Social media is fast becoming a key tool for growing any business. Here are 10 tips for making the most out of this trend.
1. Determine your goals
It’s easy to say that companies should have a social media presence but without a clear plan that activity is unlikely to be effective. Without specific aims your posts will just add to the already significant noise on social networks. At best you’ll be ignored, at worst you will actively annoy people.
So begin by deciding what you want to achieve: do you want to raise awareness of your brand or a new product? Do you plan to use these channels for customer relations? Are you hoping to attract new customers, increase sales or drive traffic to your website? You might want to do all of those things but work out your primary goal and make that the core of your activity.
2. Know where to find your audience
Once you have a plan, you need to decide where to publish. Big brands will probably find that their customers or potential customers are spread across most social networks and will need a coordinated plan to reach all of them. That means Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Tumblr and so on. Smaller companies, or those with fewer resources to devote to social media, will need to prioritise.
Your strategy will be affected by the site – or sites – you target. What works on Facebook doesn’t necessarily work on Twitter and vice versa. And both are crowded. If you have a lot of visual content then you might want to focus on Pinterest, which is a newer site. If you have in-house experts who are good at explaining complicated things then perhaps a YouTube channel is the best outlet.
Setting a tone
3. Be human
Social networks are about people. Think of Twitter or Facebook as being like a café filled with people talking about their interests. If you plan to take your brand into that environment then you need a human tone and not one that sounds like a press release or a marketing slogan. That doesn’t necessarily mean your tone should be casual; business users of LinkedIn will expect a more formal approach than Facebook users, for example.
4. Be transparent (but discreet)
If something has gone wrong and customers are upset then be as open about the problem as you can. That doesn’t mean that you should reveal commercially sensitive information or expose individual employees to the anger of your customers but you should be as informative as possible. Companies often default to secrecy, particularly when dealing with a problem, but customers want to understand what has happened and know what is being done to fix it.
5. Emphasise your expertise
The point of a social media presence is to improve your business and its reputation but that doesn’t mean limiting what you publish to promotional messages and crisis communications. Posts that highlight your expertise within your industry can boost your brand. They deepen your relationship with customers but are also the kind of material that non-customers want to share. This doesn’t mean you need to give away trade secrets. Instead, ask yourself what people don’t understand about your industry and explain it. Or consider the questions you are most often asked by customers and publish posts explaining the answers. Remember to make your posts fit the tone of the community you are talking to and don’t just republish the FAQs from your website.
6. Don’t try to do too much
Social media is always on and conversations about your brand can start in the middle of the night, at the weekend, on a public holiday or at any other time when you might not be paying attention. It can be easy to end up with one jittery social media manager anxiously checking Twitter at all hours or even with an ever expanding – and expensive – team of shift workers. You might want to cover all hours – and if so, you need to be sure you have appropriate resources – but it’s worth considering whether you really need to. It might be better to focus on publishing the best content that you can when most of your audience is online.
7. Use professional tools and analytics
Social media monitoring tools and services have come a long way over the past few years and there are now plenty of options for companies that want to track activity across multiple networks, coordinate team efforts and schedule content publishing. Services like SocialFlow can help you determine the best time to publish content, while something like SocialBro can identify the key influencers in your online community. Together with a powerful analytics solution like Crowdbooster and a social media management tool like Hootsuite, you can put together a powerful suite of apps to control your social media presence.
8. Be careful what you say
When fashion brand Celeb Boutique spotted the term #Aurora trending on Twitter the company tweeted that the term obviously referred to its Aurora dress. Unfortunately, the hashtag was about the cinema shooting in Aurora, Colorado, in 2012. The company’s tweet was not an attempt to hijack the hashtag for promotional purposes – something that often happens and which is usually greeted with disdain – but a mistake resulting from a failure to check the true reason for the hashtag. It didn’t matter: the mistake was picked up on across the media.
9. Automated updates can backfire
Scheduling updates can be a good way to lighten the load on your social media team. It makes it possible to post out-of-hours or just to ensure that an important post will go out at the right time, rather than be forgotten. However, it’s important to remember what is scheduled and be prepared to change the plan in response to events. For example, during the horsemeat scandal, the Tesco Customer Care account tweeted that staff were “off to hit the hay”. Fortunately, customers mostly reacted to the tweet with amusement but it shows how an automated update published at the wrong time can cause problems.
10. Beware of promotions that can be hijacked
Social media is all about engagement and naturally companies like to use these channels to get customers involved. However, promotional events, such as asking customers to tweet something about your company using a specific hashtag, can be hijacked. In 2009, Mars replaced the homepage for its confectionary brand Skittles with a host of social media feeds. Tweets mentioning Skittles were automatically posted onto the page, which caused problems once some of the social network’s more mischievous users figured it out. Instead, the company should have pre-moderated tweets if it planned to include them on the site.
Shane Richmond is a specialist in digital media, who writes about technology for the World Economic Forum’s blog.