5 Essential Rules for Social Media and your small business brand

The original version of this article first appeared in the August 26th 2011 print edition of The Malaysian Reserve.

It is not a question of if you will stick your corporate toes in the social media waters, but when. Whether you like it or not, social media is taking the world of business by storm.

In a recent survey by Nielsen, a research company 73% of connected consumers in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam agreed they had been influenced by advertisements on social media.

Firms that continue to believe that social media is a fad or fun or not for business are only doing one thing, giving their competitors an advantage.

Research from Hubspot and MSN shows that companies with a social media brand strategy are seeing a significant increase in awareness, traffic to websites, search engine rankings, and social-media-generated qualified leads, perhaps the most important element of all. Moreover, statistics increasingly show that more and more people like to do business with businesses that have a strong social media presence.

But social media is much more than setting up a Twitter account or starting a Facebook page. Social media activities must be elements of your brand strategy in the same way as advertising, direct mail, email, PR are. The problem with these traditional activities is that they are reactive, you put it out there and wait for something to happen. If nothing happens you spend more money on another idea. If that doesn’t work you try something else.

A social media strategy, if done properly is proactive and can actually offer you all the things your traditional campaign can’t offer you – accountability, retention, a measureable return on investment, effectiveness tracking and more. Data from a 2010 report by Nielsen, a research company showed that social media had better results than traditional marketing activities.

So how should a small business enter the world of social media? The following five rules are relevant to any firm that seeks to develop a contemporary platform to raise awareness and be heard over the noise, acquire customers, increase sales and better serve customers which will in turn ensure customers are retained and not released to the competition.

1. Social media is not a technology issue it is relational and requires cultural changes within organizations.

The social media space is not the place for people with a traditional marketing mindset. Social media is exactly that, SOCIAL and requires you to use social skills to build rapport with consumers so that they may eventually become prospects, customers and possible evangelists. Trying to use a traditional marketing approach in social media and using a hard sell and trying to push a product or service in social media will damage your reputation.

2. Identify who in your organization will be responsible for your social media strategy.
You will need to have a social media strategy and it will have to be integrated with your brand strategy. If you don’t already have someone, you must be looking to hire a social media manager who reports directly to the CEO and not to a marketing or sales director. And because social media is incredibly dynamic and changes are happening 24/7, you are going to have to be prepared to give this person a lot of autonomy to interact with consumers and make decisions, some of which will be financial, that directly impact the relationship with prospects and customers.

In the old days of mass advertising across mass media you had control of the messages related to your brand. Social media is fluid, consumer driven and places the control of your brand in the hands of consumers. Accept that you have to relinquish control.

3. Social media is not a technical initiative, it is a relational initiative
Relationships don’t stop for an hour at lunchtime, at 5pm or over the weekend and nor does social media. Success in social media takes time as firms seek to build the credibility needed for consumers to trust them. Make sure posts are made daily and questions or requests attended to immediately even if raised over the weekend.

Although your social media strategy is not a technical initiative, social media personel need to have at least an understanding of related technology such as Google Analytics, Content Management Systems (like WordPress), and third party social media software like Tweetdeck and HootSuite – so as to assign metrics by which to assess and respond quickly.

4. Define your core audience and messages for those audiences.
Traditional marketing attempts to be all things to all people. This model won’t work on social media. If you intend to educate, identify who you want to educate and do so but don’t try to sell to them. If you have targeted them effectively, they will take the initiative and seek out more information about your organization and how you can provide value to them.

5. Social media is not a volume business
Someone once said that volume is vanity, value is sanity. What this means is that firms should look to increase profitability not sales. Used properly, social media can help you reduce your cost of acquisition and increase profitability. Don’t set out trying to have lots of followers who never buy your product or service. A single follower or friend who is engaged and interacts with you is worth more than a thousand followers or friends who only drop by once a year.

Social media is participatory and is an efficient tool for your organization to learn, exchange and build professional networks so take time to build individual relationships. Once you have a follower or friend or contact, you have their permission to interact with them in a consultative manner. It is not about broadcasting messages but holding conversations.

When a consumer gives an organization permission to speak to them, it is because they like what the organization is saying and want to hear more of it. An organization must engage, gain trust and then solve the problem. But be warned, this means that the organization’s messaging must be relevant just about 100% of the time.

This may take time and you may find it difficult to open up, especially if you and your marketing department, educated on a diet of broadcasting corporate driven messages to as many people as possible, are not used to sharing information, especially with prospects.

However, get it right and you will find that you build relationships and followers quickly, and inexpensively and this will lead to increased sales and more loyal customers who will not only spend more with you, they will share their experiences with your brand with their friends.

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