How to set up a social media strategy for a small business
Are you having a problem with your social media strategy?
Social media is here to stay whether you choose to engage with it or not. It’s a viable sales and marketing strategy as well as a business strategy and to not have a social media presence may be hurting your business.
It’s very easy to set up a Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram or LinkedIn account or even start a blog, but then what? Unless you have a specific social media strategy in mind, all you will do is flounder at least, or create a lot of noise at best.
Social media differs from other forms of media:
- It’s more accessible – especially for those with smart phones
- You don’t need special skills to learn or engage
- It’s instant and available to everyone in your network as soon as you publish something
- It’s interactive and can be used for two-way communication
- It’s volatile as the information remains accessible for a long time
- It has the potential for unlimited reach across multiple platforms
Social media has the ability to create meaningful business connections, gauge customer sentiments, enhance your brand and even acquire new customers or fans, providing you plan your strategy to give you the best return on your investment.
1. Determine the business need
A business, whether small or large can’t ignore social media anymore as a business tool with over 90% of the adult population already using social media. That includes your customers and prospective customers. More and more people use social media for the recommendations of others, asking questions and sharing their experiences (both good and bad).
If you are planning to use social media for business, it’s important to create a social media strategy because social media is today’s ‘word-of-mouth’ and needs to be managed carefully. You want to leverage that word-of-mouth to grow your business and reputation, not harm it.
Before you launch into setting up a social media account, determine what the needs of the business are and if social media is right for you.
Social media encourages dialogue between organizations and the wider community, meaning that the level of control assumed with traditional media is replaced with a deeper level of engagement.
Social media involves any online or mobile platform allowing users to interact, communicate, create, share and discuss opinions, views, news and information. It also allows participants to build and form on-line communities with common interest.
Successfully using social media tools will provide you with an opportunity to respond to industry and the public quickly and better engage with interested and connected stakeholders.
2. Determine your social media goals
Before setting up a social media business account, consider how your intended audience uses social media.
People engage in social media in different ways. Some people create content by informing, leading trends or look to change the opinions of others. Others might scroll through content and share it with others with or without their own commentary. Other people just look and listen, perhaps they may like something but not necessarily share.
Social media can be used to ask and answer questions, connect with people who have similar interests, stay connected with family and friends and stay updated on a range of topics that allows you to acquire and enhance your general knowledge.
Social media should not be used in isolation and must be aligned to your overall business goals and objectives. If you are using social media essentially to grow your business, then it needs to form part of your overall sales and marketing strategy and resourced appropriately.
Your social media goals should be aligned to your overall business goals. For example:
- Building your brand
- Engaging with your community
- Networking with peers
- Social selling and social networking
- Value added content creation
- Product promotion
- Community service (news, events etc)
3. Determine which social media platform to use
Social networking provides a means for users to interact over the internet using instant messaging or direct messages. Social networking allows users to share their ideas, events, activities and interests. Social links can take different forms such as being a fan or a friend.
Social networks can be public or private groups and used for formal and informal use. It’s particularly effective for engaging with the community, brand awareness and dissemination of information. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn are good examples of social networking.
Social networking can also be good for social selling provided you balance “sales” posts with regular content that either adds value or entertainment.
Facebook advertising is particularly good for building an audience, selling programs or products and capturing subscribers through advertisements that link back to a landing page.
Media sharing social media channels operate as a host and allows you to share a wide range of music, videos and photographs. – example, YouTube. Media sharing also allows you to share and disseminate information and engage with the community and is used in a variety of ways for business such as training and informational videos.
Blogging is a way for businesses to provide targeted information with the emphasis being on sharing of information. Successful blogging depends on the consistency and quality of the content. Content written for a blog is usually more in depth than other forms of social media and in many cases readers can leave comments and interact with the blogger.
The advantage of blogging is the ability to archive posts over a period of time where users can refer back to. The downside of blogging is that it takes more time but is particularly useful for brand awareness, more in-depth engagement, engaging with other experts and general networking and collaboration.
The most common social media channels used in business today are:
Each tool is used for a different purpose depending on your social media goals and should be coordinated and integrated to deliver your business communication objectives and benefits.
4. Assess the risks
Yes, there are risks associated with using social media, the most obvious being a post going viral that you don’t want to go viral.
Common risks are:
- Negative association for your brand
- Inappropriate content
- Copyright issues
- Privacy and safety issues
- Threats to IT security
The greatest risk to you using social media as a communication strategy is the potential for a public relations disaster to occur due to lack of monitoring outside of work hours.
Example, a post appears at 6pm on a Friday evening which catches the attention of users. The comment is left un-monitored, escalates and social media activity commences. Traditional media covers the social media comments and the story makes it to main stream media within hours. Activity increases as it is now fueled by additional exposure through mainstream media (radio, TV, newspapers). Coverage both on-line and off-line escalates with no response from you. On Monday morning when employees return to work after the weekend, they discover there is now a PR disaster fueled by un-monitored social media activity.
5. Create social media guidelines for your people
Communicating and engaging with the community via social media tools requires quick, if not immediate response and direct communication. Failing to respond quickly to feedback or questions has the potential to damage the effectiveness of your social media strategy. Waiting for every statement, post or ‘tweet’ to be approved by senior management will be detrimental to the need to respond quickly and effectively in social media spaces.
Successful social media strategies therefore require trusted employees (administrators and moderators) to have the appropriate levels of authority to understand and manage the risks around the release of information. If information needs further verification or is potentially contentious, administrators are to be trusted to escalate issues as appropriate, however, approvals must be timely and efficient to ensure relevancy.
The development of a social media policy and guidelines for employees is therefore necessary to guide the use of social media by administrators.
6. Assign roles to your people
Being active on social media is more than just having a profile page on various social media platforms. The effectiveness of your strategy comes back to engagement, monitoring and measuring social media metrics against your goals. Large companies can usually afford dedicated social media management teams, but if you are a small business one person may have to do multiple roles.
Depending on the cost, you can also outsource the management of social media to an agency who specializes in social media.
Moderation is the process of removing inappropriate content from your social media sites.
It’s important not to confuse moderation with censorship. Constructive criticism can be valuable as a business improvement tool and should not be blocked or removed. Your community must feel confident that they have a voice and their feedback will be displayed and incorporated into the discussion.
Sometimes content can be inappropriate and should be removed. For example:
- Defamatory abusive, hateful and harassing statements
- Words that are abusive or obscene
- Disclosure of confidential information
- Conduct that encourages unlawful activity
- Abuse and bullying comments
- Obscene images, footage, avatars and logos
- Copyright infringements
- Content that identifies the details of underage children such as a house, address or school
8. Assign roles to your people
Whatever your policies are regarding social media and it’s use, it is important that all your people are aware of the pitfalls of using social media. As most of your people will be using social media anyway, its important to lay down the ground rules as to what they can and cannot post and who to alert in the case of inappropriate content.
This is the person who prepares the content and posts it on your social media platform. If you generate good content that adds value, your followers, fans or customers are far more likely to be engaged with you. Your customers can become marketing agents by spreading the good word about your product or service.
If you are using social media to generate leads or sell your products and services, the general rule is to post one sales message to 7-10 value added posts. If all you do is post sales messages, you turn people off so you must remember to keep the ‘social’ in social media.
If you are a small to medium business, a number of people might create content that adds value to your business and helps achieve your social media goals.
One of the most important roles in your social media strategy is to have a moderator who keeps an eye on posts. Just as your customers can spread the good word about your products and services, they equally can spread the bad news as well. Social media makes it easier for people to gossip and spread information like wild fire.
A moderator manages your reputation online. In order to do this, they need to keep track of what is being written about your business, offset any negativity and address any issues as they arise.
There are three main ways employees might use social media; for personal, professional or business use.
Personal use of social media is unrelated to work duties. Employees should be made aware of the pitfalls of blurring the lines between personal and business use of social media.
Professional use is where employees use social media for the purpose of professional development and furthering their professional responsibilities within the workplace. This may include researching, joining in discussion groups and forums as well as sharing content and general networking.
Business use refers to employees using social media for the express purpose of communicating business interests, products, promotions and events. However, using social media for business should be controlled to maintain the integrity of the posts and to mitigate reputational risks.
It is vital to ensure employees are aware of their responsibilities when using social media and how the lines between personal, professional and business use are often blurred hence the importance to have social media guidelines for employees.
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