Online Marketing Basics #3: Introduction To Social Media Marketing

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Social media marketing has become one of many buzz-words in online marketing. According to some marketing pros, it can generate orders and push sales like there’s no tomorrow. Naturally, everybody wants some piece of the action these days. But, of course, it takes more than just putting up a fancy Facebook page expecting customers are beating a path to your door on their own. Therefore, in this part of our series we will discuss some basics to make social media marketing a successful part of your marketing toolbox.

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Let’s first define what social media marketing actually means. Basically, social media is part of the evolution of the internet. In the beginning, it was described as a collection of information, created by some but used by many, as was the case with all kinds of media before the dawn of the internet. That has changed profoundly. Today myriads of people (everybody who likes to) create content for a vast number of other people (everybody interested). There are different kinds of social tools and channels enabling us to communicate:

  • blogs
  • social networks (Facebook, Google+, Xing, Twitter etc.)
  • photo and video platforms (Youtube, Vimeo, Flickr, Instagram etc.)
  • forums and review portals
  • open source projects (Wikipedia, etc.)
  • social bookmarking (Delicious, Mister Wong, etc.)

You might come up with different criteria. But it wouldn’t change the way how we deal with these tools.

What Can Be Achieved By Social Media?

First things first: As always you should define your goals. If you don’t know what you aim for with social media marketing everything will be in vain. And you would waste a lot of time. So better think before you start to invest your resources.

Possible applications for social media:

  • increasing online brand awareness
  • client acquisition and increasing sales
  • more traffic on your website
  • increasing brand loyalty
  • finding brand ambassadors and evangelists
  • improving interaction with the community/target groups
  • extending the reach of your marketing campaigns
  • going viral with your brand, content, or campaigns
  • influencing your online reputation
  • building relationships with reporters, bloggers, new partners
  • market research I and product development: ask your target group about its needs
  • market research II: monitoring your competitors
  • improving online customer support, increasing customer satisfaction
  • search engine optimization
  • crowdfunding

Is social media marketing suitable for every industry sector? Well, it depends. Some might push their sales while others may be happy with a loyal, growing community. On the other hand, thousands of new Facebook fans will only get you so far – if your initial goal was to get more clients on board and you’re not able to convert those thousands of fans. If you look at your marketing mix, it may make more sense to focus on other tools first.

Examples:

You are a trekking guide offering outstanding outdoor tours. A big and passionate Facebook community can easily help you to get paying customers. Pictures and videos of those trips might get shared and distributed. Demand picks up. You can answer requests on your Facebook page right away and regularly share news about tours that come up. That way, your community will keep you in mind.

It is different, though, for services like a locksmith. No matter if you have 100,000 Facebook fans, in case someone locks himself out he has an immediate need. They will not check into their social networks but rather find the nearest locksmith via “Ok, Google”.

Social Media Marketing Basics: How Do I Start?

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As with other online marketing tools, you should have a strategy in place before submitting to a posting frenzy, desperately searching for as many fans as possible. It would be easy to achieve the latter. Do a sweepstake with the newest iPad as the trophy or just buy some fans on eBay. Neither would get you your target audience, however.

Four proven ideas for planning:

1. Target group: Define your target group. Age, income, interests, active on which social media channels, which information do they need, what kind of content fits best (articles, images, video, audio).

2. Goals: You will define your goals based on your company goals and after a detailed analysis of your target group. Goals and target group will determine the tools with which to communicate. Because even when all target groups are on Facebook it still might not be the appropriate channel. Like, if you would like to sell injection-moulded parts for car dashboards, Facebook might not be the best stage to meet some car company’s big wig.

Furthermore, you need quantitative targets to put some numbers to your success. There are many key metrics you could measure (e.g. brand mentioning/total mentioning = share of voice, target group engagement = [comments+likes+shares]/views, discussion reach = sum of all participants/expected number of participants, influence of fans = one-time influence off ans/sum of all influences etc.).

Just be sure to know which metrics is worth measuring. If your goal is to have more traffic on your website, this should be your key metric. There’s no point then in having many additional complicated formulas for different metrics.

3. Strategy/editorial plan: Primarily, there are three ways for working with social media: 1. You can be active, and highly engaged in discussions with your target group right from the start. 2. You can just react when you’re mentioned in some context. 3. You can just watch what’s happening.

With 2. and 3. you will just be playing “fire brigade” if things go awry. Only an active social media strategy allows you to set the tone and be able to react at the same time. An editorial plan is the core of your social media strategy. It makes sure you can steadily deliver interesting stuff. Define topics that are of interest for your target group and schedule regular postings. This way, you should be able to deliver content and information with real value added.

4. Technology, channels, platforms: Which tools you choose to work with depends on your target group and your goals. That is where will your reach your audience best and which tool is appropriate for your topics?

The Presumably Most Important Social Media Channels

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Note: Even though this post was originally written for the German language region this is certainly true in general.

1. Your own blog: Just like your website is the lynchpin of your online marketing strategy, your blog should be the hub for your social media marketing. Because it’s a firmly integrated part of your website the same reasons apply. (See also: Online Marketing Basics #2). Post recent news and interesting facts on a regular basis. Do not waste the time of your audience. Generally, a blog suits any kind of industry and any kind of target group.

2. Twitter: Twitter is microblogging in real time. Giving you just 140 characters. So you better learn to cut a long story short. Hitting the nail on the head instantly will make you successful there. You can use Twitter to seduce your followers with a catchy headline and direct them to your blog. If they do, you have hit first base. Your website takes over from there and has to provide conversion.

Though the extent of Twitter being used varies in different countries you shouldn’t underestimate its power as an online marketing tool. Its biggest advantage is certainly the speed. Which explains why so many reporters and editors use the service. So with some interesting news and some luck you might be able to catch their interest and get some extra coverage.

3. Facebook: It’s probably a waste to introduce you to Facebook at this point. It is said to have a billion users (though there are certainly millions of pages dedicated to products, movies, campaigns). And it’s very likely you have an account there, too. Whether it’s worthwhile to do marketing there depends on your goals. Generally, Facebook is rather a platform for private contacts than for business deals. Even if group features and other functionalities are being used for other than private reasons.

So what makes sense for you? Sure enough, there are a lot of companies betting their dollars on Facebook ads. And why not. Although it must be said those campaigns work way better for B2C than for B2B efforts. Furthermore, you should be careful what products you advertise and how you do it. Try to imagine yourself buying stocks promoted on Facebook. You will certainly find any kind of target group there but not every topic or product is suitable to be marketed successfully on Facebook.

Anyway, you should definitely promote interesting articles from your blog on your Facebook page. Craft some copy that addresses the needs of your target group. Because, yes, content is king, now more than ever. Don’t forget the link to your blog at the end of your post. Besides, you should check if your local jurisdiction requires your Facebook company page to have an imprint!

4. Google+: Again, the extent of Google+ being used varies from region to region. Still, there are more than 500 million users of Google+ features. Alas, Google won’t tell how many use it in which countries. Since it works similar to Facebook you should use it the same way if you aim for directing visitors from there to your website.

Who lingers on Google+ these days? Most of all it’s internet professionals, though it is getting more diverse by the month. There is a reason, though, why online marketers and similar professions embraced the platform early on. It’s not because they go for every new hype but because Google+ really has something to offer regarding to online marketing: For example, only Google+ is able to get an author´s photo on the search results pages (SERP) or to rank you in the universal SERP (including Google Places, Maps etc.).

5. Xing: If you look for prospective customers in the German language region you should have a look at Xing. It is not a social network like Facebook and the like. But rather more like LinkedIn as it enables its users to extend their professional network. At Xing, you will find 11 million users, four million of them in the German-speaking countries.

Since it’s a professional networking platform you would never promote your end-consumer products to all your Xing contacts. Approaching prospective clients directly is B2B only here. For instance, you could use the extended search feature to look for contacts that need the services you offer. But even if you don’t try to reach B2B customers there are other reasons to be present there:

  • Xing serves as a virtual business card and digital CV/portfolio
  • You may look out for new employees
  • You are able to find orders or jobs
  • You can promote events
  • You may build relationships with new clients, vendors etc.
  • Inside the Xing groups you could present yourself as a thought leader in your industry. If you nail this one you even might be able to generate traffic on your website. (But take note: Contrary to social networks, it’s useful to not just tease some information here but to tell the whole story.)

6. Forums: Forums are platforms for exchanging information, asking questions and giving answers. So it makes sense to search for online forums covering your industry. If you come across a lively forum with many members you might as well have found a pretty good access to your target group. For a start, just register and observe the action. Register with your own name, not the company’s. Additionally, you shouldn’t stick out as being a business just keen to blare out commercial messages. Rather keep track of industry-oriented or product-related questions you could answer in a professional manner.

But don’t hint to your website right away. First, try to make a name for yourself. After publishing some posts you may post a link to your site. But only if it seems appropriate and it somehow relates to some blog article you published earlier. This way, this link look like adding real value. If you master this kind of art you might have found new, loyal site visitors and maybe even customers. Besides, being present in the right kind of forum also supports your search engine optimization. I will follow up on that in another part of this series…

What’s Next in Our Online Marketing Series?

The next part will deal with search engine optimization (SEO), as one part of search enginge marketing. We will discuss the basics of onsite and offsite SEO.

Related links

Tips for Creating Content

Online-Marketing-Basics #2: 3 Reasons Why Your Website Should Be Your Top Priority

The Tools of Online Marketing (Basics #1)

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