Start with: What am I promoting? Is it a product with broad appeal, or a specialty item? Is it a service aimed at an age group or demographic, or the general public? Is this something brand new for which I'll need to create a market, or something with a household name?
Next ask yourself: What do I hope to accomplish? What are my goals here? Am I trying to promote product awareness? Company visibility? Brand recognition? How about creating a new community around products or services? Am I trying to generate sales leads? Foster better customer relationships? Improve our organization's reputation? Am I trying to increase traffic to my website? Boost page views? Engagement with customers for surveys and feedback? All of the above?
There may be moments when lightning strikes and your YouTube video goes viral (spreads by word of mouth), or the twitter stream chirps with a hash-tagged topic that you initiated. But those are merely results. Social media marketing is a practice and a method of establishing your influence, reputation, and brand within communities of potential customers, fans, and supporters.
SociabilityBecause you're planning to promote your brand or product on social media sites, it also makes sense to consider whether there's anything inherently “social” about it. Movies, of course, attract communities of fans. But communities form around a vast number of areas.
If you're promoting, say, a chain saw, you immediately fall into the do-it-yourself (DIY) community. If it's your new cookbook, you're instantly part of the foodie community. Gamers, bikers, sailors, knitters, and hobbyists of every stripe are part of a community.
People don't really care about your business, but if your home improvement company can help members of the DIY community fix a leaky faucet, you bring value to the conversation beyond your interest in selling some pipe wrenches.
This sociability factor matters because the key to successful social media marking isn't in the presentation, but the conversation. That's not to say you don't need compelling content. The important point is to remember that this is a social environment, the guts of which have been generated by the users, and it's all about interaction.
Listen InWhen the talk turns to social media marketing, the focus tends to be on the content you create, or the message your company sends. That's critical, of course, but more and more companies are discovering the value of the social media two-way street. Engaging in social media marketing offers a unique opportunity to have a conversation with your customers, to hear what they really care about and what interests them.
Before you launch yourself onto the social web, take some time to listen to what they're saying about you online. Use a search engine to pull up blog postings. Sign up for a social network or other service and keep a low profile while you search for mentions of you or your company. You could also start a topical conversation and follow the responses. Pay attention to how you or your company is perceived, how people feel about you, whether they like or trust your brand.
While you're listening in, take some time to identify the “influencers” out there, the bloggers and twitterers whose opinions hold sway with the communities. These are the people who will drive traffic to your website, your Facebook page, or your blog. These are the valuable people you want to recommend you.
You'll also want to track mentions of your brand or your name, and even your industry. It's perfectly possible that you won't find anything, but it's a good idea to know what kind of environment you're stepping into.
Strike Up a Conversation
The participatory platform that is the social web requires would-be marketers to participate in the online conversation. Okay, it's not exactly a requirement, but most web watchers and marketing gurus see it as a unique opportunity to get to know and better understand their customers, fans, and supporters. You can have direct interactions with these folks in a way that was never possible before. You can provide them with the very latest information about your products or services. You can make and maintain connections with existing customers, and reach out to potential new ones.
This two-way street will be invaluable going forward. You'll be able to catch misinformation before it spreads far and wide, and take steps to correct it. And you can discover what your customers are really interested in and what they really think about you.
When it comes to running your social media marketing accounts, forget automation. If you can't manage well yourself, hire somebody, but don't click the cruise control and fire off scheduled posts. You might be able to get away with it on Twitter, which has a fat and flowing tweet stream. But on social networks like Facebook and MySpace, you're expected to show up.
Most social media sites offer some kind of demographic information, which is very useful when you begin to target your audience. But it's also worthwhile just to spend some time on a site, interacting with its members, getting to know them one-on-one. The big numbers matter, but it's also useful to get a sense of the community from firsthand experience with it.
You'll also get to know the “personality” of the network or service. Twitter is a microblog and naturally has little in common with the Flickr photo-sharing site. But even social media in the same categories have their own rhythms and quirks. Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn are all social networks, but they're different worlds.
And while you're at it, get to know the rules of the community. These things may seem like free-for-alls, but many have definite dos and don'ts, which you can usually find in the help menu. If you try to sell anything on Flickr, for example, your account will be deleted. This is no place to cross any lines or violate social conventions.