A beginners’ guide to social media

This is a very basic run down of the main social media sites and components to an online marketing campaign. I’ve tried to keep it to an absolute minimum and link to further information for those interested.

Social media is a great way for you to raise your profile if you are a start up that is cash poor and (relatively) time rich, but as it can take up a huge amount of time I would advise only taking on what you can maintain. A static website with all your basic information is always the starting point, and various social media sites can then be used to enhance your online profile.

Facebook

Overview: A site where you can communicate directly with individuals following your brand, sharing messages, photos and events.

Why bother: Facebook is by far the most ubiquitous of the social media platforms, with 750m users globally. Creating a Facebook page gives you somewhere you can post news and other content, and provides a forum to discuss things with your customers.  Many brands will use it as a platform to ask their core customers for advice on future products, to run competitions and keep themselves front of mind. Facebook also lets you advertise in an extremely targeted way, allowing you to select the age, gender, education level, geography and even interests of the consumers you want to reach.

Creating a page: To do anything on Facebook you need to create a page for your business. This is similar to a profile for an individual. Stick up all your basic information (e.g. contact information, description) and a few photos as a minimum, and add whatever else you can (videos, links, wall posts, etc.).

Posting content: Facebook is slightly less ephemeral than Twitter, so a good target might be to post something every week. Things that are interactive are always good – ask questions, run competitions, tell jokes and so on. It’s also worth sticking up any photos, links to press and other more in depth content as and when you can. If you are doing things right people will “like” or comment on your posts. This is important, because every time they do this, they broadcast your brand out to their own friendship group, so see what gets the most likes and comments, and continue in this vein.

Targeted advertising: If you’ve got money to spend on advertising, Facebook offers highly targeted pay per click (PPC) advertising. You can post small visual ads that appear to the right of people’s screens when they are on the site. Ads can be targeted at just about anything that a Facebook profile captures: age, gender, location, interests, and so on.

Good examples:

Haagen Dazs

Starbucks

Further advice: Facebook itself has a good introduction guide here.

Twitter

Overview: A site where individuals and brands broadcast messages of 140 characters or less (tweets).

Why bother: Whilst Twitter is not as widely used as Facebook, it still boasts 200m accounts globally, and is used by a lot of media types. Using Twitter not only allows you to broadcast content and interact with your customers in a similar way to Facebook, it also allows you to keep up with what the media is saying about you and your industry. Twitter is both more immediate and more ephemeral than Facebook, as a user’s feed might show hundreds or thousands of tweets in a single day. If you are going to get a response then you will likely get one quickly, but anything that you say is likely to be missed by anyone that doesn’t notice it at the time you send it out.

Posting content: Setting up a Twitter account is extremely basic, requiring much less information than Facebook. Posting content is an art form however, and there is barely space to cover the basics here. As tweets are so fleeting, aim to post something out once or twice a day. If this seems like a constant bother then write all your tweets for a week at the same time, then use something like Hootsuite to send them out whenever you like (choose times when people are likely to be online, like afternoons and evenings). As well as tweeting frequently, make your content relevant; ask yourself why anyone would be interested in it. As with Facebook, interactive posts are generally good, but links, photos, jokes and factoids should also do the job. Make sure your post still makes sense after being cut down to 140 characters, and if necessary just include a hook to get people interested and a link to your website or Facebook page with further information. AFTER you have written your first half dozen posts search for anyone in your field that you want to hear what you are saying, and follow them. Hopefully they will reciprocate and follow you back. Once you’ve started following other people Twitter should also start suggesting further users to follow. Stay aware of what others are posting, and if you get the chance then direct a tweet at them by tagging it with their username including the “@” symbol. Watch your @mentions to stay aware of when people mention you, and respond if it seems appropriate. Hopefully if things are going well you should notice people retweeting what you are sending out, and your number of followers steadily rising.

Good examples:

Wholefoods

Zappos

Further advice: Mashable have written a great guide to Twitter here.

Tumblr

Overview: Microblogging site which allows users to easily share photos, comments, posts and more in customized templates.

Why bother: Definitely less of a priority than Facebook, Twitter and having your own site, Tumblr is still a useful medium for content that is more in depth than you can post to other social media sites, but which doesn’t need a permanent home on your website. As blog traffic is typically updated regularly, and contains a variety of words that are associated with your products and industry, it can be helpful for getting a higher natural search ranking on Google. There are many options for creating a company blog (e.g. I use WordPress for this site, and Blogger is also good), but Tumblr is as good as any, with a super simple interface with plenty of customization options, a slick overall look, and built in syndication to users just browsing through Tumblr.

Posting content: Blogging allows you to go into a little more detail than is possible on Facebook and Twitter, and allows you to draw together material that is written over an extended period in one place. Given the longer nature of blogs, relevance is at more of a premium than frequency. If you can write something every couple of days then great, but if your posts are longer then every couple of weeks that is probably fine. Think about blogging as marketing in a purist sense of educating your customer. The best posts are usually ones that inform your potential customers about the industry your products are in, positioning you as a trusted source of information, rather than selling your products directly. Don’t forget to promote your blog by linking your account to your Facebook page and sending links out to your posts via Twitter as well.

Good examples:

Grooveshark

Further advice: Mark Suster has written an excellent guide to blogging here.

Foursquare

Overview: Location based service that allows retailers to run promotions targeted at customers in their area.

Why bother: Foursquare now claims 10m registered users globally. If you’re a retail business in a major city then it’s likely that by running a promotion through Foursquare you could pick up additional customers. Outside of major cities, and especially outside of the US, the benefits are probably more marginal at the moment. Running a Foursquare promotion is free and shouldn’t require constant maintenance, unlike other social media options.

Claim your venue: The first thing you need to do is claim your venue on the Foursquare website. This is analogous to creating a page for your business on Facebook.

Run a promotion: Once you’ve claimed your venue you can run promotions. Think carefully about the deals you run and who you are targeting. Good examples might be “check in and get a free drink” to attract new customers or “free drink with your fifth check in” to promote repeat business from existing customers. You can run more than one promotion at a time, and monitor their success with the analytics that Foursquare provides.

Good examples:

Goodburger

Heartland Brewery

Further advice: the Foursquare website itself is pretty good.

Others:

Linkedin: professional networking site. Extremely useful for individuals, but not something where you really need a unified company profile.

Quora: social Q&A site. Great for those working in professional services to demonstrate their expertise. Again, limited use for businesses as a whole.

Google+: Google’s foray into social networking may have hit 20m people in the first month, but it’s still too early to tell if it is going to be a success or not. Or whether they will ever let brands on officially anyway.

Image from Super Simbo

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