Social Media Marketing
There are very few organisations that would not benefit from being active in social media marketing – and that includes start-ups and SMEs (small and medium sized enterprises), to whom this article is predominantly aimed. There is no one-size fits all solution when it comes to any form of marketing activity. Different companies have unique needs, and what is right for one, might be wrong for another. Getting the strategy right is, therefore, key. We must always remember that a digital marketing strategy forms part of an overall sales and marketing plan that works in conjunction with the strategic and creative brand proposition to deliver the financial objectives outlined in the business plan. This relationship cannot be stressed enough. All elements ought to be clearly aligned to ensure that an authentic strategy is created.
The first thing to consider, therefore, is what goals you are aiming to achieve. You need to ask yourself as a business what core objectives you wish to deliver through social media marketing. Is it to increase sales? To improve brand awareness and amplify PR opportunities? To generate leads? To stand out from the competition? To provide customer service? To promote products and services? To engage with customers? To encourage repeat purchase and referrals? To showcase intellectual property and thought leadership credentials? To recruit employees, associates, partners and suppliers? And so on. What your goals are does not matter per se– what matters is that you have them, that they are relevant to your business plan, and that they are achievable. Once you have sorted out this stage in the process, you are then able to create a successful social media strategy to deliver them.
The goals you set for your business are likely to be determined by a number of different factors, and B2C businesses are likely to have different aims to B2B companies or multi-channel sales distribution models. The value of an average sale, the likelihood of repeat purchase, the opportunity to cross-promote products and services, the time it takes to complete a sales conversion, the size of your business, the volume of your target market, the value of your marketing budget, the demographics and psychographics of prospects/customers, and so on.
Understanding your customers and identifying core messages to promote your company and the products and services you sell is also critical to the success of your plan. Demographics are an important consideration, as these will enable you to qualify and quantify your suspect pool (this is everyone who could potentially become a customer of your organisation), but just as helpful is to look at psychographics – these paint a broader picture into customer hobbies and interests, values and attitudes, and so on. We also like to consider emotional needs combined with rational drivers when developing insights into core propositions. It should already be known, but your positioning within the marketplace in terms of quality v price will also enable you to understand value statements relevant to organisations wishing to optimise their sales pipeline process.
Researching competitor social media streams is a very efficient way to build your strategy. You can emulate or improve upon what they are doing – and you can also learn from their mistakes too. This approach quickly identifies insights that will provide a foundation for your strategic direction. Competitor research generally takes two forms – manual and automatic. The manual part is personally reviewing various social media platforms, and the automatic part is using online tools to analyse them in a data-driven way. Both have benefits, and should be delivered in conjunction, making sure that the research is undertaken by a suitably qualified person.
Assuming you are starting from scratch, it is of course necessary to decide which social media platforms are best for your business in terms of enabling you to engage with key stakeholders (such as customers, prospects, influencers, bloggers, journalists, potential employees, suppliers, partners, shareholders, and other interested parties). Some of the most popular options include Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, Google +, SlideShare, though you might also wish to add Tumblr and Flickr to the list if you have a specific type of audience or strategic need for sharing content. Some of these platforms are mostly involved with audience engagement (such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn) whilst others are mostly for sharing content (Google +, YouTube, and SlideShare). Instagram and Pinterest are hybrid platforms with benefits which fall across both audience engagement and content sharing, particularly for B2C brands, but also for B2B too.
The next question to consider is resourcing. Regardless of whether you are delivering social media internally through your own people, or externally through a suitably-skilled marketing agency, you need to be realistic about what resources (employee time and marketing budget) you have available, to make sure you are not stretching yourself too thinly across more platforms than you can realistically handle. Best to do one or two well rather than three or four badly. Also, it is worth remembering that social media is one of those things which just about anyone can do, but that does not necessarily mean that they can do it well. The truth is that it is like any other technical discipline – skills are learned and experience is earned through repeated exposure over a sustained period of time. Our advice is to combine internal and external resources to achieve the best possible results. You know your business better than one, so it makes sense that your people are involved in shaping follower strategy, agreeing content plans and delivering tactical campaigns (such as polls and promotions).
It will come as no surprise that you need to have a follower base for your social media platforms to perform well (unless you are solely using social media platforms as a means for direct advertising to your target market, in which case you don’t theoretically need any followers at all!). Follower numbers are best grown organically, although you can also promote your social media platforms in a number of different ways to fast-track sign-up. Another very important factor to consider is quality. Despite appearances to the contrary, social media should not be thought of as a numbers game. It is all about quality; this is what ensures relevance and credibility. It is very good practice to review your followers every week and remove any that do not seem to fit the bill. But don’t be too harsh when doing this. Only a small percentage of your followers are likely to actually be bona fide customers – unless you are a blue-chip mainstream consumer brand. Many will fall under the guise of being ‘interested parties’ for whom your content is relevant, especially when it comes to SMEs operating in the B2B space.
Engagement therefore is a vital consideration. The idea is of course to create content that is likely to be liked, shared or commented on favourably by your followers. Any of these three actions may lead to your post showing up in their feeds, so that your posts are seen by their audiences – this will therefore magnify your exposure to a much wider audience that would otherwise be possible. This is why influencer marketing works well, where people with significant follower numbers of a certain demographic and/or psychographic profile promote your brand for a fee in a way that is engaging to their followers. But engagement is two-way too, which means you have to make sure that you make time to look at other people’s feeds and comment/share their content – and do so in a positive and supportive way (as well as to follow people who follow you, and message people who message you, where appropriate to do so). Positivity and mutuality are the names of the game when it comes to successful commercial social media marketing.
Building relationships demands that one acts in the best possible way. It is easy to get drawn in to negative conversations on social media, as you can no doubt imagine. The best thing to do is to respond politely and positively to negative comments and, if that does not work, to move on and forget about it. Most of us are wise to the fact that there are a few people out there on Twitter and Facebook in particular who are hell-bent on causing conflict and misery. The trick is to remember that their behaviour reflects on them, not on you. We would advocate the setting up of an internal social media marketing policy to make sure that there are guidelines and rules in place for how staff and associates are advised to interact with third parties on social media channels. We recommend that commercial representatives set up “personal-business” social media accounts. This creates a corporate mindset and provides a safety net between work and personal life, with mutual benefits for both parties. Training and ongoing assessment will also keep social media guidelines front of mind, as will including it within performance appraisals, where appropriate to do so.
It is worth noting that social media marketing often works better when combined with a content marketing strategy and a search engine optimisation (SEO) plan. Social pages should be set up in such a way as to profile your brand to provide a good user experience and to optimise keyword benefits, and any content you create should be rich in high value keywords too – sharing on social media will drive traffic to your website or to where the content is shared (e.g. on SlideShare, Instagram, Pinterest or YouTube). In the latter case, this in turn will provide valuable third-party links back to your website. Therefore, content is also a crucial parameter to the success of your social media plan. Subject matter will in large part be determined by the goals you have set to begin with, and of course the type of business you are, the products you sell, and the make-up of your target audience – the best solution is generally to provide a variety of posts about your own products and services, special promotions, tactical campaigns, third party content, added value/thought leadership/intellectual property, and so on. This content can take the form of blogs, videos, white papers, newsletters, and so on.
Social media advertising
Social media advertising tends to be significantly cheaper than pay-per-click (PPC) advertising on search engines, such as Google AdWords, which makes it an attractive proposition to many businesses. It can be a very successful means of acquiring new customers, generating leads, promoting a new product or service, driving traffic to your website, advertising content where it is hosted on third-party social platforms, encouraging responses to polls and surveys, incentivising referrals, and so on. Social media advertising can be optimised for conversions, measuring cost per acquisition. It can also be highly targeted to match with target audiences by matching against email databases, lookalike audiences and demographic/psychographic/behavioural profiling. Web traffic can be engaged with on an ongoing basis via remarketing, whereby adverts promoting your company, brand, product, service etc. are served up on third party websites to people who have previously visited your website. You can also analyse and potentially identity web visitors in the B2B landscape through lead forensic software in combination with other tools such as Sales Navigator on LinkedIn to optimise business development activities in order to feed your sales pipeline.
Measurement is obviously important. Who likes to spend money on anything without knowing where the value is coming from or what the benefit is likely to be? There are lots of things you can analyse on social media. Follower growth. Website traffic. Sales conversion. Just make sure you are measuring KPIs that correlate with your goals. The benefit of measuring performance on a regular and ongoing occasion is to make sure that you are continually improving your strategy. There is always something you can test or try. This is the great benefit of most forms of digital marketing in general – it is very easy to change what you are doing, because you can see evidence straight away as to whether what you are doing is working effectively and efficiently or not.
There are a number of tools you can use too, to automate the process – such as Sprout Social. But automation is only good to a point. We are not robots to the personal touch should not be ignored. If we sense that a feed is automated too much, then we are likely to fall out of love with it. Another tool we use is Sniply, which allows you to show a visual advert linking back to your website when people open links to third party websites, providing incremental quality traffic back to your own website – not just from your followers, but from anyone who clicks on the link (so other people’s followers too).
We hope that this article provides you with some useful tips when it comes to developing a social media marketing strategy for your business and that you now have a better idea of the next steps you need to take. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact Stephen Brown, our head of strategy and planning, at firstname.lastname@example.org. We would of course be happy to discuss your marketing requirements in more detail, or meet up for a free two-hour consultation at a venue of your choice.