How to Get Started — Fast — with Social Media

by Robert Moskowitz on February 5, 2013
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Whether you’re thinking of starting a business or already running one, you’re probably acutely aware of the intense competition out there. To stand out in the crowd and grow your operation, you must use every marketing tool at your disposal, including social media.

Still resisting these “newfangled” technologies? Almost any business can benefit from cultivating a social media presence and interacting with existing and potential customers. If you aren’t sure how to get started, fret no more! Here are five simple, clear steps to move quickly toward an effective social media marketing campaign.

Step 1: Scope Out the Scene

Spend a little time on the most popular social media networks, including FacebookLinkedInTwitter, and PinterestCheck out your competitors’ use of these sites. Where do they post? What do they write about? How often?

Next, set up your own accounts, and start experimenting to see how they work and how people respond to what you post.

It’s also helpful to pursue your personal interests, in addition to your obvious business interests, to see how those are represented in the social media world. All of this experience will help you learn more quickly the general principles and specific techniques for leveraging social media to attract and hold people’s attention, no matter what the subject. 

Step 2: Check Out Customers’ Use of Social Media

Whether you ask them face to face or monitor their use of your web site, study how your customers engage with social media. You can do this via such tactics as following them on Twitter, “friending” them on Facebook, and subscribing to their blogs and RSS feeds, if they generate any. Learn how often they visit social media sites, what information and experiences they seek, what tools (Facebook? LinkedIn? Google? Bing? Twitter? Pinterest?) they prefer, and what kinds of information they most often share with others. Read their posts and note their interests. If lots of your customers share common interests, that may provide an additional social media opening through which to reach even more good prospects.

Step 3: Research What People Are Saying About You

As you become more familiar with social media in general, as well as the specific sites and keywords that are relevant to your business, start digging for clues about your own reputation, positioning, credibility, and following. Even if you haven’t been aggressively building an online following, you may nevertheless have a reputation.

Start and keep a log of how often your company’s name comes up in social media conversations. Keep track of the tone of those mentions – how favorable or unfavorable are they? Emulate the ways that others build on favorable comments and mentions and respond to unfavorable ones.

Step 4: Ramp Up Gradually

Two important keys to success with social media are consistency and longevity. It’s counter-productive to start off posting many times a day and then let your frequency peter out to nothing. It’s much better to ramp up slowly and then maintain a steady pace over time. Photos and stories are the most engaging types of information to post.

Realize that your activity on social media implies a commitment. Not only must you initiate messages regularly, but you must also respond within a few hours or a day to each social media mention of you or your business in order to keep the conversation going.

Don’t let your initial enthusiasm write a social media check that your other daily responsibilities will preclude you from cashing.

Step 5: Plan Ahead and Chart Your Progress

Although much of social media content seems impromptu, the best social media efforts involve longer-term planning. If you task yourself with thinking of something clever to post every day, you’ll quickly lose momentum and eventually come up dry.

Instead, work out a sequence of posts to cover at least three months of social media activity. Think in terms of upcoming holidays, seasons, your own promotional calendar, and other time-linked events on which you can post. Fill in multiple days with postings that build-up to each event, as well as follow-on analyses in which you recap how well things went. Thank your followers for their participation.

Of course, you can and should look for opportunities for spontaneous and up-to-the-minute posts. And always make time to respond to social media messages about you, or directed specifically to you. But when those wells run dry, it’s important to have a plan that provides you with useful content to keep your social media outreach effort rolling.

Robert Moskowitz is a business writer for Intuit and is passionate about solving small business problems.

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