In the last few years, companies have started to incorporate various social media networks into their marketing campaigns. But it can be hard to get a handle on these networks. Here are 10 things to help you better use social media in your marketing.
1: Social networks are not the whole Internet
While social networking sites may be encompassing more and more functionality into themselves, that does not mean you need to use it all. Remember the "portals" from the 90s? What we learned then (but Facebook in particular has not learned) is that just because one site offers every imaginable piece of functionality, users aren't necessarily going to think of it as a destination for that purpose. Retailers that jumped onto Facebook storefronts, for example, are now pulling back since users just don't think "Facebook" when they want to make a purchase. Use the best tool to fulfill a need, not the one that the social networks provide you with.
2: Social networking takes time
With traditional advertising, your time investment is relatively low. You make an ad, arrange for it to run, and measure its effectiveness. Social networking, on the other hand, requires a very large time commitment to be a success. Merely having a Facebook presence is not enough; you need to engage the audience to keep their attention and give them a reason to care about you.
3: Advertising can be effective
Advertising on social networking sites can indeed be effective. The ads are targeted not to the user's immediate need (as determined by the search query), like in search engine marketing, but by an accumulation of activity and self-reported data (interests, "likes," and so on). The result is that social network advertising can be extraordinarily well targeted.
4: "Young" doesn't mean "savvy"
A common mistake companies make is to hire a "social networking expert" simply on the basis of age. Just because someone is young enough to have used Facebook in college or high school doesn't meant that he or she has the rest of the skill set to do a good job of running a marketing campaign. Likewise, people who spend a lot of time on Facebook or Google+ don't necessarily know how to market with it. The sites are tools, and tools can be taught. The techniques are much harder to learn. Hire based on experience, not age or usage level.
5: Traditional marketing still has a role
Social networking is another tool in the toolbox — not a brand new toolbox. While you can shift some of your traditional marketing efforts to social networking, those traditional techniques still should be used. Social networking marketing has the advantage of being inexpensive for the most part, but if you have existing marketing campaigns that are pulling in business, cutting back on them to focus on social marketing would be a mistake.
6: Know what is "social" for your audience
Because social media marketing is the latest buzzword, it is tempting for people to label anything and everything a "social" tool. For example, LinkedIn, while considered a social network, really does not have much social activity on it except for a few niche industries and purposes (like recruiting). Likewise, Google+'s reach or activity seems to be limited right now, outside of a few areas (such as IT journalists). If a social network is booming but your audience isn't participating in it, give it a pass and put your resources toward the places where your audience is.
7: Professionalism is important
It is good to have a friendly and intimate feel in your social marketing, but you shouldn't ignore the basic rules of professionalism. Bad language, pictures of scantily clad women, and sharing inappropriate content may draw attention, but they put the wrong image of your company in front of the audience. You can still show personality and be funny and friendly in your social networking. Just remember that you have no idea about the personal values of anyone viewing your posts.
8: Get your Web site ready for social networking
Developing a social marketing strategy should not happen in isolation. Your Web site will need to undergo some changes as well to ensure that it plays nicely with social networks. For example, you need to learn how to make sure that the right images appear as the suggested pictures (especially for the default) when someone shares a link to your site. You will also want to make sure that when your pages are shared, the "teaser text" is appropriate to the content, displays correctly, and so on. It is not hard to make these changes, and they will go a long way toward increasing the likelihood that people who see links to your site will follow them.
9: Care about nickels, not noses
Something that happens time and time again is that companies pay attention to the ego stroking (or ego crushing) numbers, like Twitter followers, Facebook likes, and Google+'s plus-ones. While those metrics are interesting, no one ever made a dime merely by having a lot of followers. You make money by turning followers into revenue. Whatever your monetization plan is, your social networking efforts need to support it. If you are not converting social activity into sales, it doesn't matter how many people like your Facebook page.
10: Do not expect miracles
Social network marketing is the new kid on the block, but like most other new technologies, that is no guarantee that it's the best thing since sliced bread. It can help you reach new markets, can be extremely targeted, and lets you build a good relationship with your audience. But having a Twitter account doesn't mean you're going to suddenly double sales. Again, social networking is another tool in your toolbox, and if you work hard enough with it, you can do some very good things. But without careful management and a long-term view, it is not going to be very helpful to you.
Justin James is an OutSystems MVP, architect, and developer with expertise in SaaS applications and enterprise applications.