The next social media wave: Five golden rules to follow
Social media is a relatively cost effective tool that increasing numbers of Australian businesses, regardless of size or sector, are eagerly grasping.
Granted, this surging enthusiasm for all things Twitter and Facebook is starting from a low base – a Sensis study from last year found that just 14% of Australian companies have a social media presence.
It’s clear that social media can not only complement your sales and marketing efforts, it can form an entire basis of a business, as our story this week on the retail start-up with no website that gathered an army of 87,000 Facebook fans in just 18 months shows.
But the social media landscape is constantly shifting. While Facebook still looks a good bet for start-ups, recent research shows that its growth has slowed dramatically, while relative newcomer Pinterest is enjoying booming growth among users.
This changing market demands that entrepreneurs work even harder on their social media efforts, to ensure they stay relevant with their target customers.
Adam Franklin, founder of digital agency Bluewire Media, says: "To paraphrase Thomas Edison, social media is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration."
"It’s easy and fun to take the plunge into social media. You begin with lofty visions of millions of fans hanging on your every tweet. Then reality sets in, and you realise it can be hard work staying on the social media treadmill."
"That’s why you need a social media activity schedule and some old-fashioned perseverance."
With this in mind, we spoke to the experts to compile the five golden rules of social media that every start-up should heed.
To read each golden rule, follow the tabs below.
1. Familiarise yourself with your options
The first step in getting social media to work for you is to get a good grasp on the platforms out there that can promote your business to the masses.
Each option has its strengths, weaknesses and unique functions. There are plenty of social media sites out there, but Adam Franklin, founder of web strategy agency Bluewire Media, has picked out the seven options most likely to help you get your message out, along with the golden rules of using each one:
Facebook is the most social. It’s friends sharing photos, posting updates and having (public and private) conversations.
You ‘friend’ people you know (yes, friend is now a verb). And if you like what people or businesses post, that then gets shared with all your friends. One in two people in Australia are active users, so I bet your customers are using Facebook more than you think!
Golden rule: Interact with people as if you were at a barbeque.
Twitter is where you’ve got 140 characters to compose a tweet. Think of each tweet like someone’s speech bubble and Twitter like a big hall of people talking with one another.
Golden rule: Interact with people like you’re at a business conference.
YouTube is like having your very own TV channel, except it’s free and billions of people watch videos on it every day.
You can record a video, edit it on iMovie and upload it to YouTube in hardly any time at all. And, if it’s popular, it’s possible for millions of people to see it within days, but remember – most “corporate videos” are boring.
Golden rule: Be human and don’t be afraid to inject some personality and humour.
Instagram is the tool you can use to take, enhance and share the pictures you take. What sets it apart from Flickr is the ability to easily edit and enhance your photos so they look way more impressive. Facebook recently bought Instagram for $US1 billion.
Golden rule: Remember to get consent before you post photos of people.
LinkedIn is your professional profile, CV, recruitment tool and rolodex all-in-one. It’s often called “Facebook for work”. You can connect with all the people in your business network and it’s great because you don’t lose contact with someone when they change jobs.
Golden rule: Don’t exaggerate the facts or someone will find out you’re fibbing!
Your blog is your “voice” – it’s your chance to communicate directly with prospective buyers via your own free publishing platform.
A blog is your blank canvas to serve your community with useful information, build trust and nurture relationships. A blog provides you with the remarkable content to share on the other social networks!
Golden rule: Write useful blog articles as if you were writing to your favourite client.
Pinterest is the new kid on the block where you can “pin” pictures of things you like to a virtual pinboard. Pinners (people who use Pinterest) use it to help decorate their homes, save recipes and plan weddings. It’s the fastest growing social media platform in history and it’s still “invitation-only”!
Golden rule: Give credit where it’s due and acknowledge your sources.
2. Choose the right strategy for your business
With all of these social media options available to you at zero cost, it’s tempting to dive in and set up profiles on all of them.
What you should be doing, however, is putting together a coherent strategy on how social media can help you achieve your key business objectives.
“Don’t go and create a profile on each social media site just for the sake of it,” warns James Griffin, partner at SR7.
“Before you launch, you really need to find out where your target customers spend their time online.”
“Have a search around different platforms for keywords that relate to your business. Find out if there’s a blog that your customers like to read. Concentrate your efforts on where your customers are.”
“Also, make sure you set out what social media success is for you. Success may not be fans and followers – it could be getting three extra leads or customer calls a month. Set your goals early on so that you can measure them.”
Craig Hodges, founder of social media consultancy King Content, agrees that it’s important to pick out the platforms that work for you.
“We started with LinkedIn as this was the best way for us to start developing a rapport with potential customers given we’re a B2B business,” he says.
“It enables us to develop cost-effective marketing campaigns via email, discussions and groups, and it enables us to target potential customers effectively and professionally – and, most importantly, it works.”
“Alongside LinkedIn we worked on building our Twitter following, which proved extremely useful from both a professional business perspective and a marketing/brand point of view.”
“By following the tweets of those involved in all aspects of our industry, we gained valuable insight into the changes within our markets and also made some very useful connections.”
“We soon began to pick up a lot of traction on Twitter, and once our peers followed us in return and retweeted our posts it became somewhat of a snowball effect and we gained great respect as a leader in our field.”
“It also helped, however, that we had a blog on our website which we could link Twitter followers back to, as this acted as a way of bumping up our SEO and Google ranking.”
“Next came Facebook – and although we tackled Facebook alongside Twitter and LinkedIn, I’ll openly admit that this took a backseat, as it didn’t have the same benefit for us that the others did.”
“Controversial, I know, but as a company that provides content (and therefore isn’t likely to upload photos and too much personal content) it didn’t have the same appeal for our followers.”
“For any business where the customer is actively involved (especially in an exciting way) Facebook provides the perfect platform from which to share these experiences and spread the word.”
Hodges advises that you follow a five point process:
- Do your homework – social media is another marketing channel and requires the same amount of planning and strategy.
- Pick the platforms that suit your business and then attack them with the channel in mind.
- Learn from your mistakes (we made a few) and keep trying new angles.
- Learn from the masters (the companies, not the so-called gurus) who have done it right.
- The social media landscape changes quickly so keep up to speed with those that know it.
3. Cultivate the right audience
A key part of a successful social media strategy is the ability to engage meaningfully with people in your industry which, in turn, opens the door to potential customers.
Increasingly, businesses are looking to act as influencers of consumer opinion on Twitter, as well as connect with those that can lend them credibility in the marketplace.
So, how do you do this? Hodges explains: “As a business owner you need to figure out who the top influencers on Twitter are in your industry and learn from them.”
“They will help you to extend your reach and also to direct more followers to your business.”
“(An influencer) is an individual or web entity that has a strong following and/or readership within one or more social media channels.”
“They are identifiable through their high following and frequent tweets. Make sure they can answer ‘yes’ to these three questions with flying colours: Do they produce valuable content that’s engaging, relevant and useful? Are they consistent with updates every day? Is their interaction with followers of a high quality?”
Hodges says you need to write a list of keywords to search for in Twitter that will direct you to:
- Occupations in your industry
- Common glossary terms
- Businesses and associations in your industry
- Twitter users that write about your industry i.e. media journals and publications
- Your competitors
- Your target audience
He says: “Once you’ve identified some key influencers it’s time to begin developing relationships with them. To get an influencer to follow you and to get them to retweet your content you should start by simply following them.”
“When you see a post of theirs that you feel is worthy of retweeting then go ahead and do it. Also directly @ reply them when you add to their conversation, always responding with a considered or humorous comment.”
“Research studies have shown that people don’t like to be marketed to on Twitter, so don’t be spammy – nobody likes a spammer!”
“It may take some time and a bit of effort to win the attention of an influencer, so refrain from going in with all guns blazing.”
“Being a small business owner means you don’t have the same pulling power as the big brands when it comes to engaging influencers. But the effort is well worth it, so be smart and persevere.”
4. Put in the time and be systematic
If you are committing your business to driving awareness and sales via social media, you will need to put in the time.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean two hurried minutes at the end of the day. It means diverting precious time throughout the day to build a channel that will benefit your business in the long run.
“There is a misconception among some people we speak to that you can just spend a few minutes a day on social media – you need to spend 45 minutes to an hour, three times a week, to start with,” says SR7 partner Griffin.
“This can be a burden if you are running your own business, but the benefit outweighs this. Put in the time, effort and money, if needed.”
“A basic thing is to get a graphic designer to do your Twitter background and include your opening hours, logo and contact details. Lots of people overlook that, but $100 on getting that design right will go a long way.”
Once you are engaging with customers on Twitter or Facebook, you need to be aware of the return on the time you’re spending on social media.
Granted, it is hard to track the exact monetary benefit from having a successful social media strategy, but there are ways that you can measure whether you are on track or not.
“The biggest thing that businesses, both large and small, overlook is understanding cause and effect,” says Griffin.
“If you go out and get good traction on social media, how do you measure and then sustain that?”
“Well, make sure you address complaints in a systematic way, rather than being ad hoc. Social media increases the accountability and transparency of businesses, so you need to be aware that people will post things on your Facebook wall that you’re uncomfortable with.”
“Make sure you are proactive, get onto it quickly and deal with it. Note down where you’ve got leads from and identify if they’ve come from social media. You need to know what parts of your business are working or not, including your social media efforts.”
5. Convert your followers into buyers
Gathering lots of Facebook “Likes” and Twitter followers is great. But, ultimately, they will be of little benefit to your business unless you can convert them into paying customers for your business.
So how do you assemble a group of followers who are interested, engaged consumers willing to part with their money?
This challenge is, according to Hodges, “the hardest step” in your social media strategy. However, these four tips should help:
- Post high quality, engaging content. Think to yourself: would I share this? If not, it’s not worth posting.
- Constantly engage with those who leave messages.
- Reward your followers and make this reward obvious to others.
- Remind those that do follow you that they can share posts – and prompt them to.
“Growing ‘Likes’ on a Facebook page does not necessarily make you a successful company or generate any extra sales,” Hodges warns.
“To turn your ‘Likes’ into actual sales you must be extremely savvy and proactive about how you speak and deal with your ‘Likees’.
“The good news is that they already like your product – so that’s at least one hurdle cleared. Treat these people as if they’re customers browsing your store – the last thing you want to do is scare them off after you’ve managed to get them through the door.”
- Don’t irritate your “Likees” with too much information. In other words, don’t continuously upload post after post – they will get fed up with this, very quickly.
- Offer them something unique – after all, who doesn’t get bored in a shop that has nothing worth buying on offer?
- Be personal! Start conversations with your “Likees” and don’t be afraid to show some personality – people do business with people.
- Go one step further – if someone makes an enquiry about a product, instead of just leaving a one-line comment or a link, post images and tell them as much as possible about the item.
- Make your “Likees” aware that buying from you is a quick and easy process. It helps if you can get some kind of consumer feedback about this, in order to promote yourself.
The sales platform and the product display will also be critical in converting your followers into buyers.
“Again, think of your page as a shop – post albums of your latest collections and prompt people to leave their comments,” Hodges advises. “People shop with their eyes, so make your products as appealing as possible.”
“Most importantly, integrate a sales platform into your Facebook page. This may take some time but essentially it will turn your page into an ecommerce solution. This is new to Facebook pages and we predict it will soon be the bee’s knees of social ecommerce.”
“Competitions, offers and giveaways on social media can work well for small businesses, but make sure that you are always offering your customers something of value, rather than spam.”
“While you ultimately want to use social media to boost your sales, don’t view this medium as a direct marketing medium in which to bombard customers with your sales pitch. They will quickly desert you.”
Try to keep a ratio of two-to-one in favour of interesting, non-sales related content.
It’s also worth identifying your biggest social media fans, such as those that retweet your links or regularly comment on your Facebook page, and offering them first crack at any discounts or other offers.