More than one in six marriages over the past three years were the result of relationships begun online, a recent study on social media and dating behavior found. When so many people are turning to the Internet to find soul mates, you can rest assured they are looking online for everything else – from their next pair of Oakleys to a new optometrist – and if you are a business seeking customers, you are well-advised to look online, too. You've heard it before: Social media is no longer an option; it's a necessity.
Nielsen recently published a study stating that 79 percent of large corporations are leveraging social media to engage their audience, and they are using innovative ways to build buzz, establish relationships, foster communication, improve products, and cultivate long-term brand awareness and consumer trust.
It doesen't matter whether you're a seasoned producer of award-winning viral campaigns or are just learning how to create a Facebook profile. The beauty of social media is that you don't need experience; you only need to learn a few basic rules. Social media is not so much a new idea as it is a way to communicate ideas, and the nature of a good idea hasn't changed. The same marketing principles from 50 years ago apply today; they are simply communicated in a different way.
Dig Deeper: The Truth About Who's Using Twitter
Creating a Social Media Strategy: How to Approach a Building an Online Campaign
Social media is ultimately about relationships. It should be viewed as a two-way street. As a brand, you aren't there to promote a product, you are there to communicate and relate. If you approach social media with sales as your end goal, your audience will notice and, most likely, you will be ignored.
On the other hand, if you offer your audience something of value, and your message is genuine, aka you aren't faking it, consumers are inclined to listen. Offer users engaging content, helpful information, streamlined customer service, or incentives like discounts and free gifts consistently, and you have the makings of a healthy long-term relationship with a brand ambassador willing to sing your praises to the world.
From that point on, as long as you pull your weight by keeping your message consistent, authentic and meaningful, consumers tend to stay loyal and express that in revenue generated over time and positive word-of-mouth expressed among their peers. That's the real return on social media.
Dig Deeper: How to Use Social Media for B2B Marketing
Creating a Social Media Strategy: The Companies Behind Four Great Social-Media Promotions
The basic principles behind a successful social-media campaign – engaging content and authenticity – apply whether you are launching a celebrity-driven viral campaign or a simple online contest to drive website traffic. Designing the campaign, from concept to content to delivery, is where you can be creative; to design a good one requires careful analysis of your goals and your target audience's behavior in order to deliver a message that engages in the most effective and interesting way possible.
Still, even with so many variables, most successful social media campaigns are modeled after prototypes that employ proven promotional tactics and conventional marketing psychology. The challenge is not so much in the concept, but rather in its execution.
Seem complicated? In the following real-world examples, we will explore how you can win in the social media marketing game - no matter what you are selling and to whom.
1. Raise brand awareness by hosting an online game or contest.
When trendy women's shoe designer Naughty Monkey approached my consulting company Wpromote, there was already a positive buzz surrounding the brand. Their shoes peppered fashion magazines. However, Naughty Monkey had only a limited reach, so capitalizing on the existing buzz by building a social media presence made perfect sense.
The concept was simple. In a "Where have your Naughty Monkey's Been?" contest, users were asked to submit pictures of themselves in interesting locations wearing their Naughty Monkey shoes. Users voted for their favorite pictures and the winners received a year's supply of Naughty Monkey shoes.
The result? Thousands of new Facebook fans, tens of thousands of engaged users, an established social-media presence, and the creation of many valuable brand evangelists for the up-and-coming fashion footwear label.
2. Drive valuable traffic to your social network with a free giveaway.
If designing and executing an online game or contest seems daunting, you can always go back to basics and appeal to a universal human truth: People love free stuff.
When ScanDigital, my online photo scanning and video digitization service, wanted to build a fan base and drive user engagement via Facebook, we used its monthly newsletter to promote a simple game akin to the bar classic Photo Hunt. In the newsletter, two subtly different pictures were featured, and the first groups of users who identified and posted the differences on Facebook received a $25 ScanDigital gift card.
ScanDigital acquired more Facebook fans than ever before - or since.
In a similar promotion, VeeV Vodka, an acaí berry-infused spirit, found a creative way to make use of extra canvas tote bags sitting around their office. Rather than stuff the bags in a storage closet, VeeV used the bags as prizes in a contest designed to drive user engagement on Facebook.
To win a tote bag, users were asked to post pictures of themselves drinking VeeV on the brand's Facebook page, a relatively easy request considering the number of drinking photos on Facebook. Needless to say, the canvas tote bags went like hotcakes, and brand awareness increased exponentially. The cost? A less cluttered office for the folks at VeeV.
3. Grow consumer loyalty by giving consumers a stake in your brand.
When Vitamin Water decided to launch a new flavor, it ditched the focus groups and branding experts and turned to social networks. Throughout the summer of 2009, Vitamin Water engaged and grew its Facebook fan base by soliciting ideas from users regarding the name and packaging for the new flavor.
More than one million fans participated in the contest, and celebrities were engaged via video clips to spur interest. In the end, when "Connect," the new Vitamin Water flavor, hit the shelves, there were a million potential buyers on the market far more likely to pick up a bottle than they had been before interacting with the contest.
4. Build brand equity by aligning with a higher purpose.
It feels good to do good, and if you can inspire others to follow suit, even better. Toms Shoes has made it its mission to give a pair of shoes to a child in a developing nation for every pair sold. To maximize its contribution, Toms.com prompts users who buy shoes online to share news of their purchase on Facebook when the sale is complete.
It's not surprising that Toms's messaging strategy works as well as it does. When I buy a book from Amazon or add a movie to my Netflix queue, I have little interest in alerting the people in my life. If you ask me to alert them about something charitable I've done, my interest piques.
When I purchase a pair of Toms online, not only do I want to brag about my good deed, I also want to encourage friends to follow suit. Toms wins by making it easy for me, and anyone else, to do just that.
Creating a Social Media Strategy: Tying It All Together
When we sit down with executives of large companies and the topic of social media comes up, a collective groan ensues. What if they don't like our product? What about damage control? We need to control our message! And so on.
What's the bottom line for brands worried about getting social media wrong? The train is leaving the station with or without you. Conversations about your brand are going to happen, regardless of whether you choose to take part. Don't sit on the sidelines. Embrace the conversation and engage.
Even if you take nothing else from this article, allow me to leave you with this: when it comes to social media, remember the golden rule. If you would be put off by a promotional tactic, your audience probably wouldn't like it, and if you find something so exciting you want to share it with all your friends, there's a good chance your audience will, too. Use common sense, and remember that social media networks mirror how we interact in the real world.
Similar social rules apply. In other words, don't be a jerk.
Creating a Social Media Strategy: Additional Resources
2. How to run an effective social media cause marketing campaign.
3. 10 tips for a successful media campaign.
4. More general tactics and ideas on social media marketing.
5. How to use Foursquare to promote your business.