April 10, 2014 | 5-minute read (859 words)
These days no business, whether a startup operating out of a garage, an established small business, or a major corporation can afford to be without a social media presence. That said, there are ways to cultivate social media as a sales channel that adds value, helping to build your brand and deliver sales. Here are some key steps.
Be strategic — Come up with a plan at the outset for what goal(s) you want social media to help you reach. Be as specific as possible. For example, are you looking to generate 10% of new sales leads through social media outlets or maybe your expectation is that 1% of total sales will come from social media efforts? Once you know where you want to go, it’s time to figure out the best route to get there.
Allocate resources — Even though social media is often viewed as “free” marketing, there are actually very real costs. At a minimum, a full-fledged program requires a dedicated resource in terms of time. If you don’t have the expertise in house, you’ll need to hire the talent. This doesn’t have to be full-time staff, a part-time contract resource could also work, but the point is, there is a cost. Consider that while outlets like Facebook and Twitter are free to use, you’ll get more exposure and potentially expand your reach by paying for keyword advertising, paid search, or promoted tweets/sponsored posts. So once you’ve figured out how much you can afford to spend on your overall strategy, you also need to determine how that budget should best be allocated between paid staff and paid promotion. However you carve it up, make sure that responsibility and accountability are clearly identified and communicated.
Consider your audience —Just as Marshall McLuhan wrote in the ‘60s, “the medium is the message!” Analyze your existing and potential customer base to figure out which platforms are likely to be most valuable in reaching them. Then match communication vehicles to your target audience. Ideally, you’ll maintain an active presence on several forms of social media and coordinate your activities across each. But the key is not to try to be all things to everyone. And know that each has tradeoffs in terms of target demographic, reach, and types of content supported, among others. One important point to keep in mind is that no matter the platform, more and more users access it via a mobile device. Make sure you’re creating an optimal experience for them. Once you’ve made some initial decisions, monitor engagement and retool if you need to.
Engage, then reciprocate — Remember that social media is not about simply tooting your own horn. If you view it as an opportunity to air a non-stop commercial you will quickly lose your audience. Treat it as a conversation rather than a monologue. Try to foster deeper connection and ongoing presence of mind with your target consumers. But don’t be shortsighted! Of course, the ultimate goal is to generate sales. With this in mind, and once you’ve got the attention of current and potential customers, provide them with easy ways to buy plus easy options for staying engaged. For example, make it seamless for them to sign up for your newsletter or join your email list by tweeting a link to the url. And consider offering some kind of special benefit for followers (and for referrals) such as a discount, advanced notice of a new offering, or limited promotions only available through your social media outlets. Look for opportunities to to add to the conversation by sharing relevant external content or being a thought leader in an area in which you have some expertise.
Measure — Whether it’s page views, clicks, completed purchases, or number of followers and unfollowers, the only way to gauge the effectiveness is to track results. Facebook (likes, post Reach, ...), Twitter (retweets, favorites, …), YouTube (repeat views, demographics, geography, ...) and LinkedIn (customer location, comments, views, ...) all offer tools and varied types of reporting to monitor customer engagement as do other platforms. Use them.
Incorporate feedback — Always respond to comments be they compliments, complaints, questions, or suggestions. And use what you learn to refine the customer sales experience.
Having a comprehensive social media strategy is no longer an option, no matter the size of your business. Rather than throwing content at every possible platform, target your efforts by concentrating on those where you can get the biggest bang for your buck in terms of cash outlay as well as time commitment.
Have more suggestions or want to share what worked for you? Please let us know in the comments section below.
David Ehrenberg is the founder and CEO of Early Growth Financial Services, an outsourced financial services firm that provides small to mid-sized companies with day-to-day accounting, strategic finance, CFO, tax, and valuation services and support. He’s a financial expert and startup mentor, whose passion is helping businesses focus on what they do best. Follow David @EarlyGrowthFS.