Using Social Media Effectively: An Overview

using social mediaIn today’s technology-driven world, the most disruptive trends are often the ones that few “experts” see coming. Social media fits into this narrative: A decade ago, the space lacked obvious uses as a marketing tool and was virtually ignored by business owners who sought to boost their lead generation activities.

Today, social media is far too important to ignore. It’s not just a useful platform for social interaction or a point-of-sale marketing tool for consumer-facing companies. Rather, it’s a powerful aid for businesses of all stripes, including industrial B2B firms that don’t need to market directly to end users. It’s time to learn how to leverage social media in the service of your sales funnel.

Why Social Media Matters

While grandiose statements like “social media has arrived” might technically be true, they have a way of turning off productive people who don’t obsessively study the marketing business.

The numbers behind the headlines speak for themselves. According to a recent report, nearly four in five Americans say that social media content influences their purchasing decisions. One in two companies have already used Facebook to score at least one direct conversion. Lest you think that social media use requires hours of your own time or the hiring of a full-time staffer to manage your online presence, three in four companies report that about one hour of social media engagement per day is sufficient to boost sales.

It would be nice if all it took to manage your social media presence was a handful of promotional tweets or posts, but the reality is more complicated. These general tips apply across all social media channels; look for platform-specific strategies in the weeks ahead.

Find and Develop Your Audience

You might already have some sense of your company’s target audience, but that does no good unless you can find it on social media. Use your existing buyer personas and your internal analysis of competitors’ social media presences to create a “map” of where your prospects spend time online. If you’re a B2B industrial or medical firm, for instance, you’ll find your best prospects on Google Plus and LinkedIn as well as niche-focused forums and blogs. If you’re a consumer-facing firm that caters to mature adults, Facebook is probably a good space to develop. For younger, multimedia-savvy audiences, visual platforms like Pinterest and Instagram could be valuable.

Never Stop Testing and Tweaking

Like other aspects of your company’s marketing plan, your social media marketing campaign must be responsive and flexible. Although it’s crucial to understand your prospects’ habits before devoting significant resources to social media engagement, the initial phase of your campaign may involve some trial and error.

If a particular channel isn’t generating sufficient leads to justify the resources that it demands, it may be time to scale back or eliminate its use. Channels that generate lots of engagement — shares, “likes,” comments and so forth — from your prospects should be rewarded with additional resources and content. While you can learn a lot from the struggles of your competitors and may be able to avoid mistakes that they’ve made, your business’s unique base of customers and prospects guarantees that your social media marketing activities will be unique as well.

Plan and Engage

It’s easier to analyze, adjust and execute a well-planned, well-structured social media marketing plan. Since social media is just one piece of your marketing pie, you should take commonsense steps to reduce the amount of effort and resources that you devote to it. For instance, you can schedule social media posts at regular intervals throughout the week and outsource content development and curation to an experienced social media team. Once you’ve posted material, encourage engagement by personally responding to comments and reaching out to specific users or user groups.

Don’t Be Overly Promotional

One method for managing your social media campaigns is to follow the 4-1-1 rule. Simply put, this rule requires you to create four pieces of informational social media content and curate one piece of existing content for every piece of self-serving content that you blast out. As the thinking goes, repetitive self-promotion turns customers off and may actually hamper your lead-generation efforts. By contrast, creating or curating informational content enhances your company’s apparent authority in its field and increases the chances that your prospects will turn to you for guidance and information in the future.

Crafting a strong social media marketing plan takes time, patience and a willingness to experiment. If you can use social media effectively, however, you’ll find yourself in an enviable position relative to your competitors.