Solo entrepreneurs wear many hats when it comes to running a business. One of these "hats" includes managing social media activities.
To reach a point where social media engagement produces meaningful results in terms of business development and customer loyalty requires a long-term commitment of both time and resources. Here are seven practical steps to achieve these results, gleaned from years of doing this as a solo entrepreneur myself.
1. Think Strategically, Then Tactically.
Like other forms of marketing, social media has to support business communications and marketing goals and objectives. If it can't, then why use it? The place to start is at the strategic level.
However, it is not a matter of creating a social media strategy separately from other forms of marketing. Instead, determine how social media tools and tactics can be integrated into an overall marketing strategy. Here are some possibilities.
- Reduce customer service costs.
- Create engagement experiences that change consumer perception of your brand or products.
- Build relationships that drive greater loyalty.
- Produce new ideas that increase business margin.
- Generate high frequency postings, which keeps your brand top of mind with the customer.
- Drive traffic to your website.
- Produce new leads or product sales.
Consider what you are already doing in terms of marketing and add a social layer to it. For example, if you use email marketing, could a link to a web-based version of the email be tweeted to your followers at the same time the message is distributed to your mailing list? Or, can Facebook social plug-ins — the "Like" button, for example — be added to product description pages? How about a customer ratings and review component? Those are simple steps that, once integrated, require almost no time investment.
Though limited in scope, this approach might be a practical first step in getting started with social media. Regardless, first think strategically, then tactically.
2. Locate Your Customers; Then Go There
Just because many companies use Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or Google+ does not mean your company should. First, find out which social networks your customers are using, and then create a presence there.
3. Assign Meaningful Metrics.
Once you understand the business objectives, identify the right metrics to monitor social success. Choose measures that align with your business goals.
Important metrics could include the following.
- Accessibility. How visible or reachable your brand is in the social world.
- Interaction. How consumers react to your company in a positive way.
- Qualitative. How engaging your content is based on consumer response.
- Quantitative. How much traffic social engagement drives to your website, for example.
4. You Do Not Have to Do Everything.
You don't have to have a ubiquitous presence within social media, at least not at first. Choose one thing and do that, then add other activities over time.
If I were just getting started in the use of social media, most likely I would pick Twitter as my "one thing." It's a simple tool that is easy to use, yet can serve many functions. In fact, I refer to Twitter as my "social media Swiss Army knife."
For example, Twitter can be used for networking, brand monitoring, announcements, product promotion, customer service, information sharing, feedback gathering, lead generation and sales. Just about any way you can conceive of using the tool is acceptable, just as long as you don't use it to spam others.
Not only that, social media management applications such as TweetDeck and HootSuite make administering a Twitter accounts much simpler. Both have mobile versions, so you can take Twitter on the go and use it during the course of your day.
5. It Takes Time.
There is no quick ascent to the top of the social media ladder. Instead, it's typically a steady climb where the same types of activities are repeated every day. Those include the following.
Content creation. Whether it's tweeting links to useful resources, making Facebook status updates or writing helpful blog posts, content creation is at the heart of any social media engagement strategy.
I find it helpful to develop a content calendar, which can keep your postings on target and supportive of the main topics and keywords you wish to address. Bt there's no need to plan a content calendar for more than a few weeks at a time. Things change quickly in social media and you will want to be able to adjust your content creation to accommodate such changes nimbly and efficiently. Having a long-term calendar may hamper your ability to do that.
Growing the number of Fans and followers. It is essential, especially at first, to concentrate on growing your Fan and follower base, assuming you are using Facebook and Twitter, respectively.
For Twitter, get started by following others first. Many of them will follow you in return. Relevance is key. You don't want to follow everyone, but only those that it makes sense to do so. Included on that list are current customers, prospective customers, friends, vendor partners, those you already know and those who are following you. You may also wish to follow competitors.
Community engagement. Fans and followers will expect you to have a personal presence within social media. They not only need useful information, but personal validation, as well.
When they ask questions, leave comments or provide feedback in response to content you have created, customers will anticipate a response. Not only that, they count on that response coming sooner, rather than later. Tools like the ones mentioned above can help you stay abreast of conversations as they happen.
You can use campaign-style tactics such as contests, polls, sweepstakes, special offers and games to accelerate growth. But, when the campaign is over the need for a long-term commitment to your community still exists. That's where the most meaningful growth will come from, anyway.
6. It's Here to Stay
Though it will constantly morph and change, social media is not going away. SocialBakers.com, a social research site, projects that Facebook should have over a billion users by the summer of 2012. Twitter currently grows at a rate of nearly a half-million new users per day, according to a recent post on Twitter's blog . Even though Google's attempts to create a social presence has failed in the past, its new Google+ social network appears to hold real promise, especially for businesses. Only a few weeks old, the site now numbers over 20 million users, according to The Telegraph, a U.K. newspaper.
It should not be a question of "if," but "when" you will engage in the use of social media for marketing.
7. Have Some Fun
What's better than getting to know your customers by face and by name? Many marketing tactics treat customers as if they are a number on a spreadsheet. Social media allows you to connect with them in a much more personal way. Have some fun getting to know your customers and enjoy the process along the way.