Business is an industry that is all about adapting to changes. Because the flow of consumer popularity and need will shift at least to some degree over time, the best thing that you can do is keep on top of those changes. This used to be a full time job, one given to marketers whom you had to hire to stay up to date on the latest and greatest trends and who also submitted a report with a marketing proposal that would cost a lot of money and may or many not be effective.
But once again, business has changed. Social media has become a major focus of business owners, even for large campaigns. But small business have really jumped on board as well and are taking advantage of the incredible capabilities of this now decade-old form of mass Internet based communication.
But how to you get started yourself? There are five commonly followed steps for social media business integration. The Internet savvy (or not-so-savvy) entrepreneur can use them to get on the road to this great business tool.
1 – Observing, Reporting and Preparing
The first step is to start gathering what you need to get started effectively. This means using tools to observe the market, report what you have found and set the stage for what is coming.
Observation – Try some of the many handy tools like Google Alerts, Twitter Search, Radian6, and PR Newswire’s Social Media Metrics. These allow you to track conversations and posts online that have to do with your chosen genre. They will send you regular updates that will provide you with a good look at current trends and what people are talking about.
Reporting – Put together a good list of what it is you find in this early observing stage. This is a single, thorough look at what has been going on and where you might be headed. Keep in mind that things might change as you go along - be worried if they don’t – but this will put you on the right road.
Preparing – Start by creating a presence online on social networks like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. This will be the slower beginning to the whole process, but it will give you somewhere to start from and a place to direct traffic in the later stages.
Next, watch to see how often you are followed, liked, viewed, shared or spoken about. Behind to communicate with people and see the reaction and effects of that communication. Take note of how much attention you are getting in those social media locations and start to brainstorm ideas on how you can increase it.
2 – Increase Sociability
It is time to take some of those ideas of increasing your presence and put them into practice. The best way you can do that is through becoming more social, as per the point behind the networking in the first place.
Many entrepreneurs and businesses make the mistake of setting up a page and then just leaving it, rarely updating. This can actually hurt you, rather than just doing nothing at all. It shows a lack of interest and reliability, not to mention professionalism that will turn even casual consumers off.
Conversation – This is always the first step to socialization. Take any chances you find where you, your product or your kind of product is mentioned and communicate with the person saying it. Stay friendly and personable, and offer genuine feedback. On your own page, give regular announcements and updates, even unrelated to your product. Keep your feed coming up on their main pages so they see you regularly.
Rapid Response – If you have spent any time at all on sites likes Facebook or Twitter, you know how quickly things can get out of hand. Fights, flaming and emotional responses can be common, and there is a saying online: “Don’t feed the trolls”. Instead, be ever vigilant and ready to step in to calm nerves or support positive messages.
Metrics – Keep regular reports on the progress of your social networking accounts to see what is improving and what must be worked on.
3 – Finding Your Place and Purpose
At first your social networks may be basic and you might even feel at a loss as to what you are trying to do. Are you attempting to increase visibility? Create an open dialogue with potential and current customers? Keep up on what people want? Show you are modern and up to date? Market to a specific demographic?
Over time you will begin to find yourself developing a better sense of who you are in the social media world. From there you will gain a voice and sense of purpose, which will dictate the direction you go in.
Research – From the reaction to you, your page and your product, keep up on what people are saying. Watch the trends and responses over time, noting any patterns that will eventually emerge. Take special care to see what is and isn’t working, and how people are coming to see you as time passes.
Strategic Visibility – Watch and see where you are most noticed, and search the web for places where you can be more carefully placed to greater affect. You might not choose to keep certain pages open and move on to somewhere else. The world of social media is vast, and what works for someone else might not work for you. Really explore your options and take advantage of them.
Relevance – Start to distinguish between the aimless communication that you had before, and a more targeted approach that will develop now. Since you have a direction you should use it to further create a dialogue and open trust with the consumer.
4 – Humanizing the Company Through Action
Remember that now you are socializing so closely with your customer base, your social networking profiles are a direct representation of you and your business. Because of this, you have to learn to act accordingly to humanize the company behind you.
Empathy – I recently saw an example of a local business on a social media profile that took a local story about a teenage boy who died in a car wreck and making a joke of it. This was a huge mistake, made by a single employee. However, it made the company look cold and made a number of people – including his family who saw the post – extremely angry. Showing empathy and compassion is a big part of humanizing a business. While you should stay out of hot button issues unless you want your business to stand for it specifically, you can show that warmth and go a long way.
Purpose – You have shown your own purpose, now give one to the customer. Show them that you are more than a business trying to sell to them and give them a purpose for coming to your page. This is a great way to build brand loyalty.
Experience – Use customer experience to generate a brand image matching your new, socialized business. Look at landing pages, websites, affiliations and anything else that you have attached to your company. Redefine your own mission through the eyes of the customer and make something targeted to fit them.
5 – Build a Community
By now a community should already be forming around you. Further cultivate this and take advantage of the many benefits it provides. This will take adoption, time, energy and dedication, but it is worth it.
Community Building/Recruitment – Now that you have opened up communication, you can start bringing customers directly into the process. Recruit them for tasks, through contests or volunteerism or just through sharing. Make them feel special by showing they mean something to your business. Get them involved.
Obviously, social media integration is a slow and deliberate process. But it is one that has been shown again and again to have incredible benefits and positives for those who seek it out and perfect it. Even a small campaign involving social networking can have huge effects, and it will give you a new way of looking at your business. In a time of constant change and business adoption, this is important. So get started and begin adding more interaction to your company plan.