11 Tips for Businesses Starting Out on Social Media

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Lots of people think that having a website equals online presence. Wrong! An online presence is meaningful engagement.

Once the forbidden zone, social media is now front and centre in your marketing and PR plan.

Before you start using social media for business purposes, do some groundwork first.

Here’s a list of things to consider carefully before getting out there amongst it.

1. What are your objectives?

Many businesses start out on social media without having a clear idea of exactly what it is they want to achieve. As every social media platform can be used to serve different purposes, it is a good idea to understand what your objectives are in order to make the most out of the available platforms.

Figure out what your objectives are (usually one of the following):

  • To position your organisation as an employer of choice
  • To drive more traffic to your website
  • Improve your reputation
  • Provide customer service
  • Generate more sales

2. Know your audience

Social media can be used as an incredibly powerful tool to directly target your existing and potential networks – if you know who (and where) they are. Spend some time figuring out who your target audience is and where to find them.

3. Your presence on social media

Once you have figured out the first two important items (Objectives and Audience), the next step is to figure out which platforms to use.

With over a billion accounts, Facebook may be the biggest social network, but it may not be where your customers are. Now you know who your target audience is, it is important to pick the network where the greatest proportion of that audience is spending most of their time.

You can find statistics about who is using each social network at Socialbakers.

4. Levels of engagement

Decide on whether your business posts once a day or once a week. The more often you post relevant and timely content, the higher your levels of engagement. Like a person, a business positions itself online through its actions. A high level of intellectual and emotional commitment is required to engage effectively.

A business’ level of engagement can be divided into groups:

  • Champions – those who know and care and like to be involved in conversations online
  • Loose Cannons – those that care but aren’t informed enough to have input
  • Bystanders – those who know but don’t care enough to contribute to online conversations
  • Weak Links – those who neither know enough to comment and don’t care.

Click here to see a levels of engagement diagram.

5. Resourcing

A common reaction to resourcing social media channels is, “it takes so much time and we don’t have the resources”. However, the focus should be on outcomes. If social media communication can achieve business objectives, it is worth the investment, and choosing to use social media may mean redeployment of resources, not greater investment.

Content planning drives efficiency.

It is good practice to prepare a content calendar that identifies sources of information that your stakeholders will find interesting, and want to engage with. Build in key events within your business, and ways in which you will build up the promotion of these on your social media accounts.

Assessing the following will result in maximum efficiency:

  • Time vs. impact
  • Staff level of experience
  • Supporting tools (see below)
  • Content planning

6. Online social media management tools

There are many tools available online that will help you manage your social media accounts, saving time. These tools not only allow you to schedule content ahead of time, most of them contain basic analytics on your social media activity. Most of these are free to use, but the paid tools are quite cost effective at around $10 per month.

Some useful online social media management tools:

  • HootSuite
  • Buffer
  • Social Flow
  • SproutSocial (this is my fav)

7. Timing

Be aware of when your target audience is online. It is pointless to post meaningful and engaging content at times when no one is online to read it. Be sure to post in a timely fashion to ensure maximum impact.

Experiment with what time of day you post and test content that results in higher interaction. Often, your target demographic is using social media on public transport on the way to or from work. Use this insight to plan your content schedule.

8. Building a community

It is easy to become focused on achieving ‘Likes’ rather than engagement and building a respected community of advisories and peers.

Be discerning. It is better to have a small number of high quality followers than a large amount of superfluous ‘Likers’.

Example: LinkedIn provides the option to make a group private. This enables the group administrator to act as a gateway and only permit those they feel would be valuable to the community to join the group. Use this to your advantage.

9. Visual representation

Remember that you are marketing your business using social media. Each platform must reflect the brand’s overall visual identity. As each platform is different, bespoke graphic representation must be created for each to create a visual flow across all online presence.

10. Risk management

A lot of social media content is about positive messaging, but you need to be prepared for the dark side. Take the time to develop internal social media guidelines and policy; a document that outlines what could go wrong and what action to take in the event of a social media meltdown.

This strong set of social media guidelines should be provided to new employees and will help them understand how your business or organisation uses social media and how to uphold the values of company and express the brand when posting.

11. Content decision making framework

A simple content decision making framework assists in checking content before distribution.

Ellis Jones - content decision making framework

Image credit: Cameron Russell via Flickr Creative Commons