Social Media Marketing: The One Social Media Strategy That Really Makes Sense

Social media is certainly hot right now, especially as a potential marketing tool for smaller businesses. But is the hype justified? To me, only one social media strategy really makes sense – it’s a simple one and I’m going to tell you in this article what it is.

Just before I do though, I’d like to address two questions that people often ask me: what does ‘social media’ really mean, and is participating in it right for MY business?

What is ‘social media’?

Social media are defined as ‘web sites and other online means of communication that are used by large groups of people to share information and to develop social and professional contacts.’

The term has only become popular in the last few years but in fact online ‘bulletin boards’ and forums that have been around for ages would certainly meet that definition, because they’re also about the key ideas of interactivity and ‘user generated content’ (in contrast to traditional media where professionals created content for one-way consumption by the audience).

At time of writing, the ‘big four’ social media sites are Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn (keep an eye on Google+ but just at present it isn’t where the audience is).

Is participating in social media right for MY business?

There’s no easy answer. One key element of social media is that it gives ‘right to reply’, and that scares some businesses off. And I certainly don’t recommend you dive in to every social media site under the sun.

Be selective. Facebook’s audience is primarily younger people and the atmosphere is ‘fun’. LinkedIn’s is undoubtedly professionals and the atmosphere is more serious. And there may be more niche social networks that are an even better fit for your business.

Do some research and start examining the sites that seem to offer the best fit for you.

But two irrefutable facts mean that every responsible business owner MUST at least look seriously at social media, however sceptical they may be…

1) The big social media sites are heavily used, and by HUGE audiences.

At the time of writing, Facebook for example has about 750 million registered users. If it were a country, it would be the third largest in the world.

Moreover, the site is ‘sticky’: the average user visits 40 times per month, spending 23 minutes per visit. In the online world such a frequency and length of visit is unusual. This is one ENGAGED audience!

2) Businesses can usually participate in social media (and potentially see their message spread ‘virally’ between those huge numbers of users) for ‘free’.

I say ‘free’ because while you may not have to pay money to build an audience on social networks, you most certainly will have to invest TIME – your other finite resource.

Nevertheless the attraction for marketers is that this possibility of generating massive interest – i.e. web traffic, leads, new connections – for little cash outlay is always there.

Social media as a promotion tool for businesses has in fact become so big, and the platforms available so feature-rich, that it’s even been suggested that company pages within social media sites like Facebook could replace standalone sites for businesses on the web altogether.

Whatever you do with social media, I don’t recommend you pursue the idea of effectively embedding your online presence in a social network, for two reasons.

Number one, things move very fast in the online world. Remember MySpace? Friends Reunited? It’s only a few years since both were massive. They still have some residual audience but, to all intents and purposes, they’ve been completely blown out of the water by Facebook.

Why? Facebook just happened to come up with a better website.

In that context, who can really say with bullet-proof confidence that Facebook or Twitter are here to stay? Overnight sensations may just disappear overnight too.

Number two, if you base all or most of your marketing around one social network, what do you do if that network decides to change its terms of business?

What happens if, instead of being free, you suddenly had to start paying big money for your business’s Facebook fan page? Or you were charged by the number of YouTube videos you uploaded, or limited in the number of tweets you could send? Hmmm.

The best social media strategy…

To me, therefore, your best strategy for social media is still to create a great ‘hub’ in the form of your main website, but then take advantage of all the appropriate social media opportunities you can in order to reach a wider audience.

That means:

  • If you are tight for time or resources, being selective and choosing the most appropriate social networks for your business only.
  • Starting small enough that consistent engagement isn’t a problem (a clearly abandoned or neglected social profile probably does more harm than good).
  • Engaging on those networks with value, but posting your best content at your site exclusively or at least first.
  • Working hard to make your site – not, for example, your Facebook page – the primary destination you seek to drive people to.
  • Making your website ‘social’ so visitors can drive traffic to you via their social networks.
  • Optimising your site to convert visitors as effectively as possible (i.e. get them to take a desired action).

Of course, one key conversion is for you to capture email addresses. Email has its downsides too but it does give you a direct channel for communication with your audience that isn’t at the mercy of any particular social network.

Businesses love to get involved with social media because it makes them feel like they’ve got their finger on the pulse. By all means embrace, and engage with, social media but don’t lose sight of how activity there must feed into your ultimate goals.

About the author: since 2003, Robert Tyson has run 18 different ezines, both free and paid, in business-to-consumer and business-to-business, for a variety of industries, and believes that email distribution based on free ezines was the secret that generated sales of £15m in 18 months on a single consumer product, and took the home-based start-up he joined in 2004 to a 13 division public company employing 120 and capitalised at £11m in 2009.

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