By Katie Moffat
It’s difficult to move on the internet these days without stumbling over another ‘why social media is vital for your business’ blog posts. Certainly we’re a few years past the stage at which social media wasn’t even on the radar for most business owners but it’s one thing having a sense that you should be doing something, it’s quite another to know exactly what you should be doing.
One of the most common mistakes that businesses make with social media is to take what I call a ‘platforms first’ approach by which I mean that they dive into Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn without really stopping to properly consider whether that’s the most effective place for them to be. Unfortunately it’s still all too common to hear that the reason a business has set up a Twitter account or Facebook page is simply because they think they should, because they’ve seen that other businesses have and therefore they should too. The problem with this approach is that you can end up pouring time and resource into the wrong area only to emerge after a few months, feeling confused as to why social media isn’t really having any positive effect on the business.
So how do you go about developing a social media strategy? I’d recommend breaking it down into four steps. Step one: always start with your objectives, this sounds obvious but in the rush to set up those profiles, you can often forget to focus on what you’re ultimately trying to achieve. What is your overall business objective and what are your specific social media goals? Always try to make the goals SMART i.e. Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-orientated. For example, your overall business objective may well be to win new business. Your social media objectives therefore, could be to drive traffic to your website, increase the amount of online conversations you’re having with prospective customers and position yourself and your company as experts (in your sector). Try to be really disciplined about whether these goals will help you to reach your overall objective and think carefully about how you will measure the success of each one.
Once you have your objectives nailed down you need to move onto to step two, which is research. If for example, one of your objectives is to build relationships with key influencers in your industry, do you know who and where they are online? You may know some of them but what about specific blogs and websites and do you know the forums and networks where people are discussing issues relevant to your business? It’s only through by going through this process that you start to get a sense of what might be appropriate for your business. Decent research can take time to do well but it’s vital if you want to make your social media activity worthwhile.
A couple of tips to help you find relevant websites and blogs: firstly, always use Google advanced search, and try as many different combinations of keywords and keyphrases as possible. The Google keywords tool can help to suggest different keywords to try. It’s a tool that was originally created for people running paid ads on Google but it’s just as useful for this purpose. The second tip for research is too look at who is already linking to both your website and your competitors (known as ‘backlinks’). There are a couple of ways of doing this, the first is by using a specific search in Google, say for example we were trying to find which other websites or blogs were linking to the Kelloggs uk website, we would enter link:http://www.kelloggs.co.uk and this displays a selection of sites linking to the home page of Kelloggs. It’s important to underline that this only reveals a selection of backlinks, not all of them and it only shows you the links to that specific page. Since people often link to other sections of a website e.g. a news or product page, it’s worth performing this search several times and looking at individual pages within a site. There are also subscription tools out there that will show you backlinks in much more detail, Open Site Explorer http://www.opensiteexplorer.org/ is one such tool. So you can use backlinks to help you start to identify sites and blogs that might be of interest to you to target with news and other content.
The third step to developing your social strategy is to think about content, this means what does your business have to say and share within social media channels; what content do you have already, and what kinds of additional content might you need to create? Content includes everything, from a single tweet, to a blog post, ebook or online video. Thinking in detail about your social media content will be the subject of a future post on this blog so for now let’s just say that it needs to be interesting and add value, not every update should be about you and your business. If you approach social media as another sales channel through which you can broadcast your sales messages, you’ll quickly find that you get very little response. Adding value can mean different things depending on the sector, it might be sharing useful information, helping people solve problems, making them laugh, surprising them or adding to an ongoing industry debate with some thoughtful insights.
The final step is to think about what resources you have available to run your social media activity. It takes time and effort to get value out of social media and, if you’re a small team, it’s better to do one or two things really well than try and spread yourself too thinly. Who is going to be responsible for doing social media and is it realistic that they can do it effectively on top of their day job?
Only once you’ve been through these four steps: objectives, research, content planning and resource, should you set sail on your social media journey. By putting in this work before you make a start, you’ll be much more likely to find that social media contributes effectively to the growth of your business.