The five rules of social media

Five things every business should consider before diving in

The term ‘social media' is now firmly cemented within the language of most marketers and businesses.

No longer deemed a ‘fad', businesses of all shapes, sectors and sizes are starting to engage with and understand just how far reaching these social channels are.

But before diving in, here are five things all businesses should consider about ‘becoming social'.

1 Treat the social channels as marketing channels

Rather than rushing to create a Facebook page or Twitter stream, take some time to think about the purpose of the activity. If you were embarking on any other marketing activity, before you began you would get some clarity of purpose. This clarity and thinking pretty much directs the entire direction of the campaign – what you are going to say, your positioning, call to action – and, of course, the metrics – what do you want to ultimately achieve. Be sure you've got this thinking and planning in place before you start – otherwise, it's not effective marketing, but instead flailing around in the dark.

2 Do your research

On the social channels it's never been easier to undertake market research. Not only do you have insight into vast numbers of people (so the sample size is effective) but you also have the immediacy of the research.

Listening to conversations and tracking keywords to understand discussions around specific topics are just two very simple ways of getting a temperature gauge. Listening is the starting point for social media – ensure that you build this all important function into your planning. Listening will guide you in the creation of your activity. If marketing utopia is to design products and services around customers' needs, then listening certainly helps you to direct how you engage once you're ready to start sharing.

3 It's all about engagement

Don't think that keeping a constant stream of ‘tweets' or ‘updates' going on a daily basis is engaging in social media. It's not about how much you put out, but rather, how engaging you are.

If your communications are all one way and you're not engaging people to discuss, share and comment with you, then effectively you're not harnessing the true potential of ‘being social'.

If someone asks a question, get involved, jump right in there and share something relevant.

Brainstorm ideas with your team about ‘how to engage your audience.' Very simply, you can ask questions and run polls. So to keep things fresh, get creative with ideas to engage your audience in conversations and importantly, keep them talking.

4 Watch and learn

Learn from your audience's activity. When sharing content links or information watch  what works and what doesn't. Ensure that you've got processes in place so that you can  monitor what goes down well with your audience – and what bombs.

For example, if you're sharing a link to a specific blog post and that blog post is enabled with a simple ‘tweet this' app, you can watch to see how well that post is tweeted.

Similarly, on platforms such as Co Tweet, Hootsuite or Tweetdeck (and a range of others) you can track which of your tweets are being retweeted. And, of course, on Facebook you can simply monitor comments and likes.

Watching what works and what doesn't really helps you to create and direct an effective content strategy. What you share needs to be compelling, so learn what ‘compels' your audience into action.

5 Keep up the momentum

No-one said that ‘being social' was easy. The channels are largely free to participate on,  however the commitment to opening up these channels as effective marketing platforms  is certainly not insignificant.

If you're going to start a Twitter stream and set up a Facebook page then be sure you're  committed to the cause.

An unanswered question on a Facebook page tells the audience that you really are not that engaged, and a Twitter feed which hasn't been updated for even a few days really does look out of place.

In fact being ‘inactive' is probably worse than having no presence at all.

Michelle Carvill is one of the social media trainers at Business Training Made Simple – a training organisation committed to delivering highly professional yet affordable business training solutions for start-ups and small businesses.


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