This morning I asked my friend Michael Wolk the question one often asks entrepreneurs: "How's business?"
"Business is good, getting better," said Wolk, a designer who creates interiors, furniture and graphics, among other designs. And he credited a number of exciting new projects to his firm's presence on social media.
Surprised? I was. You might wonder how a designer of iconic furniture and inspired interiors for homes and offices could find clients using the same tools that create engagement for companies such as Coca-Cola, Samsung, MTV and Target. Those buyers aren't the people who commission condo lobby designs, are they?
It's easy — but not smart — for some to dismiss social media. Seventy-two percent of online adults use social media, according to the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project. Their most recent study reports that, "one of the more striking stories about the social networking population has been the growth among older internet users in recent years. Those ages 65 and older have roughly tripled their presence on social networking sites in the last four years — from 13 percent in the spring of 2009 to 43 percent now."
If you have the time and resources to commit, any business can benefit from implementing social media in their marketing mix. It's a cost-effective way to connect and engage with your target market, keep your target market informed about your brand, complement your entire marketing plan (including PR and events), improve search engine optimization (SEO) and collect data. But if you don't have a strategy, don't have the resources to do it, or don't have the time to devote, think twice.
Frankly, many people dive into social media just because it's the trendy thing to do. That's the wrong reason. Aubrey Swanson, President and Social CEO of Auboom Media, tells us:
"First, you need to determine your goals and objectives. Then, you need to understand who your target market is and which sites they're active on. Depending on your resources and your marketing budget, you'll then determine how much time you can devote to social media. Social media is a timely activity that needs to be utilized on a daily basis."
Ask yourself: Are my competitors using social media?
If they are, you better get there or get left behind. If they're not, shouldn't you be the one who stands out?
Make sure to set goals at the start
Retailers need traffic to their stores, so coupons can be helpful. New restaurants need to build awareness, so contests and videos that people will share can be useful. Professionals want to demonstrate expertise, and are prepared for a long sales cycle for a big-ticket purchase. In that case, content marketing using white papers, blogs or webinars could be the core of a social media strategy.
Choose the right platforms
You need to be where your target audience hangs out. The most popular social media networks are Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest (growing fast), LinkedIn and YouTube. But how should you choose? Mashable.com tracks social-media usage, and offers a helpful illustration here. A quick and dirty way to see where potential clients might be is to look at current clients' behaviors.
Here are some clues:
- If you are marketing to consumers, Facebook connects you on a more personal level.
- If you're in the business-to-business (B2B) world, you must be on LinkedIn. It's a great place to share thought leadership and recruit.
- Twitter is fast-moving, popular and wide-reaching. It's also a great place to connect with reporters and build media relationships that could lead to coverage.
- If your product or service is visual and you can produce frequent pictures to share, Pinterest or Instagram are good choices.
- People search YouTube for "how to" videos (e.g., "How to do a Tax Return").
- Google+ is, of course, owned by Google — think S EO.
- Depending on your business and your market, specialty social media sites could be the way to go. Online review sites like Yelp, UrbanSpoon, and TripAdvisor can be very helpful.
Consider who will actually do the social media work
Social media is a major time commitment. If you're like most entrepreneurs, you don't have lots of extra time on your hands. Don't just draft someone to do this. Successful social media programs require expertise and passion. If one of your young, ambitious staff members comes to you and volunteers to start a social media program, consider it. But many companies choose to outsource social media. If this is your decision, make sure to educate your agency well. The voice of your company needs to be yours … not some generic voice that could be anyone.
Whether you choose to delegate to staff or outsource to an expert, make sure to ask lots of questions — like how much time they'll spend, what their strategy will be and how they'll manage it.
What about blogging?
Creating a blog and keeping it updated is a commitment. If you love to write and you want to challenge yourself to do it in a disciplined, regular way, blogging adds to thought leadership and SEO. It can replace media relations — you're the editor, and you decide, based on your target audience, what is blogworthy! A great resource for new and experienced bloggers is Copyblogger.
Measure success, as you would with any marketing effort
It's easy to say social media is a must. But it's much harder to commit time and energy. If you dive in, you'll want to be able to judge results, and determine the return on the time (or money) you invest.
My friend Michael Wolk has more than 19,000 likes on Facebook. Nice. But the home he's designing in Cyprus for a client who found him through social media is a much more satisfying measurement of success.
Janet Kyle Altman is the marketing partner at the accounting firm Kaufman, Rossin & Co.