Social media marketing is not only one of the most effective ways for midsize and smaller businesses to reach out to potential and existing customers, it's also one of the least expensive. Executed creatively and strategically, social media can go a long way toward putting a business (of any size) on the map.

There is enormous potential power in instantly pushing a carefully crafted message to people on their mobile devices, but such message is only effective if it aligns with the consumer's needs and buying profile. Otherwise, it's no different than broadcasting a television commercial to millions of people when only a few thousand of them are interested in your message.

To ensure successful and cost-effective social media marketing, entrepreneurs should pay attention to these five tips:

1. Eavesdrop. To understand what consumers want, you have to listen to what they're saying and need. By deploying a social media "listening" program that monitors consumers' online opinions, businesses can extract valuable marketing insights from this feedback. "The goal is to listen for relevant conversations, discerning who the applicable influencers are in your specific field," says Shonali Burke, president and CEO of social public relations consulting firm Shonali Burke Consulting. "Once you know who the influencers are, you can influence them, which then spreads your message to others of the same ilk."

2. Plan. An editorial calendar provides a smart way for entrepreneurial businesses to manage multiple social media marketing strategies, which can get complicated otherwise. "An editorial calendar helps you thematically recognize the social media content you have planned over the next few weeks," Burke says. "It helps organize your schedule so the whole process is a lot less challenging." For instance, the calendar may remind a marketer to tweet a link to an article mentioning the company when it comes out next Wednesday. The next day's reminder might involve sharing a guest blog post. There are many free templates online like CoSchedule and SmartSheet to help build an easy-to-read-and-search editorial calendar.

3. Amplify. Many marketers pump out social media content into the ether and call it a day. This misses a fundamental point of social media marketing--to help customers so that they amplify their positive experiences in social media conversations. This requires sensitivity to a customer's lifestyle and personal needs. Such sensitivity was ranked highest on the list of qualities that tune consumers in to an authentic, trustworthy salesperson, according to Amway's 2016 State of Social Selling Report. "This personalization, and opportunity to actually see, touch and try on what they are buying, makes the experience more enjoyable," the report states.

"You can't help the audience if you don't know their pain points, which means they don't have anything positive to amplify to others," says Andrew Moravick, a research analyst in Aberdeen Group's marketing and sales effectiveness practice. "The solution is not to ask questions of current customers such as, 'How do you like our brand?' but rather to engage in a personal relationship. Ask them what their struggles are. Social media is about life."

4. Declutter. While it's amazing just how many social media channels are available today, it doesn't mean you need to hit them all for the messaging to be successful. Moravick was at a conference recently where a speaker talked about a small truck decal business. "The company documented all these great photos of its decals on Flickr, primarily for the sales team to have a repository of visual options," he says. Over time, people found the Flickr page, which was nicely tagged and archived. They loved what they saw and shared their delight on social media. "A major truck company found these conversations and made a $1.2 million deal with the small business to put decals on its fleet," Moravick says. "All from one well-done and appropriate social media channel."

5. Measure. You can't manage what you don't measure. This applies to social media marketing as it does to everything else in business. "You need objective-based benchmarks and clear measurements for success that you can track on a systematic basis to ensure the messaging is working and is repeatable," says Moravick. "This requires that you first define what it is you're looking to achieve, such as the number of people talking about your business in their social media conversations." While entrepreneurial businesses can use analytics and tracking software tools to measure response trending, Moravick advises those still new to social media marketing to do things manually first, using a browser to see who's talking about you. "You need to have processes in place first before you put in technology," he says.

Effective social media use and management is essential for successful businesses today. When conversation flows between buyer and seller, the credibility and trust established can form the foundation of an ongoing business relationship. In fact, 83 percent of consumers who purchased from social sellers valued establishing a relationship before closing the sale, according to the Amway report.

Not that social media marketing is easy by any means--even large enterprises with enormous social media budgets fail at getting out the right message to the right audience. Taking a strategic approach, one that starts with identifying the marketing goals and the optimal tactics to score big, will help companies get more yardage out of their efforts.


Published on: Dec 6, 2016