How do you manage social media when you have little time or money? All too often that is the situation in which merchants find themselves. Faced with many demands, merchants oftentimes have little time or money to engage on social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or LinkedIn.
This article provides a simple plan for engagement that economizes both the time and financial investment required. Before I outline the plan, remember two facts about social media.
Social media marketing is not a quick fix. It takes time to build a Facebook Fan base or Twitter following. Commit to a minimum of six months before determining whether or not social media works for you.
Social media requires ongoing interaction. You cannot set it and forget it. You must be willing to continually engage with Fans and followers — even daily.
Having said that, here are five guidelines to maximize your social media efforts.
1. Determine Where to Maintain a Presence
Many social networks exist today, but you should only establish a presence on those where your customers are actively engaged. You'll likely find them on Facebook and Twitter, but Pinterest should not be overlooked, especially if your products appeal to women. If your products and services are used by other businesses — versus consumers — include LinkedIn in the mix.
2. Use a Social Media Management Application
To save time, use tools that enable you to manage all of your social media activities across a range of platforms within a single administrative dashboard. A number of management applications exist that are either free or available at a low cost. Here are three I recommend.
Sprout Social. This application is the one I use for most of my engagement activities. Through it you can publish and schedule updates across social channels, monitor your brand and competition across social channels, engage with Fans and followers, and measure your success with reporting tools. Mobile versions of the application are available for iPhone and Android. Though not free to use, starting at $9.00 per month it fits in small business budgets.
Postling. With Postling, you can publish to any of the major social networks, schedule posts in advance, stay on top of comments, and monitor mentions of your brand across the web. It, too, is not free, but costs as little $5.00 per month. Postling also has an iPhone app.
TweetDeck. Though TweetDeck is for Twitter use, you can post to other social networks, as well. Like Sprout Social and Postling, you can schedule posts and manage comments. It lacks the analytics capabilities provided by the other two, however. The best part about using TweetDeck is that it is free. TweetDeck is available on nearly every mobile platform including iPhone, iPad, Android and Blackberry.
Social media management applications enable you to oversee the entire social media engagement process. They serve as a single source for content creation and scheduling, automate the process of content syndication, and make it easy to manage social media channels and engagement activities.
3. Create Engaging Content
Effective social media marketing is driven by content, which can include any of the following:
- Facebook status updates;
- Twitter tweets;
- Blog posts.
Focus on creating content that stimulates engagement, whether that's educational, entertaining or promotional in nature. One way to be certain if content meets that criteria is through comments, Likes, shares and retweets of your messages. If it resonates with Fans and followers, you'll know it.
Here are four recommendations for creating content.
Keep it short. Facebook posts should be no longer than 250 characters. Twitter posts are limited to 140 characters.
Use questions and fill in the blank posts. These stimulate engagement and encourage response.
Provide exclusive special offers, discounts and coupons. One of the main reasons people follow companies on social networks is to receive special targeted offers. "Fan-first," "Fan only," and "exclusive" are watchwords for marketing via the social web. A new type of Facebook ad called "Offers" — I addressed it here previously, at "Facebook Launches Offers for Facebook Pages" — is a no-cost way to implement such promotions
Use videos and photos. Consumers enjoy videos and photos. Facebook's new Timeline interface is much more visual than previous versions, and Twitter has taken strides to make it easier to view videos and photos within its interface, as well. Of course, Pinterest is uniquely visual. This type of content stimulates more of the senses than just the written word. Use it whenever possible.
4. Determine Posting Frequency
How often you post depends on the social networks you use. For example, you can limit Facebook posts to two or three per week, but post to Twitter more frequency, as often as two or three times per day.
Many retailers find that posting between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. works best. Keep in mind that social media management tools like those mentioned above enable you to set aside time when it is available to schedule posts for weeks or even months in advance.
5. Spend 30 Minutes Daily Responding to Comments and Questions
If possible, spend 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the afternoon responding to comments and questions from Fans and followers. Using mobile versions of the social media management applications previously mentioned above enables social interaction from anywhere.
There is much more to social media marketing than I have just described. But this should be sufficient to get you started without a significant investment of time or money. If you are even more strapped for time than what this plan requires, start with one channel — I recommend Facebook or Twitter — and add others as time permits. Start small and build from there. You can't go wrong with that.