Imagine yourself at a big cocktail party where many of the people may be potential clients and customers. Everyone is milling around, enjoying the evening and you’re working the room to meet those who interest you. Now, which communication strategy do you think is going to be more effective? Going from person to person, giving them your “elevator pitch” while handing them your business cards? Or simply engaging in genuine conversations about current events and issues relevant to your expertise?
I’m sure you’ll agree the latter is a far more desirable approach to meeting new people at a cocktail party and the same holds true when conversing on a social networking site. I learned this concept from social media guru, David Meerman Scott, best-selling author of the #1 bestseller The New Rules of Marketing & PR when I interviewed him a few years ago.
While Social Networking started with no commercial intent, it has become a fact of life for many businesses who are engaged in Social Media Marketing (SMM). Commercial concerns are becoming a big part of Facebook and Twitter more and more each day. People use the social networks as part of their social lives with the commercial aspect of it being only slightly relevant.
The companies that are successful with SMM recognize that the first word is social and how they “socialize” is crucial. They use their status updates and tweets in a non-commercial manner, providing information and interesting tidbits that are related to their expertise without pushing a sales message. The important thing to remember about Social Media Marketing in general is that it’s interactive. That means when you send out a tweet or a blog, people can respond in a public forum. So, someone tweeting about how upset they are that their favorite contestant on American Idol got voted off the show knows they’ll get feedback from people who may agree or disagree with them. The same thing holds true for commercial tweets. If you send out something about your company or yourself, you’re inviting fair, as well as unfair, comment and criticism. The social networking sites are not your personal Web page, where you get to edit the content. The space is home to millions of people with all their various opinions; so if you’re not careful, you may wind up with a lot of negative chatter as a response to your business outreach.
To help you avoid some of the more common pitfalls of SMM, I’ve put together a few tips on how to use this strategy in a productive way that gets results.
Don’t Sell – People mostly use social networking sites to interact with friends and associates. If you tweet that people should buy your new book that was just released, you’re opening yourself up to negative responses for invading this social space with a commercial. It’s not like a Tupperware party where people are expected to buy what you’re selling. Treating it as such could cause you to lose followers and friends as a result.
Inform and Entertain – People will think more positively about you and your company if you use the social media connection to inform and even entertain. Let’s say you own a scuba shop, and you want to use these sites to promote your business. Don’t tweet about a sale on scuba supplies. Instead, tweet what the boating and diving conditions will be for the weekend, and include a link to a blog or informational listing on your Web site for more information on it. People who are divers will use that information to decide whether they want to dive that weekend and many may need supplies. Now they recognize and respect your shop as a resource, and will be far more inclined to stop by to fill up their oxygen tanks before their trip.
Respect the Culture – The culture of Social Media is not unlike an Internet forum or message board. The delivery mechanism is the same, but many people engage in lively and serious debate, so think of ways to engage people in those discussions without painting yourself in a negative light. A good rule of thumb is that if you wouldn’t say it at a social gathering in person, then chances are it wouldn’t be appropriate online either. Keep your updates useful, informative and neutral. People will respect the fact that you respect them.
It’s Not a Numbers Game – This is not a direct response medium, so tweeting five times a day with new information may annoy people more than help them. Confine your communications to a reasonable number, based on the groups you belong to. Focus on the quality of your communication instead of the quantity.
Capture Your Audience – Providing quality information that your friends and followers enjoy can cause them to want more information from you. So, give people an opportunity to get it by setting up a free newsletter or a blog that they can opt into. This allows you to maintain an ongoing relationship so that when they are ready to buy what you have to offer they will remember you.
SMM is a great way to build relationships with new associates as well as potential customers and clients. When used properly, you can build a huge following of people who come to know you as an expert in your field. It’s a forum that will pay enormous dividends for years to come.