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How to plan a successful social media campaign for your business

Top tips for finding and engaging with your customers online

Staking your claim on the social web means that people can now find you, even if you’re not really talking to them. You’ve joined more than half of all small businesses, and that figure is growing rapidly as more people catch on to how easy it is to get publicity if you use the right tactics. At this stage I should probably apologise to anyone who is still in denial about the importance of using social media, because these days it’s very much a case of ‘if you can’t join them, they will beat you’. So everybody’s at it, and you should be too. But that doesn’t mean that you have to spend hours each day coming up with pithy status updates and chatting to any Tom, Dick or Harry who might buy something from you. It also doesn’t have to involve spending a single penny on advertising.

Identifying the crowd

So who is this ‘crowd’ that everyone keeps talking about? It’s a term that you’re going to hear a lot if you embrace the social web. As in life, a crowd is a large group of people with some shared characteristic or purpose. On the Internet that normally means signing up to something like a ‘crowd-funding’ project, where ordinary people can contribute in some way towards the financial needs of a start-up. Other crowds form to collect and distribute vast amounts of information – free and often fast. It’s called ‘crowd sourcing’, and the most high-profile cases normally come to light during disaster relief efforts, such as when road maps of rural Haiti were urgently needed by international rescue teams following the devastating earthquake in 2010. Wikipedia is a crowd-sourced online encyclopaedia. Projects like this have attracted crowds in their thousands – in the case of Wikipedia, tens of millions have been involved in writing it – but you don’t need to be thinking anything close to that scale to give your small business a real boost.

Social by design – creating an effective campaign

GOAL>STRATEGY>TACTICS The very first thing that you need is a goal, and then you can come up with a strategy to reach it. It doesn’t have to be a very grand, long-term goal. In fact, if you’re just starting out on the social web I would advise that you set your sights quite low to begin with, as the bigger picture will happen on its own if you get the small stuff right. It might seem a bit obvious, but before you go spamming the hell out of your networks and confusing them, work out what it is that you want to achieve. If you’re a retailer that might mean getting 15% more customers to visit your shop on a Wednesday; if you’re in a trade it could be quoting for 10 new jobs a week. Whatever outcome suits your business, decide on your first short-term goal now. Sorted? Good. With a goal in mind you should be able to picture your target demographic; now you just need a strategy to hook them. Maybe that will be offering a discount voucher for days when your business is quiet. Perhaps you’d rather run a competition, or build a buzz around a launch event. Running meaningful promotions and give-aways used to be the exclusive domain of much larger companies, as you need a decent-sized audience to sell to. But the rise of social media over the last half decade has opened up the playing field. Using the right tactics – the final piece of your social media game plan – you can gather an audience through your networks and then slam them all right between the eyes at the same moment with your offer. If it’s well received your followers will share it and recommend it to their own networks, and you will see your exposure blossom organically inside whichever groups you have targeted. So, in the example of a retail outlet that wants to see more customers through the door on a quiet day, the following broad campaign design would work well: GOAL: Increase footfall by 15% on Wednesdays. STRATEGY: Advertise a promotion for Wednesdays to 500 potential new customers. TACTICS: Connect and engage with existing customers online; post content and offers to further engage customers and get them spreading the word about you to their own networks; use flyers and postcards to entice new customers to join you online. I’m paraphrasing massively there, and the example is only one amongst countless possible campaign objectives. For now, though, having that simple structure in mind and a very definite goal in your sights will make time spent online far more rewarding. This exclusive extract is taken from technology journalist Kate Russell’s new book Working the Cloud, published by Crimson Publishing. Available to order on Amazon now.

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