A lot of people jumped on the social media bandwagon because it was the cool new toy without having a clear strategy.
It reminds me of the time about 25 years ago when desktop publishing came into being. Everyone said that it would put designers out of business, because you could do it yourself. What happened for a while was that businesses executed some really bad design.
Just because people knew how to use the tool didn’t make them designers. Eventually, most businesses realized that they wanted trained designers to create their marketing and branding materials.
Today because the social media tools are free or inexpensive, business owners are setting up Facebook pages or LinkedIn profiles in 15 minutes and they don’t understand why they aren’t converting contacts into customers.
I’m not suggesting that you have to call in a marketing agency in order to have success, but you do have to spend a lot of time reading, learning about best practices and experimenting to figure out what works. If you don’t have that kind of time while pursuing your own business, then you may be better off to hire somebody who has done those things or regularly spends time trying to keep up.
That said, here are some things that can help make you more successful turning contacts into business on social media:
1. You need a hub. That may be your web site or a blog, but use social media to drive traffic back to your hub where you house your best stuff.
2. Create fresh content. That can be articles, blog posts, videos or podcasts, but it should be original. People can’t get to know your business in short tweets and status updates. Use social media to promote your content.
3. Social media is not an infomercial. Don’t use it as a hard-sell. Use social media to create relationships. Become the go-to person. Only occasionally will you be able to get away with shameless promotion, and that’s after you’ve established a foundation of trust and a reputation for giving lots of value to your community first. Social media is a long-term investment, not a short-term fix. Given that, you must post regularly. It’s not enough to have a page and thousands of friends. You need to post at least several times a week — daily is better.
4. Use social media to build a list. Nothing can replace the list, because these are people who have given you permission to market directly to them. Create and give away an e-book, article, small computer application, template, how-to video or anything of value that people will be willing to give their email address and name to get. You can then send them your newsletter and/or future offers.
5. Coordinate your social media with all of your marketing. Social media is just a tool in the same way that print, broadcast and other communications means are tools. You should not have a separate social media strategy. Note how The Gap coordinates its marketing: Facebook Fan Page, Twitter Page and Web site.
6. Now that so many businesses are using social media, it’s no longer enough just to show up. The bar is much higher. You must use creativity to get noticed. That includes providing games, holding contests and offering giveaway such as samples and coupons. Wow them.
7. Don’t get too comfortable with social media, because it will continue to evolve. One of the biggest game changers on the immediate horizon is mobile. More and more people are using their phones to access web sites and social media, and businesses need to be ready for it.
Graphic: by Intersection