How to work with social media effectively

3 tips to kick-start your company's social media

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Social media marketing is one of those things that most entrepreneurs and small business owners wonder if they really need.

In general, my answer is yes, but I need to qualify that by saying that the amount of time, effort and cash you invest must be proportional to the returns you want (and can realistically achieve).

I serve on the board of a wonderful not-for-profit, registered charity, and we have utilized the tools and technologies provided by the Web, and in particular, social media, to drive visibility, engagement, and awareness that would simply be out of reach otherwise.

So, yes, your business (even if it is not for profit) does need social media, but it may not be in the way you think.

Check out our 3 top tips to help guide your first few steps into this exciting but challenging world.

1. Re-align your expectations

I think the first, and arguably most important, point is to understand how social media can be harnessed for business, and what the returns might be.

It is not a good tool for driving direct sales. If you're thinking about sharing all your latest deals and products on Twitter, let me save you some time and effort. Stop right now.

You aren't going to make money directly. And, what's worse, you aren't even going to make money quickly.

So why bother?

Here's what it will do for your company in the long run (if you do things right):

  1. build a loyal, connected, and engaged base of clients/customers/fans/followers
  2. leverage existing connections to extend your reach and visibility
  3. help provide authority and trust (tangible proof)
  4. combine with other marketing initiatives to improve returns and profits

The first point here is the most important because it kind of demonstrates why social media is not a silver bullet for online retail. Simply put; people aren't interested in reading sales pitches.

They want to belong to community that interests them and offers value. If you can provide that, they become your very own army of marketers, and that's when your business starts to benefit.

2. Work out how to build a community

When you sit down to work out what the objectives of any campaign should be, it's important to understand that the only way to succeed on social is to foster a community.

Our non-profit does this by offering advice and support to other activists and anyone else who needs help fighting for the same cause around the world. We have regional "leaders" in over 60 countries who are actively included in any issue that arises in their region.

This gives them responsibility and encourages them to make the effort - remember, they are volunteers. They in turn support local newcomers who are in turn encouraged and rewarded for their efforts with welcomes and congratulations shared worldwide... all via social media.

The power of this community is staggering. And, from our base in the southern tip of Africa, we end up contributing to real change across the globe every day. It's wonderful. There's a fantastic example of this in action (which will soon be included in a wildlife documentary) at A tale of two lion cubs in Spain, if you're interested.

With that in mind, there is an all-important question that must be answered before you can even get started with setting up accounts and tweeting, sharing, pinning, etc. In essence, find out what it is that your niche market needs, and provide it.

What can you share that will build a community around your business?

Some big commercial brands are getting this strategy absolutely right, and Harley Davidson comes to mind here. Harley builds local communities of customers on a per suburb or town-wide basis. From there, they offer tours, parties, and tonnes of other engagements all centered around their stores.

This is a brilliant concept because it turns a one-time buyer into a lifelong community member who is going to splash out on all the accessories, buy a new bike at some stage, and generally be a great advocate for their brand. Sure, not everything is done via online... but you can't disagree, the basis of this strategy is social.

This leads neatly to my final point...

3. Integrate

There is absolutely no point in working hard on social media if it isn't well integrated into your existing business and other marketing strategies. If you post all your best news directly to Twitter, then sure, people will start following you on Twitter, but essentially you are promoting Twitter itself as a source of news.

Instead, take the time to create content - write great articles, make video clips, whatever is most appropriate. Social media is a platform for you to share your voice and grow a community. But it's not the community itself. It's not your voice. The content you create is your voice, and the customer service, newsletters, events, networking, etc, forms the kernel of your community.

For example, you must absolutely implement email marketing, if you are going to focus on the Internet as a platform to promote your enterprise. Learn more at email marketing for small business.

Content, in tandem with email marketing, and shared and promoted online provides an holistic way to grow your business. It takes time. It takes work. But it does work.

Has your company worked with social media? How did you fare? What advice and suggestions do you have for other SMEs? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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