By Mark Swartz
Monster Contributing Writer
To Tweet or not to Tweet. That is no longer the question. Today the question is how to use social media - including Twitter, Facebook and YouTube - to benefit your small business.
Here are five steps to follow in building your social media marketing plan strategically.
Step One: Define Your Social Objectives
Do you want to increase business? Improve customer service? Demonstrate your expertise in a certain niche? Build buzz? Since you can't be all things to all people, you'll need to be clear about which goals to achieve.
For instance, to increase business you may want to create contests, use special online coupons or free trial offers, and solicit testimonials about your products and services. Whereas if you want to show your expertise within your business's niche, you could moderate discussions - or have your in-house experts answer questions - that relate to the types products and services you offer.
Step Two: Target Your Social Audience
Similar to offline marketing, your efforts should target the audiences you most want to reach. Are your key customers teenagers living in the suburbs? People responsible for purchasing in government agencies? Other small businesses?
Social media enables you to start conversations, participate in them, promote your brand, and humanize your company. It's about more than just creating static "fan" pages. If, for example, you're a local coffee shop, you could set up a page for coffee lovers. Then use that space to engage your audience. Not everyone may want to talk about your coffee shop, but lots of folks like to gab about coffee.
Step Three: Decide Where To Place Your Social Content
You've selected your target audience and have set your social objectives. What are the best sites to get your messaging out? There are many outlets to choose from:
· Pinterest virtual cork boards
· FourSquare location announcers
The most used social media sites are Facebook (800 million users), Twitter (140 million users), and YouTube (158 million users). However you should use the ones where your target audience is most likely to be found.
Step Four: Choose How Often To Update Your Social Content
Unlike a website, which can remain somewhat static once it's properly set up, social media is all about fresh, pertinent content. This means sending out new Tweets on Twitter. Uploading to your Facebook page and responding to comments from viewers. Producing interesting YouTube videos so that your page doesn't get stale.
A Tweet or two a day on Twitter could be enough to keep your audience happy. Same with a few Facebook updates on a daily basis. As for YouTube videos, a new one every once in a while suffices - unless you're building your brand using YouTube as a primary channel.
Step Five: Strike A Balance Between Selling And Engaging
Once your message has been clearly defined, it's important not to oversell. Otherwise you might lose your audience as they sense you're more about marketing than actually caring about them.
There's a point at which you are promotional enough to win sales, but entertaining enough to make people forget that’s your primary objective. Some companies go with a 70/30 approach (70% self-promotion, 30% pure engagement). Others do 50/50, while others do very little self-promotion, letting their engagement and information serve as their marketing tools. Your balance will depend on the type of audience you cater to.
Social Media Marketing Should Be Done Strategically
Some smaller businesses start their social media without a marketing plan in place. What you often end up seeing is scattered messaging and inconsistent delivery of updates. If you're not careful, this sort of hunt and peck method can make you look worse than no social media at all.
That's why it's essential to be organized and proactive. Know which goals your social media should achieve. Pick a target audience and use the sites that will reach them most efficiently. Keep your content fresh and relevant. Also balance self-promotion with pure engagement.
By strategically defining your social media marketing, you stand a better chance of connecting with - and engaging - new or existing customers and job seekers. The impressions you make could be long lasting.