In less than five years, social media has revolutionized not only our communication culture but how we conduct business. The dizzying effect of unlimited-and sometimes unfettered-24-hour access to people and information has transformed the various tools into a game changer.
There is a broad and increasing list of sites, including BlinkList, YouTube, Delicious, Flickr, Tumblr, BlogMarks.net, and the triumvirate of major sites: Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. These social destinations have become to business professionals and entrepreneurs what golf is to C-suite powerbrokers-an opportunity to strategically network and close deals based on shared interests and personal engagement. But these sites do more, by offering users valuable real estate to advertise products or services, create and expand brand recognition, solicit feedback, build relationships, and create community forums. Users also have unprecedented access to consumers, hiring managers, prospective clients, industry experts, and opportunities.
Moreover, social media levels the playing field by allowing anyone access without restrictions on time, location, or social status.
The most diligent and creative players are reaping huge benefits. According to a report from Forrester Research, 55.6 million U.S. adults-just shy of one-third of the population-visited social networks at least monthly in 2009, an increase from 18% in 2008. Recent Nielsen research says Americans spend nearly 25% of their time online on social networks and blogs, up from nearly 16% a year ago.
The initial foray into social media can be daunting and bewildering. Newcomers to the space might wonder: Who’s reading? Will I be heard or noticed? Isn’t it all just fun and games? Isn’t it invasive? Making the effort worthwhile requires time, patience, and a work-smart-not-hard strategy. Whether you’re an entrepreneur or a corporate professional, the success of marketing your products, businesses, or your personal brand will be determined by how well you engage interest on the varying platforms. In part one of a series on social media strategies, Black Enterprise offers some tips to get you connected.
What Business Owners Should Know
Finding out who your customers are and how they like to be served is essential for the success of any business. Questions and surveys offered on social media platforms can help business owners quickly access that information. Jason Burton, social media strategist and marketing director of Lab 5702, a boutique marketing solutions firm in Kansas City, Missouri, says such data can help you position your product to broader groups outside your initial base of contacts. “Put your product in front of the trendsetters or the next level of users,” he suggests. “Targeted searches let you drill down beneath the surface to find followers and potential influencers that can use or promote your product or service.”
Location-based social mapping services such as Foursquare, Google Latitude, Loopt, Facebook Places, and MyTown allow consumers to benefit from their influence. For example, if you visit your favorite flower shop in Tucson and tweet it to your followers, you get $2 off your purchase. The greater the network and influence, the bigger the discount. These services also enable users to find friends and events; share locations, updates, tips, photos, and comments; and share across online social networks and blogs. Loopt has more than 4 million registered users and partnerships with every major U.S. mobile phone carrier and is available on more than 100 smartphones, including the iPhone, BlackBerry, and Android. Google Latitude and Foursquare boast more than 3 million users each. Greater social media interactivity has been facilitated by mobile apps such as ÜberTwitter, MobileLinked IM, and Nimbuzz. According to a Juniper Research report, the number of downloads from mobile application stores is expected to rise from fewer than 2.6 billion per year in 2009 to more than 25 billion in 2015.
What Corporate Professionals Should Know
Carmen Hudson, CEO of Tweetajob in Seattle, oversaw employer branding campaigns when she was senior manager of talent acquisition for Yahoo and has witnessed the shift in recruitment practices. “Companies are cultivating and marketing a brand that attracts and is attractive to certain types of candidates,” she explains. For companies such as Yahoo, Starbucks, Apple, and Microsoft, social media is increasingly at the forefront of that strategy. Recruiters will, for instance, use LinkedIn to create a search stream of attributes to find precisely the type of candidates hiring managers are looking for with minimal time and fuss. Moreover, Hudson adds, “They’re also looking at how many followers you have. Do you have a strong network? If you’re an expert, friends and/or follower numbers are strong indicators of that.”
A Jump Start Social Media survey of hiring managers indicates that 66% go to LinkedIn to find candidates for openings, 23% go to Facebook, and 16% to Twitter. “Job seekers who frequently post and update profiles are nimble and often get to job opportunities first,” Hudson says. “Recruitment officers can execute a well-rounded and more diverse search, through a search stream of attributes because they now can meet candidates where they play,” says Hudson. At the same time, companies can promote the brand and the company message, which gives the job seeker a more informed perspective on the companies as potential employers.
How to Maximize Social Media Marketing to Promote Your Brand or Business
• A blogging platform such as WordPress or Blogspot, is essential, advises Warren Laidler, webmaster and creative director of DeLite Multimedia] in New York City. Blogs have greater potential for organic leads because their content-rich nature makes them more search engine friendly. Search engines love content-driven platforms and rank them higher than static websites. “Think of your blog as a launch pad or hub for your enterprise. Your social media efforts should lead back to your blog or website, which should be dynamic and informative, providing content and information that encourages visitors not only to return, but to distribute your content to their network.”
• Blogs or websites should contain SEO, or search engine optimized, keywords and phrases that help visitors find the business when they search via Google, Yahoo, Bing], and others. Laidler also suggests pulling in RSS feeds and useful links into your blog. “RSS feeds allow you to import content from outside sources and are a great way to share information that visitors find interesting.”
• Work on engagement and consistency. For example, your Twitter timeline should be a combination of original updates, retweets, or shares from other sources, replies from connections, inspirational quotes, and trending topics. A standard formula is two to four tweets per day. Positive activity can also blossom quickly and create buzz that reaches well beyond a business’ core audience. In the virtual world, consumers and job seekers can become influencers and trendsetters by persuading their network to take action or buy a product or service. Laidler suggests using tools like Klout or Twittergrader.com to measure your social media influence and find out the reach of your Twitter posts.
• Choose a picture for your social media avatar, rather than a logo, advises Joel Comm, social media expert and New York Times best-selling author of Twitter Power. “People like faces associated with companies. Customize your Twitter background. Use photos, links, contact information, RSS feeds, etc. to individualize and promote your brand.”
• Choose a third-party application or service, such as TweetDeck or Hoote Suite, SocialOomph and Twaitter, which allows quick, easy distribution of posts and other content among multiple social media sites. “You can incorporate plug-ins or apps on the sidebar of your blog page that allows visitors to easily access all your social media,” says Laidler. “All social media sites have plug-ins or widgets that allow fast, easy updates with one click.”