Whichever direction your social media strategy is taking in 2011, it cannot be effective without you / your company / brand  influencing people. This may take the form of recommending you to others, becoming a one time or loyal customer, or sharing your content because someone believes that what you have written is so good that it should be shared.

For those who are new to both internet /search marketing and social media marketing, this influencer target can sometimes appear to be the most important to reach; however, by focusing wholly on the target rather than the process, many are falling by the wayside. There also seems to be a mass amnesia about traditional business practices when it comes to applying to them to the brave new world of social marketing.

This is a simple guide to applying what you already know about doing good business to your social media strategy, prompted by an excellent article written by Chris Brogan, and the comments from his followers.

1.      Don’t set out to be influential

As many will know, pride comes before a fall and it is important to be humble rather than arrogant as you set out on your path within the social media world. Aggressive advertising, over-marketing and hard sell are buzzwords of a previous generation, and tactics which will lose you influence rather than gain it.

You will receive a better reception if you are helpful to people. So, for instance, ensuring that your online help desk or Twitter Help is consistently seen to be offering advice and guidance to anyone asking for assistance will bring you more kudos than yet another TV or magazine or banner ad.

If you run a bricks and mortar store, you will already train your staff to be as pleasant and helpful as possible to everyone who enters your shop, so just extend the process to your online thinking too.

Creating content is another way to improve the perception of your brand and company, and giving it away for free or running some content on a freemium basis will help to show people that you understand what your audience is seeking and are happy to provide what is required. Whilst remaining business-like, you can still go the extra mile for individual customers who ask for something out of the ordinary, just as you do in the offline world.

2.      Get out there

None of us can really guess which social media apps and tools are going to a) catch on with Joe Public and b) catch on with our particular target audience. After all, Youtube was an app for just geeks once upon a time! Therefore, it is important to keep a weather eye on the new trends and fads, just in case one of them becomes the next big thing. Sign up to new tools and give them a try. Sign up to existing tools, whatever you may have heard about them in the press or from colleagues, and see if they work for you and your customers.

Once you are signed up to these tools, it is important to be ACTIVE and ENGAGE. Blogs, Twitter accounts, Linkedin Profiles, and Facebook pages are no good if there is tumbleweed blowing across the visitor’s eyeline. A little investigation will help you to find easy ways to automate your posts so that you can update the social media sites and tools you are using with a single update. But it is conversations which are most important – that is, of course, why it is called “SOCIAL” media!

In the offline world, businesses know how very important it is to get out there, whether that is to conferences and exhibitions, networking events, or just on the shop floor to meet your customers personally. It really is no different online – you just need to work out what works for you, your company and your customers.

3. Respond appropriately and personally

You must MONITOR responses to anything you post, and RESPOND to your audience when they engage with you, comment on your posts, ask for advice, and so on. It is important however to ensure that your automation process for updating doesn’t also jeopardise your fledgling relationships by responding inappropriately.

Example: A prime example of getting this wrong was during the recent snow of winter 2010 when many air passengers found themselves stranded in airports and took to social media to get answers about their plight from airlines and travel agencies. Far too many of these companies had set an auto Twitter response, advertising summer holidays or bargain deals, rather than realising that Twitter is used just as much for conversation and interactivity (2 way), rather than a broadcast medium.

You must be reachable in person and be personable. A telephone line that is constantly engaged, unanswered emails or letters, a stock response to a non-standard question, an empty shop with no shop assistant to ask for advice – all will alienate your potential customer from dealing with you again.

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About the author:

A practising internet marketing consultant since 1996, Lindsey Annison helps companies improve their website marketing, online PR and information architecture. Lindsey is also a qualified adult education lecturer and author. As co-founder of the Access to Broadband Campaign, she has been instrumental in the provision of high-speed internet access to rural areas in the UK. Lindsey is also a past winner of Silicon.com's Outstanding Contribution to UK Technology