Whether you already use social media for business or you’re still thinking about it, the concept to start with is, “why.” You can most certainly jump in and start experimenting—that’s how many people begin. But sometimes I see frustration mount as these folks evaluate if their efforts are worth it.
The typical metrics (e.g., followers or connections, comments, or retweets) are nice for the ego but don’t often correlate with dollars. It’s at this point that some people abandon their attempts. Others realize that some goals might be helpful.
The most important aspect in using social media effectively is to be clear about your business-related purpose for using these tools. Why are you there? There are several possible reasons that fall into these three categories:
Business Development. By building and strengthening relationships with current and future clients and referral sources through sharing and interacting, you can enhance your credibility, seem more personable and interesting, and show that you’re highly accessible. Relationships for recruiting and community involvement are also enriched through social-media activities.
Customer Service and Reputation Management. Monitoring online mentions of yourself and your business provides opportunities to help others, manage imperfect situations, and stand out from other firms. You develop a proactive fan base to offset any negative sentiments with a higher ratio of praise to criticism (think Amazon reviews). Your presence online permits you to increase loyalty and make problems right.
Just Plain Learning. There’s never been an easier way to isolate (through time-saving filters) high-quality, timely information to expand your knowledge. You can set-up content to be fed to you or manually skim for good articles within your chosen communities of peers, thought leaders, industry experts, and clients.
Select your primary purpose; this drives your considerations and next steps. It also drives who does what. Generally, educational and relationship-based activities must occur at the individual practitioner level. Others can perform monitoring, with your direction.
Start by identifying exactly who are you trying to reach. Where do they already congregate both online and off? What will it take to be a participant and maybe an influencer in those communities?
Think about one niche area at a time. Niches can be by industry, market segment (e.g., family-owned business, public companies), demographic (e.g., retirees, recent immigrants), or situational (e.g., divorcees, people caring for aging parents).
Then, within a niche, who are the decision influencers in terms of their roles? For each role, consider the person’s mindset, business concerns, interests, and technological sophistication. What organizations and resources do they trust? Are they involved in discussion or LinkedIn groups? What blogs and Twitter feeds do they follow? Ask some clients these questions if you’re not sure.
Your end goal is sales through warm inquiries and qualified referrals. To get them, you need to be visible to and (ideally) have conversations with influential people on topics they are interested in. They should see that you’re credible and capable. This is how trust begins.
CUSTOMER SERVICE AND REPUTATION MANAGEMENT
Monitoring online mentions can be delegated, but the subsequent interactions for reputation management are tricky. Outsource only if you carefully qualify the vendor and assure they follow your protocol for interacting on your behalf. Reputations can be harmed more than helped by ill-qualified employees or vendors. To understand some risks, see “Why Outsourcing Social Media Isn’t Always the Best Step” (http://bit.ly/outsourceSM).
To monitor for mentions, I like Google Reader to automatically aggregate results for search parameters that relate to you and your firm. Hubspot, a social media service company, has a great instructional webinar (www.hubspot.com/archive/monitor-social-media-presence-daily) on how to set up monitoring so it takes less than ten minutes (they say daily, but once or twice a week is sufficient).