Monday, January 6, 2014

A Social Media Primer for 2014

As 2014 begins, many C-level executives and marketing teams are evaluating their annual marketing plans. As part of most organizations’ marketing plans, social media has become front and center. But, no matter the size of your business – whether small, medium, or Fortune 100 – can you answer this question: How does social media fit into your overall marketing strategy?

Here are some ways that 10 key social sites can align with your overall marketing strategy:

[1] Twitter
Twitter is the modern day version of the office water cooler, but in morsels of 140 characters or less. Since conversations take place in real time, your team must be ready and eager to respond. Understand your brand promise, your competitive advantage, your unique selling proposition. And keep these in mind with each and every tweet. Naturally, every tweet cannot be a sales pitch – then you’d probably not have any followers. But, remember the value that you provide to your audience so that you create interest and engagement. If problems are solved in real time, your customers will become brand advocates for you via all social platforms. Above all, remember that Twitter is a hodgepodge of conversations, so many things might constitute your strategy. And if you create a hashtag that is unique for your brand or company, it will be a great way to monitor every time your brand is mentioned and talked about.

[2] Facebook
Facebook is where people congregate to connect, share opinions, learn from others, and meet. If a friend or family member visits a store, restaurant, or theme park – and has a great experience – the first place people tend to go to share details and photos is Facebook. People who were previously unaware of a business are now more likely to visit as a result of the recommendations – social media recommendations have become the modern version of positive word-of-mouth marketing. Create conversations, or in social media parlance, engagement. This can include asking questions, hosting contests or sweepstakes, highlighting contributions or comments from page visitors, creating a poll, etc. When people follow or “like” a brand or fan page on Facebook, they are endorsing it or recommending it. Despite the constantly changing Facebook lingo, the result is the same: a “like” translates into support for your brand. If managed correctly, people who “like” your brand will become brand advocates or brand ambassadors, the sought-after gold that every brand wants. These unpaid members of your support army tell their friends and family that your brand is the best. So it’s a good idea to thank these folks regularly and recognize them.

[3] LinkedIn
Over the years, LinkedIn has become the undisputed social networking site for professional career development purposes. An individual’s profile features his or her work history, published works, skills and expertise, education, and honors and awards. An individual’s perspective about networking is also visible: whether he or she has a large network of 500 plus connections or only a few. If accessible, you will be able to read reviews about the individual. And lastly, you will be able to learn a great deal about a person from the titles and details of the groups he or she has joined. So, while many social platforms may be useful tools to build corporate brands and interact with customers and prospects – whether with text, images, or videos – LinkedIn is the choice for individuals to build their personal brands.

[4] Google Plus
While similar to Facebook, there are some unique features of Google's social site, Google Plus, but the key result of its use is the increased opportunity for content to be included in Google's searches. Also, groups named as "circles" can be created consisting of specific people so that you can share content only with family or only with school pals or only with co-workers because in the words of Google CEO Larry Page, "in real life, we share different things with different people." On the main page named the "stream," posts can be viewed by everyone or only by members of the circles that have been created. Places where groups of ten or less people meet to chat are called "hangouts." And privacy settings are more user-friendly than other social sites.

[5] Pinterest
The words pin, pinning, and pinboard have taken on new meanings, just as Tweet, like, and follow did for Twitter and Facebook. Pinterest promotes itself as a way “to discover new things and get inspiration from people who share your interests.” The average time spent on the site by American users is 77 minutes per day vs. 36 minutes on Twitter. In the USA, the top interests include crafts, gifts, hobbies and leisure, interior design, and fashion designers/collections. In the United Kingdom, the top interests are different and include venture capital, blogging resources, crafts, web statistics/analytics, and SEO/marketing. But in order to build a brand presence on Pinterest, determine if your business is a match with Pinterest. Do you understand the nuances of Pinterest to generate repeat traffic? Perhaps, a daily theme or different news, tips, etc., should be featured on your page.

[6] YouTube
With widespread video use, everyone has become a videographer. As a result, video has become an integral part of brand storytelling. This can be both good and bad for your business. Invite your customers to share product or service success stories through the use of video, and you may be surprised when a video goes viral.

[7] Instagram
Instagram is much more than an app to share photos with friends and family. It offers a way for brands to communicate with their fans and customers through visual communication, whether photographs, word art, or anything else imaginable. Some brands showcase company employees in action at tradeshows and other events. Some brands showcase brand appearances in ads and historical events. Some brands create contests to engage their followers and request photos with specific hashtags. Some brands introduce and feature new products.

[8] Flipboard
Flipboard is a useful branding tool for five key reasons. Flipboard is a clean interface; its screens are not cluttered with too much text and graphics. Users can easily turn the “pages” to read more articles. There is no charge for the app so users can access the app from smartphones, tablets, and desktops. Other apps are accessible via Flipboard (for example, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Instagram, Flickr, Tumblr, YouTube, etc.). And users can easily add their comments to the "flipped" articles and also email the articles to others.

[9] Foursquare
Foursquare allows users to check in to places they visit, but this free app is much more. Foursquare also provides recommendations and deals based on previous places visited, so there is a customization component. With 45 million users, over 4.5 billion check-ins, and over 1.5 million businesses, "Consumers check in at local businesses to tell their friends where they like to go, and they also leave brief tips and photos at their favorite places."

[10] Blogs (WordPress, Google Blogspot, etc.)
A blog with fresh content will flourish and draw more interested eye balls than advertisements and direct mail. Over time, customers and prospective customers will become interested in the content, be expecting new content and continue to visit your site and blog, and will want to add their comments. Once there are comments on your blog, then the real fun begins. The interaction between you and your customers – and sometimes between customers and each other – can create an amazing opportunity for your business. Another benefit from blog activity can be that members of the media can learn more about you, and in the process, become interested in featuring your business online, in print, or on TV or radio. But best of all, a blog will cement your brand in your readers’ minds.

All of the key social sites are unique. They have different ways to engage users, different methods for responding, and different audiences. The secret for success on any social platform is to understand the differences and determine how they align with your overall marketing strategies.

What secrets have you learned? Please chime in.

Image Credit: Pixomar via

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

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