When considering a social media marketing strategy, it is important to remember that social media marketing has only just entered the ‘prove it’ stage. In other words, whilst many are aware of social media and its potential benefits, there is no clear road map yet that businesses can adopt for guaranteed success. There are case studies of brands and businesses who have achieved a level of success but there are still many businesses who have not sought to use social media in their marketing process so there is a need for more evidence to breed strategies.

There seem to be some common questions about social media marketing which those many businesses who have not yet got involved in social media are seeking answers to, before embarking on a potentially time-consuming and unknown strategy. Here are seven of the top questions we are asked.

The first question has to be “Where do I start?” There is an ever-growing number of social media websites, and you need to research these before you decide which site(s) will be best not just for you, but to track down your target audience. Trying to second guess which social site will be the next big thing or which is going to fall out of favour is a bit like trying to herd cats, so you should spread your actions across more than one site, and keep a weather eye on developing trends.

Question 2 – What tactics should I use? Once you have decided which sites are appropriate for your marketing message, you need to understand which tactics are likely to work best in those places. Once again, this is a matter of not just research but also trial and error. However, don’t dive in to tweeting, for instance, without at the very least understanding the basics, the netiquette, and lurking for a while to see what others are doing, right and wrong.

Question 3 – What is social media netiquette? There is a fine line between communicating or socialising, and marketing, and ensuring you don’t cross that line will take some effort. There are unspoken rules in each of the social media ‘worlds’ but there are many experts who are happy to ensure that the community adheres to those, by educating newbies and so on, so seek out the people who are respected within those communities and ask for advice, or listen to what they are saying.

Question 4 – How do I measure whether it is working? You need to be clear that spending time and money on the tactics required for those sites will not dilute your core marketing message, nor distract from or conflict with other activities. You should ensure that you have processes in place to track effectiveness and return on investment, just as you do with other marketing efforts. Remember: metrics matter!

Question 5 – How much time should I spend? It is clear from the many who are already involved in social media that it can, without careful management, become a major time sink. Understanding this from the outset will mean that you can develop clear processes that do not eat into precious time that could be more profitably be spent elsewhere. This is not to say that marketing via social media cannot reap rewards, just that you should be aware that you can become consumed and even a victim of your own success.

Question 6 – Can things go wrong? The social media world is very viral, and one minor post can go global in hours or even minutes if it captures the imagination. This can lead to servers falling over, out of stock product landing pages, or your email inbox suddenly becoming fuller than your secretary can cope with. Automation and checking that your backend systems are fully functional is worth considering if you don’t want to be overwhelmed. Whilst it is not usual to find these problems happening, other events in the social media world outside of your control can contribute, and it is worth being aware of the potential for social media to make life that little bit harder than you were expecting!

If there are any known problems with your site, ordering systems, stock control etc, or you have been seeing poor conversions from other marketing tactics, then it would be wise to resolve these issues before becoming a social media marketer. If there is already something wrong with your website, you can count on it being pointed out publicly to many in the social media world!

Question 7 – What should I look to achieve? Understanding exactly what you want your social media efforts to lead to is a must. There is no point twittering or updating your profile purely for the sake of it. You should have clearly defined outcomes so that your actions lead to the results you wish for. This means that you also need to make sure that once you have driven your new audience in the direction you wish them to go, your website, newsletter, blog etc is also set up to help you achieve your aims.

Summary.

Social media marketing is definitely a must in the mix of internet marketing and promotion but you should enter the water cautiously. Not so cautiously that you don’t see results, but it is most definitely not a ‘dive in at the deep end’ strategy unless you are very thick skinned and/or ready to start a new business if this one goes down the tubes because of your social media mistakes!

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About the author:

Phil Robinson is an online marketing consultant with over 17 years experience in marketing planning, internet strategy and online acquisition. In 2004, Phil founded ClickThrough, an ethical search marketing agency. He gives best practice training for businesses, runs seminars and writes books on digital marketing.