Marketing on the Web is changing in favor to be more social and less boring. This is exciting because Internet users are more perceptive and are more likely to research your brand, reputation and industry. Many small business owners that I talk to are very interested in social media marketing, but have no idea where to start. I’ll layout a four-step introductory plan to get you (and your business) social on the Web.
Before I get into this awesome four-step plan for small business owners, I need to explain a few social media concepts.
Social media marketing demands the ability to be transparent about service issues; it requires the ability to be humble and accept feedback openly from your customers. Results from social media marketing require time. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be spending hours of the day into building your brand, but you will be injecting personality into it and will likely cause you to burn the midnight oil a few times for your customer’s, prospects and your business. Success in social media marketing is dependent on your investment into your passion. If you aren’t passionate or aren’t willing to invest time to learn it, social media could bite you.
I’m here to help you put together the basics of a social media marketing plan. This is the secret sauce that others charge hundreds of your dollars for when it comes to social media marketing. If you have questions or comments, you can leave a comment at the bottom.
Four Step Action Plan for Social Media Marketing
for Entrepreneurs and Small Business Owners
In business world, they refer to listening as “competitive intelligence.” While that totally sounds like a moment in the life of James Bond, it boils down to simply listening, reading and scoping out the environment for your community. You can listen by simply searching for what people are talking about with easy to use tools like Google Blogsearch, Technorati or BoardReader. These services make it easy to plug in a word or phrase and voyeur from your chair into the conversation.
When I refer to your community, I don’t only mean “Acme Widget Co.,” I mean to include your industry, your name, your competitors. This is your community who contribute to the overall brand and reputation of you and your small business. Social media marketing starts with listening.
For example, a quick snapshot of our community includes the Warrior Internet Marketing Forum, Sphinn, our Twitter followers, our Facebook Fans, MailChimp, AWeber and Bronto. Find your community and listen, discover what they’re talking about and observe their contributions and vision yourself as one of those contributors. I can say that Infusionsoft proudly listens to the community because it helps us stay abreast of hot topics in the industry of email marketing, marketing automation and keep our users’ needs in touch.
ACTION: Use Google Blogsearch or Technorati to seek out fresh content published from blogs and news sources. Find qualified blogs in your industry with Alltop or Blogged and reconnect with industry peers through forums and online communities. Finally, keep up with all the information with an RSS aggregator like Google Reader. (Trust me, it makes life much easier.)
2. Establish a Presence.
As you listen to the community, you’ll probably get an idea on what people will like based on the level of buzz there is on a given topic. Continue to lurk among your community and at the same time, build and establish your presence on the Web. I strongly recommend you establish your personal presence through a blog, a Twitter account, a LinkedIn profile, and check out other services on the Web and claim your name. To add a sense of urgency, namesquatting is the next spammer trend in social media, so to save yourself hassle later on, establish a your social media presence now.
During your exploration of social destinations on the Web, establish your presence, it’s ideal to be transparent provide your legitimate, real information that you would realistically want business partners and customers to interact and respect. In social media, people don’t tolerate deception or questionable practices (e.g., I don’t recommend getting “make1000sdaily” on Twitter, as it’s just a lame attempt to promote business).
ACTION: Purchase your own domains for you and your company with a great domain registrar or Webhost. Your brand(s) are worth more than $10 a year, aren’t they? With many hosts, you may be able to place multiple domains under one account and even auto-install popular blog software such as WordPress to get going in minutes.
3. Provide Value to the Community.
The attraction of online communities, social media and social networking is the value that we obtain. The only way you’re going to attract people to your brand is to provide value. That value needs to be more than free eBooks (which are nice, too); the value needs to be in the form of responsiveness, loyalty and respect for others. One way to provide value is to share relevant industry news and your unbiased perspective on them. An additional example of providing value is to share much-needed tutorials within your industry.
For example, I’m writing about how you can engage in social media marketing, even though Infusionsoft specializes in marketing automation and email marketing, it’s valuable to the community. That’s not all, I also frequently engage in our community, and discuss ideas found on the Infusionsoft Ideas voting spot.
Once you feel you have a large enough customer base, you can build a community for them. The only pre-requisite (so you don’t disappoint yourself) is that a community must actually exist. A sign that you need an online community is that the people creating their own user groups and support resources without you. It’s not a bad thing, it’s a great sign that your users want to unite and discuss topic valuable to them and your company. There’s a number of free online community solutions to help you get started — from the leading forum software, vBulletin, to the community-in-a-box implementation like Ning to KickApps. These are great ways to facilitate a community for your users with very little headache. Naturally, nothing precludes a business from growing their community through Facebook Pages, either.
ACTION: Listen to the community, take common questions, misconceptions and write about it openly. Because you’re already following many blogs with your Google Reader, share important, snarky and useful news with your community with you being the leader. You don’t have to know it all, you just need to be present for your people. Offer pro-bono help to others in your industry to demonstrate your knowledge and willingness to help others. People tend to attract to those who help others. (Maybe that’s why ladies dig firefighters, eh?) Be that trusted adviser to others in your community and they will pay it forward later. When appropriate, consider building an online community for your customers so they can discuss your products and services and industry.
4. Connect the Dots to Build a Social Media Marketing Plan.
Now that you’re listening to your community, engaging successfully and providing value, you’re probably ready to inject social media into your marketing plan. For starters, you want to give your prospects and customers places to voice what’s on their mind. You can do that for free with Facebook or a blog already. Why is this important? If you prospects and customers feel they’re valued (and you actually care), they will pay closer attention to your marketing pieces.
While you continue to build your brand both personally and professionally, you will be able to provide instant value to your prospects by simply listening. Additionally, you can provide your customers golden gifts that they wait for by engaging with them and listening to what’s important. Perhaps, you’re planning on a bunch of events to help your customers — you could use a free service like UserVoice to establish some priority from the community. Why use focus groups anymore? These are the new focus group for entrepreneurs who don’t have time or money to burn.
Through social media, you can listen to your customers needs and check the pulse on what they want through excellent social media visibility tools like Twitter Search, Google Alerts and BoardTracker. These tools will aid you in listening to what your customers want; which enable you to provide valuable marketing pieces. To effectively market yourself though social media, you ought to share a good story. Share a dream, have a true cause for what you believe in and have your existing customers promote your message for you. If you’re a top-notch marketer and have a loyal following, I guarantee you’ll see amazing results through social media.YouTube is great to quickly get a video out and available for the masses to check out. I recommend giving Viddler a try if you want to include in-video comments (really cool).
ACTION: Update your social media devices (blogs, microblogs, profiles, etc.) on a frequent basis, check in with your community daily; listen and apply the feedback provided by your community. When launching a new product, get your product in the hands of someone likes (and criticizes) your industry so you can earn an honest review. If video delivers results for you, don’t stop there, bring it into your email marketing. One of our partners, jiveSYSTEMS, delivers tools to make it easy to integrate video into your marketing.
I hope this gives you a better idea with how to get started with social media marketing. The big idea here is to listen to your customers, deliver high quality stuff and continually leverage others to boost the amplitude in your marketing campaign. In addition, you need to be realistic and not expect overnight success. Some of the most successful communities on the Web have taken decades to establish; it’s only recently we’re all enablers.
This was a lot to digest in one entry, so I’d like to ask you to bookmark it (use the ShareThis button below), and save this for later and share it with others if you liked it. If you have questions, I’ll be happy to answer them in the comments!