If you don’t know what you are doing, social media can become a nightmare

“With great exposure comes great responsibility.”

Without a doubt, social media marketing is the great equalizer. Until the arrival of  WordPress, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, big business had an unfair advantage.  Any business could of course create a website but few had the resources and  knowledge to capture global exposure and sales.

Most SMEs had to settle for direct mail, local newspapers, networking,  pay-per-clicks etc. because they simply could not compete with the big budgets  of the big brands. In most cases, the advertising mediums with the biggest reach  and frequency – TV, radio, online banner and outdoor – were out of the grasp of  the average small business.

Social media marketing changed all of that.

With social media marketing, anyone can create an online presence and broadcast their  uncensored views or talent worldwide, for less than $500. People like Justin  Bieber and Lily Allen went from middle class obscurity to millions of fans and  multi-million dollar careers virtually overnight due to social media.

Neilson published stats show that the world now spends over 110 billion  minutes on social networks and blogs. What this means is that you, I and your  prospects now spend 25% of our time (around 12-15 hours a month) visiting these  types of sites. And unlike the consumption of other types of media, social media  is doubling year on year, it’s inexpensive and it’s now available 24/7 on mobile  devices.

And therein lies the problem.

Good and bad news, whether true or untrue, can spread online like an  epidemic. As opposed to advertising (which is initiated by you), a large  percentage of what is said in social networks (and social media marketing) is contributed by people outside  of your organization. How do you keep track of every single thing that is said  or written about you? It’s almost impossible to monitor and control where and  how your brand is mentioned online.

That’s why social media marketing has the potential to boost your reach and sales  exponentially, but it could also easily bring out the worst in your company.  With this in mind, what do you need to consider and do in your business to  mitigate the risks?

1. Social media marketing is for social interaction

The focus of traditional marketing and advertising is on lead generation and  sales. However, in social media marketing, it’s all about engaging with others, exchanging  information and creating relationships. In order to excel in the realm of social  networks, you will need to offer value upfront (to gain followers) and then  focus on getting to know them and understanding their needs.

Prospects and customers are more interested in the interaction they have with  you than they are on the deals or special offers. If you don’t engage with your  followers on their terms, you risk doing more harm to your brand than good.  Think of how many people and businesses have asked you to “like” their brand,  re-tweet a message or join their mailing list in the past 24 hours? We are  inundated with brands talking at us in social media and it is getting harder to  create an impression and persuade us to act.

2. Look for opportunities to turn around customer experiences

You will discover more in one week about your brand in social media marketing circles  than you will find in a year of traditional research. People don’t censor their  opinions when they share with their friends and you are likely to hear a lot of  stories of how you have fallen short of expectations. All of this is a very good  thing because it means that you have a direct opportunity to make it right. Of  course, you have to be listening and you need to have a strategy on how you will  deal with it. In the absence of these 2 things, you are actually worse off  because the story will spread like wildfire and it will carry a much greater  weight since it is shared among friends.

Most will mistakenly view social media marketing as a great place to sell more stuff.  It is actually a far better place to listen to what your customers are saying  and take action to turn bad experiences into positive ones.

3. What is it really costing you?

On the face of it, social media marketing appears practically free. However, when you  factor in the time it takes to produce content across various mediums, cross-  promote it, reply to followers etc., it could easily turn into a full time job.  Your time (or the time of a team member) is valuable and needs to be measured  against the returns generated by the online activity. Return on investment  online is a function of both tangible and intangible factors.

In my experience, far too many small businesses are getting caught up in the  hype of social media marketing without a clear understanding of the real cost or return.  Why spend hours a day posting and interacting online if you can generate a  better response by speaking directly to your customers or asking for a referral?  Social media marketing only promises you can talk to more people for less money, it  doesn’t guarantee that anyone will listen or that you will earn the same return  on investment that you could receive elsewhere.

4. Be clear about your brand and branding strategy

Prospects often need to see the same message many times before they will  decide to take action. One of the biggest mistakes that you can make is to  overload your audience with too many messages because you are trying to be all  things to all people. Repetition is the key to retention. In order to be  remembered and acted upon, your message should be consistent across all channels  including your social media marketing. This means that wherever your prospects and  customers see you, they have to experience your brand and your message in the  exact same way. This can become difficult when you are trying to manage multiple  platforms and respond to what is happening in real time.

It pays to have a very clear strategy before you embark on social media.  Social media marketing is not like traditional advertising channels – it is very fluid and  dynamic. As such, circumstances can change on a daily basis and you need to  outline ahead of time what your key messages are and how they should be  communicated consistently to your audience.

5. Social media marketing is not for everyone

Who manages your social media marketing? If it is not you personally, does that  employee or part-time contractor understand what your plan and overall strategy  is? In many cases they may be the most direct links to your target market and  everything that is said by them on your behalf will have far reaching  implications for your brand and company.

If they are responding to a disgruntled customer or worse, an insane person  who is just trying to create trouble, do they know exactly what to do to diffuse  the situation? If the situation gets out of hand, at what point do you find out  and become involved? Do you have the means to take action and protect your brand  if matters get out of hand or you become the target of defamation?

The reach and potential of social media are great – so are the risks. While  it may seem harmless and fun on the surface, the capacity to do irreparable harm  to your brand is very real. Social media marketing  needs to be entered into with a very  clear plan. It’s not something that you should delegate freely or allow to run  unmanaged.

Start first by monitoring what is said about you and your brand online. There  are many free services online which can assist you to do this. Take some time to  investigate what your competitors and other well known brands are doing in this  space. Then, once you understand the key platforms and what you hope to gain on  each by participating, you can begin to create a community of followers with  confidence, control and safeguards.


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