A typical situation for many marketers when it comes to social networks is this: Setup LinkedIn profile, check. Corporate LinkedIn page, check. Facebook profile, check. Facebook Fan Page, check. Twitter account, check. Corporate blog, check. Check check check!
But where’s the buzz? Where are the fans, friends, followers, comments, links, traffic, search engine rankings? Where’s the customer engagement? And the most pressing question of all: What is all this social web participation doing for our company and our customers?
Showing up to the game doesn’t mean there will be an audience. This is as true with the social web as it is offline. The problem that marketers have with attracting interested customers and growing their social networks often stems from approaching social participation tactically and without a plan. Testing and experimentation is great, but if what you’re doing is something that has a cost and is to be accounted for, then you’d better have a plan and objectives. How can you score without a goal?
Here are 5 tips to help business marketers energize and electrify social network development:
1. Decide to start
You must start by deciding what business objectives you intend on meeting as a result of social network involvement. Once you’ve clearly identified objectives, then you can create a strategy that outlines which tactics make the most sense to reach and engage your audience.
Common objectives for companies to develop online social networks include:
- Create connections with those interested in the type of solutions you offer so you can better meet customer needs
- Build out a channel of distribution for promoting content
- Connect with existing customers, create a place for them to connect with each other
- Initiate discussions around product for new ideas, enhancements, focus group
- Extend reach to influentials in your market for publicity
- Tap into active user base for content
- Facilitate conversations about your products & services to aid in new customer acquisition and/or upgrades
- Create a communication channel that reaches employees for internal PR
- Build up the personal networks of executives for thought leadership with journalists, analysts and key bloggers
2. Know your customer
If marketers spend their time on the social networks dujour without really knowing where their customers are spending time, then of course there will be a disconnect between experience and expectations. Picking friends, at least initially, on social networks should be very intentional, not random. Understanding customer preferences towards information discovery, consumption and sharing along with which web sites they prefer is essential if a marketer wants to connect in a meaningful way.
3. Be real, be useful
There are a lot of buzzwords like “transparency” and “openness” that describe the need for marketers to be “genuine”. Oops that’s another. To be real is being honesty in your intentions. I’ve seem highly respected marketers make absolutely idiotic statements about transparency, taking it to the extreme. Ignorance is bliss I suppose, but there’s not much money in it.
The core principles of understanding the needs of your customers and then finding a way to meet those needs in such a way that is helpful and that at the same time leads to product sales, need not be elusive. Approaching a social network blatantly announcing that you’re a marketer and that you will be marketing so buy some product dammit, isn’t being transparent. It’s being stupid.
Identifying yourself as a representative of a brand, product or service and communicating your intentions both in words and helpful actions is what I mean by “be real, be useful”. Those good deeds create trust and relationships. They create word of mouth and a certain gravity of popularity for your brand with your own identity as the proxy. Fans, friends and followers “happen” because the word gets out that your brand promise is meaningful and being followed through on.
Developing relationships can be hard work. People already know this through the relationships they have in daily life. Yet it’s very common for corporate marketers to initiate online social networking efforts only to become disillusioned at the lack of immediate sales results. It’s important that social web participation for a company become a part of what the company is, long term. Not an “add on” marketing tactic.
4. Recognize and reward
When developing an active social network, participants will demonstrate certain behaviors that are more desirable than others. For example, standing up for the brand when a troll appears or mashing up content in a creative way. They say people will work for a living but die for recognition. This is a key concept for electrifying your social networking efforts. First, understand what behaviors you want to reward. Participate and identify those behaviors that will influence the kinds of outcomes you’re looking for. Recognition can be active and passive. Active recognition is to reach out and recognize specific behaviors publicly and/or privately. Passive recognition is built into the social CRM system you’re using or the platform within which customers participate. An example would be points based systems that provide rewards or more access based on accumulating points for completing certain behaviors such as comments, ratings, contributed content, etc. The key to “Recognize and Reward” is for the recognition to be deserved, genuine, relevant and consistent.
5. Monitor, measure, feedback loop
All the good intentions in the world won’t result in relationship and business growth from social networks unless there’s management of content and curation of interactions with the outcomes from participation. It can be as simple as noticing “5 of this” or “10 of that” tips blog posts yield 200% greater engagement scores (comments, retweets, inlinks, etc) than posts that focus on a single, general topic.
Web analytics along with social media monitoring and a CRM component can facilitate the feedback loop to know whether customers are responding in the ways that you’d hoped. Simply focusing on fans/followers, comments or sales can leave out some of the essential pieces of why some efforts fail and others succeed. Social media monitoring tools are essential for upfront research, ongoing monitoring and after-action results measurement.
In the end, the steps to take for growing a social network for business must be rooted in an understanding of the customers and their needs combined with whatever it is you decide you’ll provide to meet those needs. Being useful by itself doesn’t turn an active network into achieved business goals. Provide opportunities for interested members of your social network to opt-in to a more commercial relationship when they’re ready. That could be as simple as moving from a Facebook Fan to a Webinar participant or Email Newsletter subscriber. In some cases it might mean becoming a buyer of products/services.
If your business has successfully developed it’s social network presence, what have been some of the roadblocks you’ve overcome? What insights can you share on best connecting with networks and growing your business as a result?