Every business owner in a competitive environment needs a social media presence and more importantly, a strategy. It’s important for a couple of reasons:
First, customers expect businesses to be available through social media to answer questions, provide information, demonstrate brand quality, etc.
Second, Google is looking for signals of “real business activity” as they evaluate how well websites should rank in search engines. In the old days, these signals may have included having a press section on the website or being found on lists of local businesses. Today, it means having a Facebook page or having employees with LinkedIn profiles that list your company. It also means creating fresh content that gets shared on social networks.
Where does a new business owner start? And how is one blog post going to effectively cover a whole strategy?
Forget about “social media” for a second and think about the word “strategy.” Not every entrepreneur went to business school and many of those who did couldn’t give you a good definition of what strategy is.
Strategy, in a business environment, involves creating a sustainable competitive advantage. Every business has competitors–either direct competitors that you risk losing business to, or indirect competitors – anywhere your potential customers would rather spend their limited resources like time, money, etc. How are you going to create an advantage for yourself, especially if you’re new to the game?
Also, let’s get one thing clear. If you’re making more money because of your social media activity than your competitors are, it doesn’t matter if they have 10X as many Twitter followers or Facebook ‘likes’ as you. Strategy is about your bottom line objectives (and we’ll get to that later).
1. Identify Your Sources of Advantage
Your competitive advantages as a business is going to dictate how you structure your social media and content strategy. A few sources of competitive advantage you can leverage:
- Superior product/service/technology
- Superior price
- Superior storytelling
- Superior knowledge/expertise
- Superior employees (talents, skills, connections)
- Superior relationships/partnerships
- Superior resources (money/time/equipment to invest in content, location)
These “superiorities” become the items you’ll leverage in your social media strategy. Product and price are often the biggest sources of competitive advantage. If you can’t compete on either of these the only option you have is to increase the number of “fronts” you can compete on in guerilla-style warfare.
To-do: Make a prioritized list of your major business advantages.
2. Determine What You Need To “Compete” Socially
It can be helpful to scope out what your competitors are doing on social media before you begin investing heavily in it. You can do this manually or using some of the pre-existing tools that are available.
Put together your own comparison of your closest competitors (Spreadsheet formats are good). You want to measure three things:
How popular are your competitors on major social networks? Do they even have a presence? For networks, look at Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, YouTube, Pinterest, and Instagram. You can even use something like Simply Measured to generate a comparison of Facebook popularity across multiple competitors if you have their Facebook page URLs, as shown below.
You’ll also benefit greatly by determining which of their content (assuming they’re operating a blog) is getting the best response. You can use Social Crawlytics very easily or the RSS Social Analyzer if they have a blog RSS feed.
How frequently are your competitors participating on social networks? How much of their own content are they producing to promote via social media?
It’s also helpful to even measure over several weeks to see whether your competitors are experiencing any growth. You may find that they’re investing heavily in content or activity, but it’s not paying off, which means you’ll have to try a different approach to be successful.
To-do: Create a comparison chart where you can track your progress alongside your competitors on a weekly or monthly basis.
3. Create a Content Plan
With a knowledge of the competitive landscape and how you plan to position yourself, you’re now prepared to plan out your content strategy. Content is what you’ll use to engage your communities on different platforms. Your primary objectives are to use content to retain who already follows you, build your brand and reputation through consistency, be top-of-mind for the prepared customer, and naturally introduce people to your products and services.
One question to consider is “Why would non-customers follow my business on social networks?” What value can you provide to groups that haven’t actually used your product or service yet. It’s important to identify the range of content you’ll be posting, because keeping it too narrow means that many will find your content irrelevant. Making it too broad will fail to create a cohesive community engine. For example, I have a friend with a service business selling piano tuning. He could either make all of his social media posts about piano tuning, or on the other side of the spectrum make all his posts about music in general. We agreed that his best bet is to meet in the middle and focus on piano, specifically, so that he can generate community members who have pianos and may eventually need tuning services.
The other thing you’ll want to do, whether you’re creating and posting the content or someone else has that responsibility, is to make a social media style guide, so you can avoid inconsistencies or embarrassments, while maintaining professionalism and voice.
To-do: Create a social media style guide and determine what kind of content you’ll be creating and posting based on your target market.
4. Align Content With Your Business Goals
Your business strategy sells your product or service. Your social media strategy funnels into your business strategy by finding qualified customers and building a community engine.
How are you going to introduce qualified people to your products and services by posting on social media? It’s definitely not going to work well if all you post is self-promotional messaging. This is the fastest way to lose community members.
But remember, we’ve already established that a large part of our content will target and engage a broader spectrum of potential customers. The trick is to use content you post to occasionally introduce them to your business, much in the way that advertising does.
I recommend looking at some of the good business blogs that have aligned content with business objectives by placing banners or interesting navigation around the content as it’s viewed on the website. Then, your whole social media system becomes a very natural process.
- Create quality content on the website that will appeal to my community and be shared.
- Make sure that content is framed by opportunities for people to learn more about my business.
- Craft the messaging on social media platforms in ways that drive traffic to the content on my site (rather than just creating engagement on the social network itself).
- Make it easy for people to transition to the conversion funnel (getting from content to product pages, lead forms, e-mail subscriptions, etc.) and be sure to provide very direct calls to action to get them there.
Remember that you don’t have all the time in the world to create content and messaging for social media when you’re a new business owner. However, try to avoid relying too heavily on curating content from others, because the content on your site is what will help your social media strategy the most, in terms of immediate views and future views by way of SEO and backlinks.
To-do: Add elements to your site that help people transition easily from content consumption to conversion.
5. Execute Your Strategy
With the elements in place, you’re prepared to kick off your content-driven, conversion-minded social media strategy. This may seem daunting. You may still be at the point where you don’t even have your social media profiles set up or acquired. Do that first. There are plenty of blog posts and web pages to guide you through the process. Try to stay consistent in your profile naming across the platforms.
You’re going to want an initial group of fans on various social networks that can give you feedback. How do you get fans when you have none to begin with? How do you grow your followings?
There are an endless number of ways to acquire followers and fans and subscribers. I’ve seen success by leaving your business partly to the imagination before the website launch, using something like Launchrock. You’re also more likely to get featured in local or industry news outlets as a brand new company. It might even be a good opportunity for a press release that includes your primary social networks. Call in favors. Send invitations to friends. There are some who will recommend actually buying followers initially as a form of “social proof” to get the word-of-mouth (WOM) wheel rolling. This may or may not work to your advantage. The disadvantage is that anyone who looks for more than a second will realise that the company has zero engagement to accompany thousands of followers, and that just looks untrustworthy.
Remember that growth is a process and occurs partly as a consequence of normal business and employee growth. At a fundamental level, I think that social media growth and retention is about making promises to your community or potential community members and then keeping them through your activity. When you can offer a sense of exclusivity or special privilege to a network group, you’ll build loyalty and increase your odds of WOM. You can also try to build growth right into your product or service, if possible. Notice, for example, how Oscar Mayer indirectly promotes Twitter growth with sayitwithbacon.com.
To-do: Read articles about how to acquire followers for specific platforms, but remember that real growth is about delivering on your promises and finding ways of helping people out. Measure your efforts. Try new approaches. Modify as needed. And have fun with your communities!
Over time, you’ll figure out what you’re truly good at and what your communities truly value. Always remember to keep the word “strategy” at the forefront of everything you do in social media, so you make traction and profit.
Photo: Flickr / MKH Marketing - Creative Commons