Social Marketing: Creating online content and conversations to engage customers

Neal Creighton

Small-business owners need to go where their customers spend a significant amount of time and, not-surprising, they are spending more time in social networks. However, small businesses are unsure about the impact of social networking on reaching customers.

According to a recent survey from RatePoint, 36 percent of small businesses agree their customers spend time on social networking sites, 27 percent are undecided and 20 percent disagreed that their customers were spending time on social networks.
Now, compare that with what consumers really are doing online. Pew Internet & American Life Project recently reported that 46 percent of online American adults 18 and older use a social networking site like MySpace, Facebook or LinkedIn, up from 8 percent in 2005. There’s no doubt that small businesses engaging in social media are learning they can use these networks to find, target and reach consumers in an environment where they already spend time every day.
When a business discovers current and potential customers are talking about their service, product or area of expertise, joining and adding to the conversation can further enhance the brand recognition with a solid return for little investment. Of the small businesses who indicated they will be using social media as the main tactic to drive new customers to their business in the next 12 months, 70 percent said they do so because social media is the least expensive option.
Some businesses think blogging, Facebook and Twitter are just for sharing personal information with friends. However, those people also are sharing service experiences and product recommendations. When adding content in a social network or blog, remember:
  1. It’s about the reader. It’s OK to work in a business message, but remember to add value. Try to solve a problem, answer a question or share some news.
  1. What to write. Don’t cut and paste content from documents like an email newsletter and call it a blog post. Use existing content simply as a starting point to create a post. Be sure to keep the post in a conversational tone, using the first-person “I” or “we” and avoid jargon or buzzwords.
  1. Make the post more visible in search engines. Rather than staying on message, try to stay on search. Use everyday words and phrases that a person might put into a search engine. (This cannot be simplified enough. Remember, one of the top search terms of all time on Google is, “Google.”)
More than 700,000 local businesses have active pages on Facebook. When beginning with Facebook and Twitter, have realistic expectations. Set some initial metrics around participation and input from the business or a designated employee. Set a goal of reaching 50 or 100 fans on Facebook and 100 followers on Twitter. Also, decide the number of posts to create for the first month, and find items to post that show more depth than just the company’s products and services.
When creating a Twitter account for a business, the account will show up high in search results. While the business doesn’t need a certain number of followers (the term Twitter uses instead of “fans”), the business will want to build a following proactively. Start by searching for the business name and for terms relating to the business. Follow accounts that are talking about topics relevant to the company, its services and products. Some of those will follow the company back; once news, information and links are posted regularly, others will be able to find and begin following the company through related key words.
To find more information about getting started in social marketing, read RatePoint’s latest eGuide, The Social Media Guide for the Skeptical Small Business Owner.

Neal Creighton, co-founder and CEO of RatePoint
Copyright 2010, author retains ownership. All Rights Reserved.

Category: Networking
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