Last lesson was about email; today I want to talk (ie. write) about social media. I’ll be discussing it in mostly a general marketing context—social media can also be very useful as a customer service or recruiting tool (which obviously overlaps with marketing) but those could each be another lesson on their own.
First, a quick disclaimer: while I know a lot of fantastic people who work as social media consultants (and would be more than happy to refer some), Black Chair doesn’t really do that or pretend to. We do occasionally design and manage online campaigns which have a social media component, and we often build social media integrations for apps or web sites, but we don’t tell you what to tweet or analyse your Facebook feed and tell you which posts to “Like”. Social media is a whole different universe, but the basics are really accessible for any business owner. It’s worth understanding, regardless of whether or not it’s a good fit for your business.
I repeat: “whether or not it’s a good fit for your business.” As you’ll see, it’s not a good fit for everyone.
In my opinion, the most important rule of social media for business is that—to an even greater extent than life at large—doing nothing is better than doing it half-heartedly. Facebook pages with three likes, Twitter accounts that tweet every second week—those things disappoint your potential customers. I’m not kidding. When I’m researching a company, I am always a bit excited to see social media accounts in the search results. If those accounts are inactive, it’s truly a disappointment. A small disappointment, to be sure, but a disappointment nonetheless.
(People are excited to discover social media accounts because they provide insight into the “personality” of a company. I don’t want to delve into cheesy pop-psych territory, but I think it’s fair to say that people are generally interested in making a personal connection, and being able to make relationships with your company more personal will lead to increased sales.)
So doing nothing is better than doing it poorly. But that doesn’t reduce to “we don’t have time for social media, so we should forget about it”—not for most businesses, anyway. Here’s the exception: in my opinion, you probably don’t need to be on social media if your business sells to other businesses in an industry unrelated to communications or web technology. I have not seen B2B companies outside of those industries do well on social media. The exception to the exception is this: very small businesses (less than 10 people) of any sort probably can’t afford to ignore social media—for companies of that size, personality is a big selling feature, and social media amplifies that. Then again, for companies of that size personal accounts can sometimes be more effective than company accounts (since very small company “personality” is usually the sum of individual personalities) as long as the personal accounts attached to the business are kept reasonably professional—that’s the approach we’re trying with Black Chair for now.
For most other businesses, though, you can’t afford to ignore social media and personal accounts can not adequately represent the company. The real result of avoiding half-hearted social media efforts, then, is this: most businesses should pick only one or two social media networks on which to focus. If you choose carefully, that will be the best way to maximise your efforts—more on that in a minute.
One very important thing to keep in mind is this: as I already stated, if you’re using social media properly it will be an extension of your company’s “personality” (ie. brand). In my opinion, most of the time that is best accomplished when the social media messages actually come from within the company. In other words, for most businesses it doesn’t make sense to outsource social media management over the long term—you can absolutely hire social media experts to help you get started or for periodic reviews, but if you want them to represent your business full-time you should bring them in-house. (That advice might be at odds with what some of my social media consultant friends would say, but I think it makes sense.)
Anyway, choosing the right social media platforms to focus on is actually pretty straightforward—it depends on your demographic. (Note: For the rest of this email I’m going to assume that at least some portion of your business sells directly to consumers. If you’re a B2B company looking for social media help, give us a call. If we can’t help you, we’ll send you to someone who can.) Here’s a quick breakdown of the various social networks available; you will only be choosing one or two based on your particular target demographic. The list is far from exhaustive, but I’ve tried to choose reasonably well-established networks and described them in a way that I expect to remain true for at least a year (which can be a long time in social media). In no particular order:
Twitter is a very good place to reach certain kinds of influencers. Its population is skewed toward younger people in the fields of communication or technology.
Facebook is kind of a catch-all. Marketing to the 35-65 age bracket works quite well on Facebook.
Google+ is probably a complete waste of time, unless you are using it to get the attention of influential bloggers.
LinkedIn is an interesting platform, but probably not worth it for companies unless paired with paid LinkedIn ads (more on that in a couple of weeks).
Reddit is probably the best way to reach males in the 16-25 age bracket. You won’t want to set up a company account, but contributing to the community with individual accounts and occasionally plugging your product/service can work very well. This will backfire strongly on your company if you do not contribute to that community in a meaningful way—spend some time there to see how things work before posting.
Pinterest is a gold mine for companies marketing to women in the 20-55 age bracket.
Blogger and WordPress.com are very similar to each other in the sense that they’re traditional blogging platforms with a community built around them. A diverse range of interests and age/gender populations are represented.
Tumblr is also a blogging platform, sort of. Many people use it as an ordinary blogging platform (I do), but it’s also a popular place for photo blogs or shorter blog posts, and re-blogging (sharing someone else’s blog post) is common—it should be thought of as a blog/Twitter hybrid. There are many mini-communities on Tumblr—teenagers are particularly well represented.
Instagram is a photo-sharing platform owned by Facebook. Its demographic is skewed toward young people between the ages of 18 and 30.
I recommend starting with the single network which best matches your demographic, and spending some time there to understand how it works. This may sound a bit dramatic, but you are trying to infiltrate a community. Find the thought leaders in that community, and try to understand what makes them popular. You shouldn’t try to copy everything they do, just understand it and adapt it to suit your company’s brand. This is the sort of thing social media experts are dying to help you with—let them, if you can afford it, but try doing it yourself first. You will get a lot more value out of their services that way.
Most of the social media accounts act as a subscription channel, and can be used with a strategy similarly to that of your email list. Give people an opportunity to like your Facebook page or follow you on Twitter directly from your web site—they are effectively giving you permission to market to them directly in the future. You then use that privilege the same way that you use your email list—as a way of reminding them that you exist, rather than shoving ads down their throat. It’s also worth considering buying ads to give your social media accounts a bit of a head start—getting the most out of paids ads is a topic we’ll be covering in detail later in the course.
Each social network is different, but there are tools available to measure your impact on them. This should go without saying, but use those tools. If you have questions about tracking engagement in a particular social network, we’d be more than happy to point you in the right direction.