and social marketing set up a bate by loading the right words in their contents to convince, educate, entertain the bride that they are out to make her life better even before selling anything.

Customer wants to see how much of your intellectual property will be made available without charges. The customer wants to find out you are a giver. One of their love languages is gift sharing. A giver without string attached always takes the show. Social media, content marketing requires a lot of commitment. It takes time before social media and content marketing make huge impact. Any brand that can show high level of commitment in social media will always carry the day.

Typical case studies of brands with efficient use of social media include Tony Hseih. Tony followers in Twitter today is over one forty million. Hseih is the managing Director of Zappos.com. Tony through his ‘tweet’ has course to meet with customers at a bar while many in his position will rather hide under the guise of busy schedule. Tony uses Twitter to build interaction with customers; he uses twitter to solve problems for clients. The strength of Tony Hseih and Zappos communities has been used to strengthen relationships with Zappo’s brand offline. Zappos client freely gives their ideas on what they want. This aids, leads to co- creation of brands products, services.

As busy as Richard Branson of Virgin group is, he also maintains a twitter account. He has used his twitter account to answer questions from angry customers as well as virgin potentials. The virgin group also has an integrated website that allows news update, blog among others. Southwest Airlines has used social media to build strong connection that impacts on the brand’s offline interaction

A good example of the use of social media to spread messages and connection was recently demonstrated by Michael Jackson’s personal doctor. As we are all aware, it was once insinuated that he killed Michael Jackson through drug overdose. About a week ago, he used YouTube video to spread his part of the case. This video spread across the internet as well as mainstream media. Popularity of virtual community has been soaring high with more people paying attention from academics and marketing communications practitioner discussing it in advance countries, yet Nigeria brands have assumed ‘I do not care attitude’. Nations and brands are not considered backward just because of their location but based on attitudes, disposition to the use of technology that will aid progress. Building emotional connection, loyalty with the brand is becoming an easy thing through social media.

Social media has become a great platform to identify with, interact, communicate brand element. This often starts in online forum and lead to offline beneficial relationship. Today, nearly three billion of the seven billion potentials are now connected in social media platforms. Agreed the ratio is still slow here but the number is increasing daily. Through social media brands can ignite confidence in the hearts of the bride, build thought leadership. Your brand competitors may have better product, services but will surely lose out to you if you can build strong connection with them before you ask them to buy through massive advertisement.

If your brand can give away enough information, answers to concerns and prove that you are on the verge of seriously neglecting your own best interest, of tight schedules, in order to serve these greedy, needy brides that desire your brands become more open, honest with them which is the essence of social media. Social media do not allow cover ups, unnecessary protection of corporate brand’s failures. I am of the opinion that if our banking industry’s Managing Directors have been active in social media, there is possibility of gaining public sympathy instead of this anger, tantrum they are now receiving from various angles. Their followers would have been able to defend them and take appropriate position that may have given them soft landing in this trying period.

Since our brands have concentrated on one form of media, mainstream, tell me why should their brides not block out their useless bragging through advertising? Tell me why is it difficult for brands n our environment to see handwriting on the wall that their brides now desire their authentic voices that are not coloured with jargons of self- serving moneybags? The brands’ brides are now also afraid; skeptical of marketing. Why should the brides be loyal when the element of trust is shaking?

Having established that let us now examine proper way of participating in social media which is now being exchanged for web.2.0. For brands to actively participate in social media, brands need to observe, listen, find clients’ hibernating medium. In doing this, brand should first define its social media strategy through careful evaluation of brand’s resources, analyze the target audience, and identify objectives. Having done this, brand must carefully pick or access platforms that fit their goals. This will inform the decision to run a blog or just to participate in other forums like Twitter, Facebook, discussion board, social media bookmarking, stumbleupon among others. Be sure you know that such platforms are used by your niche audience. Identify the top influencers of your industry online through recognitions given to their opinions, comments, awards etc.

To do this effectively, brand may consider creating the position of community or social media/knowledge management manager or hire consultant who has track records in skills like community management, online reputation management, monitoring, tracking, podcast, video cast, web links etc. These skills do not require a programmer’s knowledge and in actual fact, they are used by customer relations, brand, and Public relations experts. The only requirement is passion that is backed with proven results. The said manger or consultant must also understands forum rules, reputation software, know how to distribute contents without creating offense as this may be counter productive. Great ability to create qualitative content for blogs, create profiles and claim such blogs in online directories is also essential. Social media, content marketing, management is seen as collection of open-sourced, interactive and user- controlled online application used to expand the experiences, knowledge and market power of the users as participants in business and social processes, the social media landscape is basically about conversation before any marketing campaign.

Brands must therefore consider Rajesh Setty’s suggestion that it must demonstrate that your brand cares, is curious to find out what is the concern of the customers, contribute, make sure the content is worth their attention, clarify issues, build conversation that will lead to strong relationship, bring in a lot of creativity, demonstrate the brand’s character and values cherished, build community, tribe, brings change, instill courage and be highly commitment to a cause its believe in.

Let me conclude this piece by highlighting how brand can start participate in social media and content marketing. Content marketing is an art of understanding what your customers’ want, need to know and the science of delivering it to them in a useful and compelling way. The content has to be engaging in a useful and compelling way. To start, the brand has to build trust and credibility. This is huge work. This becomes easy if your brand can take time to listen to customers first. By that brand discovers their problems and the content is therefore tailored to provide solution.

Avoid talking too much about your brand or your expertise as much as I do know the fact that your brand need to establish the line that your brand is worth their attentions. This can make your brand’s efforts become suspect. Your customers want educational content without initial marketing spin. The content also has to be compelling, entertaining to earn the scarcest entity on the wed- time/patience. Great content must guides, clarifies, enlightened and connect. The language of the content has to be in tune with your industry. Contents that solve problems drive traffic and increases sale rate.

Social media and content marketing make your clients see your brand as unique resource, trusted advisor and a brand that makes them look good. This will make them to gladly exchange their money and loyalties for your commitment to the relationship. When you have so much to give, they will not wait to tell others about your brand. There are some other factors that come into play here but let us conclude today’s piece by saying that brand has several opportunities when it annexes the two way communication of mainstream and evolution of new media.

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