With last year's exponential growth of Facebook and Twitter, marketers accept that social media is a requisite element of any integrated marketing strategy. But social media is new and in some ways different from traditional media. The challenge is leveraging social media effectively to build your prospect list and customer base, drive sales, and develop customer advocates.
While marketers intuitively understand this, many need to use some fresh tactics to help build a social media marketing plan that achieves these goals. Here are 13 actionable tactics:
Understand how and why members of your target market use social media. As with any marketing plan, it's critical to know your target audience so you can develop properly tailored content and communications to meet their needs. Here are three factors to consider to better understand why they participate in social media:
People want to connect with people who have similar interests to socialize.
People are looking to expand their network of relationships, especially in situations where they need a personal referral.
People use social media as a search filter to get input from trusted sources.
Develop content that meets consumers' needs and interests. This should go beyond just broadcasting some offer. You should limit promotions to one out of 12 messages at most. Specifically, provide information that fulfills customers' and social media participants' needs. Remember, with social media, your audience is broader than your target market. Consider the following types of content and information:
Provides product support and/or how-to information. This is particularly useful to encourage purchase (for example, recipes) or to provide additional instructions for post-purchase.
Relates to consumers' hobbies and personal interests. Also, consider targeted communities like Ravelry and Dogster.
Provides humor, because everyone likes to be entertained.
Acts as a communication channel to aggregate relevant news, announce meetings, etc.
Use a variety of forms of content and understand the role that each plays in social media. A combination of time specific and evergreen information is necessary. Some types of social media drive people to your Web site and your other social media pages. Among the different formats to consider are articles, commentary (including comments, reviews, discussions, and tweets), blog posts, photos, audio, video, presentations, and Webinars.
Enable social media participants to share content. This applies to the content on your Web site and third-party social media sites, as well as your other communications and collateral. Remember, information is currency in their relationships.
Support and promote consumer-generated content. This should be across a wide range of venues, including consumer comments, reviews, and discussions on community sites and bulletin boards; and vehicles like TripAdvisor, Yahoo Answers, and LinkedIn.
Integrate product information into your content/story. This is necessary for readers to find your product. Make your products part of your story. It's important that your Web site and purchase pages are optimized so visitors can share, save information, and purchase.
Leverage social media's ability to serve as a search function. In part, Twitter's time on site is low relative to sites like Facebook because it acts like a search engine by sending readers to other sites and content.
Use content in social media to help build organic search optimization. Provide keyword rich content and links to other areas of your Web site and offer related information. This is particularly important with the introduction of real-time search results.
Listen to, interact with, and recognize consumers. They want to be heard and acknowledged. They want human interaction, not an automated communication.
Provide immediacy and nimbly react to events as they unfold. For example, people mobilized and donated to Haitian causes within minutes of the recent earthquake. The key is to make your communications relevant on an individual basis and to enable smaller contributions.
Participate in social media with a human voice and a personal story. This refers back to "The Cluetrain Manifesto."
Encourage employees to participate in social media. Trust them to build relationships outside of the traditional channels of sales, support, and service. Develop guidelines to empower employees and give them appropriate training. This gives your company a real human face and builds cohesion both internally and externally.
Track relevant conversations, responses, customer relationships, and sales across social media forums. Also, measure specific initiatives to determine which ones are most effective for your offering and customer base. Use these results to help modify and refine your tactics.
Overall, it's important for marketers to know that social media is not one specific campaign or set of initiatives. It requires a change in mindset that demands ongoing commitment and reaches across your entire organization. The creative use of social media is critical to ensure that your marketing continues to be in tune with the needs of today's consumers.
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Heidi Cohen is the President of Riverside Marketing Strategies, an interactive marketing consultancy. She has over 20 years' experience helping clients increase profitability by developing innovative marketing programs to acquire and retain customers based on solid analytics. Clients include New York Times Digital, AccuWeather.com, CheapTickets, and the UJA. Additionally, Riverside Marketing Strategies has worked with numerous other online content/media companies and e-tailers.
Prior to starting Riverside Marketing Strategies, Heidi held a number of senior-level marketing positions at The Economist, the Bookspan/Doubleday Direct division of Bertelsmann, and Citibank.