Social media has gone through an interesting evolution over the past decade from a teenage trend to a major marketing tool. When used correctly, social media now provides something previously unfathomable in the world of marketing: free, direct, daily interaction.
The first step to understanding how to use social media to your community’s or organization’s benefit is to understand what social media is. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines social media as:
“Forms of electronic communication (as Websites for social networking and microblogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content.”
Some of today’s most popular social media platforms include: Facebook®, Twitter®, LinkedIn®, Google Plus+®, Instagram®, Vine®, and various blogging sites. In addition to having social significance to the average consumer, each of these platforms provides a unique avenue for communities and organizations to connect with their constituency or customer base. Below is a list of a few social media platforms that have proven to be popular among communities, businesses, and marketing experts along with explanations of how organizations can take advantage of each platform and a few pros and cons.
Twitter is arguably the most popular social media platform right now. Twitter allows users to post short messages (or Tweets) of 140 characters or less and attach pictures, documents, or videos. Users can follow others whose message they may be interested in and develop their own following. Twitter also grants you the ability to have your Tweets protected so only those who you approve may follow you, or you can leave your Twitter feed open for anyone to see.
Pros: Twitter is a great way to deliver short and concise messages and attach images, videos, or documents. Most people who have Twitter check it regularly, and setting up the schedule is relatively easy because you only need to come up with 140 characters per Tweet. Also, because your message is short and your followers view it in a feed with Tweets from other people they follow, Tweeting a few times a day isn’t seen as intrusive.
Cons: Your Tweet shows up in your viewers’ feeds which are organized with the most recent Tweets at the top. If you Tweet in the morning and your viewers don’t look at their Twitter feeds until the afternoon, it is likely your Tweet will get buried in their feeds and they may never see it. Also, while the beauty of Twitter is its concise nature, that also presents some limitations for marketing. Sometimes 140 characters just isn’t enough.
Facebook is the current leader of classic social media sites, succeeding Friendster and Myspace. Facebook gives your community or organization an online profile that allows you to post as much about your company as you’d like. You can include pictures, events, status updates, and community/organization information on your Facebook page.
Pros: Facebook gives you an entire online profile. Unlike other forms of social media, you can put your location, contact information, events calendar, and almost anything else, neatly on your Facebook page. Facebook also has a specialized setup for businesses under its Page Manager application. With this feature, others can “like” your community or organization’s Facebook page. This feature gives you access to analytics to see how often a post was viewed and you can have numerous contributors for a single organization with individual log-ins and unique privileges.
Cons: Facebook requires others to initiate the contact by becoming a fan of, or liking your community or business. With the initiation taken out of your hands, it can be difficult to attract new fans.
LinkedIn is a social media platform that was developed for the business world. For communities or organizations, LinkedIn offers a space for you to display your products, post articles, allow your employees to link to you, and allow people to recommend your page.
Pros: As far as social media goes, LinkedIn is seen as a more “professional” option. Users often identify the current and previous companies they have worked for and the positions they’ve held. LinkedIn allows you to make professional connections with those within your company and other contacts you wish to interact with.
Cons: Because LinkedIn is set up to help you make professional connections, it isn’t the most useful marketing tool. Current clients may keep tabs on your organization’s or company’s page but it is difficult to market to new customers on this platform. Also making it a difficult platform to use for marketing, LinkedIn allows little interaction when compared to other platforms. And while LinkedIn is a very useful tool to find new prospects when hiring, it is also a good place for your current employees to be targeted by other companies.
Blogs are spaces for you to write long, well written, complete posts that share news about your company, plans for the future, your expertise, or anything else you can think of. There are many blog sites out there (WordPress®, Blogger®, TypePad®, and Squarespace® to name a few) and most operate fairly similarly. Often you will be given a choice of themes and, depending on your web development abilities and familiarity with themes, you can customize the site as far as you’d like.
Pros: Blogs give you complete freedom with your posts and do not limit the size of each post. The blog also works as an archive that keeps your posts organized by date or category and is easily searchable. These are typically great platforms to reach out to your customer base or constituency and share important information in an informal and unintimidating way. This platform also gives you a space to put information that does not directly relate to your company and would be inappropriate for your company website, but you feel your customers or constituency should know about. Typically, bloggers are a little more free with their “voice” when compared to press releases or other professional literature, allowing them to present a more personable image of their company.
Cons: While most blog sites do offer a comment section for each blog post, typically this platform is used as a one-way communication. Readers can provide feedback, but this is not the ideal platform for opening dialog. Blogs are also considerably longer than posts in other platforms. In today’s society people like short and concise communication, so your blog’s readership will likely be less than that of other social media platforms. Blogs will also take more of a commitment as you will need to regularly come up with new and exciting topics and generate longer pieces about those topics.
TIPS FOR SOCIAL MEDIA MARKETING
Select the Best Social Media Platform(s) for You:
It’s nearly impossible to tackle them all. Wikipedia’s “List of social networking sites” contains 200 “well-known” sites. Determine what you want to accomplish, how you want to communicate, and the amount of time and resources you are willing to dedicate, and then select your social media platform(s) based on that. Start with a light load until you get comfortable with maintaining a social networking site; you can always add more as you and the world of social media continue to evolve.
Create a Schedule Well in Advance
Create a posting schedule for each of your platforms that includes what you will post and when (date and time). Your posts should be planned weeks in advance and be carefully edited. By having a plan you can avoid the pressure of having to come up with a post on the spot. Be sure you are varying the topics of your posts to save time and energy in the day-to-day maintenance of your social media sites. If something unique or exciting comes up, don’t be afraid to add that into the mix. Timely, spontaneous posts are often the most impactful: just make sure you edit spontaneous posts carefully before posting.
Interact with Friends/Followers/Fans
One of the great things about social media is that it opens up an easy line of communication between you and your followers. The communication is so easy that many companies are now using social media as a part of their support or customer service. According to a survey conducted by American Express, “25% of consumers who complain about products on Facebook or Twitter expect a response within one hour.” Keeping up with your interactions, good and bad, can lead to happier customers or constituents. Congratulating followers, commenting on their products, or thanking them for their support all go a long way in making a company or community seem more friendly and approachable.
If your employees are going to have their own accounts for work purposes, make sure they are clearly branded with your company’s name or logo. If I were to Tweet about LEIGHTRONIX products under the Twitter handle @Sherri_Powers, people may have trouble finding me. However if I made my Twitter handle @LEIGHTRONIX_Sherri_Powers, it would be clear that I am Tweeting on the company’s behalf and I would be easier to find for those looking for LEIGHTRONIX Twitter feeds.
Be Informative and Engaging
While you market your services and share information about your community or organization, you should also make sure to keep your profile/page engaging. Your viewers will quickly abandon your page and ignore your posts if they feel you are using it as an avenue to broadcast company advertisements rather than engage your customers. Try to find a balance between being informative/interactive and promoting your goods and services.
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