Social media can be the best thing -- or the worst thing -- that ever happened to your marketing. Get it right, and you can launch a product, turn your company into a household name, or inspire customers to come looking for you, without spending a penny on advertising. Get it wrong and it can backfire big time.
There's a powerful social media resource most companies overlook, according to Justyn Howard, CEO and co-founder of social media management company Sprout Social, which is No. 78 on the Inc. 5000 list. That secret resource is your employees.
The average employee has 846 social media connections, he notes. Turn them into advocates for your company and you can go from a business that uses social media to a social business.
1. Start by listening.
The first step in any social campaign should be to find out what people are already saying about you -- before you ever open your mouth. "Take notice of what is being said about you on social by existing customers, prospects, and competitors," Howard says. "You'll have a better understanding of your customers' pain points, how to make them happy, and how to attract new people to your brand." Use this intel as a starting point for creating your social media campaign.
2. Create content that's both relevant and engaging.
One of the best ways to get people to share about you on social media -- whether they're employees, customers, or strangers -- is to create and publish fantastic content. Content that's on point for your industry or customers will get shared if it's informative and engaging. Content that's related to your industry or company and is compelling because it's funny, surprising, or heartwarming will work too.
Creating really good content can be challenging, Howard acknowledges, but it's not optional. "The truth is that people don't share mediocre content," he says. "Don't dilute your brand with useless infographics or overplayed tips sheets. Just focus on what is actually applicable for your existing and potential audience." If you can't create great content every week, then do it less often, he advises, but make it count.
3. Invite employees to share about you on social media.
Some companies are so fearful of what employees might say about them that they have express policies employees from even saying where they work on social media. With new social media platforms appearing almost hourly, I have no idea how they intend to enforce this rule. And, while it may prevent the occasional embarrassing post by a clueless or opinionated employee, it also means you're leaving a lot of your potential social influence on the table. forbidding
Companies that try to control the message wind up sounding stilted and artificial, so don't go there. Instead, get your employees talking, Howard advises. "Every business has them, but very few are actually using employees in their marketing plans."
What will they communicate? Keep in mind that these are the folks who know your company best, and who interact with your brand every day. "They understand and can communicate your brand messages authentically and easily," Howard says.
4. Don't overthink it.
Some people believe what they communicate on social media should be completely different from what they communicate elsewhere, Howard observes. While social media is different from traditional platforms in a variety of ways -- for instance, it's generally less formal and more personal -- it's still just another way to communicate the same message you've been putting out all along.
"Social isn't a foreign language, it's simply talking with your customers on a new platform with its own nuances," he says. "If you were face-to-face with your audience, what would you share? What would get them excited and talking?"
"Seems simple but actually responding to your audience on social will deepen and expand your reach," Howard says. Plus, you'll blow away the competition, since Sprout research shows that eight out of every nine messages to companies on social media remain unanswered 72 hours later. "A brand that actually takes the time to engage in a timely two-way dialogue with its audience will stand out from the crowd and earn respect and attention," he says.
6. Keep experimenting.
"If your promotions are not reaping results, pivot," Howard says. Since social networks are fluid environments, you should never feel like you have to stick with a strategy or message that isn't working for you. "Test out new promotions, timing and messaging," Howard says. "On a micro level, you can get almost-instant feedback. On a macro level, you can see what is resonating with your audience and use that information to adjust overall marketing strategies."
7. Get your whole company in on the conversation.
"If your social strategy exists in a siloed marketing department, it will fall flat with your community," Howard says. "Your content should span a variety of functions, including customer service, HR, and even R&D." That way you can ensure that what you share on social media is well-rounded and accurate, and that your organization is on board with your efforts.
8. Use what you learn to make your advertising more effective.
Good things can happen at the intersection of paid and organic social content, Howard says. "What resonates with your organic audience will inevitably strike a chord with your paid targets as well," he says. "Keep that in mind when you're building ad copy, imagery, and messaging. When it comes to putting dollars behind paid social, look to what's already resonating organically. You'll likely see a quicker uptick in performance -- and it's a smarter spending strategy."