Tweets, followers, viral, likes, and hashtags—these words have vastly different meanings now than they did 20 years ago. As more and more people become engrossed in social media, some even feeling that the online world is more real than the offline, businesses must adapt. But whether you’re a social media master or a total newbie, there are factors to consider before diving into marketing in the online community.
Understand your market.
First and foremost, you must know both your online and your offline audiences, because they could be different. By knowing which demographics you are targeting with which methods, you may be able to build social media strategies that can reach both audiences.
Social media is constantly evolving. The creation of new communities, formation of new relationships, and promotion of new ideas can all offer opportunities to either reach or fragment your target market. This is why you must stay abreast of how your target market consumes information.
Find out where your audience is.
Just because your audience knows about the existence of Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, this does not mean they are actively engaged in these virtual communities. Knowing where your target market hangs out when they’re online allows you to build your presence in the right forums and establish meaningful relationships with the right people.
Once you choose an avenue of social media, you must learn the rules of that community. Learn the norms, the taboos, and the level of passion prevalent there so that you can mold yourself to fit in properly. You don’t want to join in only to embarrass yourself or accidentally alienate your audience.
Set definite goals.
All aspects of your social media marketing strategy must feed into your intended outcomes. And for that to happen, you need to know what those intended outcomes are. Is your focus on building your brand? Improving public relations? Increasing search optimization and website traffic?
Spell out what your objectives are and define the achievement of those objectives with something measurable (number of fans, followers, subscribers, or whatever).
Since everyone in your company has the power to affect your social media strategy, they should be on the same page. All of your people need to understand your intended message, know their role in the strategy, and follow guidelines as to what is and isn’t appropriate for online interactions.
You must decide in advance who is responsible for carrying on the public conversation in the company’s name. Who tweets and when? From work or home? Are blogs officially tied to the company, or are they more like affiliations? What handle should they use, and what avatar?
Just be careful not to lean too heavily on any one employee for your social media, because if she quits, your audience may quit with her.
Get started and track what happens.
It takes time to get where you want to go in social media. Although having something go viral can get a lot of attention quickly, the modest tactics that build gradually will tend to be stronger in the long run. When you build relationships with your audience by providing them with value, those relationships can multiply through word-of-mouth referrals. Don’t build your strategy around a “flash in the pan” piece. Focus on the slow burn for more substantial results.
Be ready to adapt—or even abort.
It’s important for you to maintain high levels of engagement beyond the launch of your social media marketing campaign… unless it isn’t working. Technologies and trends change, disappear, and evolve. This means you will have to measure your results and tweak your strategy accordingly.
Sometimes you must completely pull the plug on a particular tactic. It’s important that you don’t keep pumping time, energy, and money into an approach that isn’t delivering. If it isn’t working, do something else instead. On the other hand, if your social media strategy yields results, consider using more resources to help it grow.
Social media is forever on the move, and there is always more to learn, but these basic marketing principles will apply to whatever the online trends throw at you. If you and your team pay attention and keep an open mind, you can continue to connect with your target social media market in a meaningful way.