Social networks are here to stay. As long as humans want to express themselves and Internet-connected devices proliferate, social networks will be key to customer engagement. Like any big marketplace, you are doing your business a disservice if you don’t get involved.
Here’s a quick guide to getting started. Our process boils down to the following steps: (1) Identify, (2) Listen, (3) Create Context, (4) Begin a Conversation, (5) Measure.
Find Your Contacts on the Web
This doesn’t mean go search for them individually. If you have email addresses, you can enrich your contact information to find social profiles for your customers or users. This will identify the social networks your contacts are publicly using. Then you can allocate resources appropriately.
What percentage of your customers/users are on which networks? What is the demographic breakdown? Where are they located geographically? How many followers do they have? All relevant issues you can analyze that should affect your marketing strategy.
More specifically, identify your influential customers using a social influence score like Klout. Klout is basically a complex index for how influential someone is online, using factors like number of Twitter followers, Facebook friends, and how often posts are shared. Knowing your influential users allows you to target your efforts. When these users praise your product, you gain new customers.
Tailor Your Marketing Strategy
Spend some time watching what your customers are talking about, including specifically your influential customers. Also, search for what people have been saying about you (and your competitors) on various sites. It’s often far more valuable to observe what your users are saying honestly in the wild than it is to ask them directly.
Watch For Customer Service Issues
Many techies immediately take to social media when they have a problem. The idea is, by complaining in public, they will get a quick response. While this is a partially self-defeating strategy (140 characters doesn’t make for effective technical problem solving), it does get quick responses from social-savvy companies.
Watch the right social networks so you don’t miss these requests. Also, if you have social profiles connected to customer records, you can respond more effectively.
Put Social Data in Your Software
If you build software that displays contact information, you can quickly and cost-effectively integrate social data. We’ve detailed many of the use cases before, but the central theme is this: why display only basic information (a name or email address) when you can instead display pictures, professional titles, and links to social profiles? Your interface becomes more personalized, informative, and functional.
BEGIN A CONVERSATION
Follow Your Customers
There are a number of ways you can automatically follow your customers on Twitter and other sites – a technical expert can do this relatively easily. Following your customers will encourage them to follow you in response, which means they will see your regular posts. Plus, following your users will allow you to periodically scan for issues of interest.
Set Up a Basic Posting Schedule
For businesses without a marketing department, you can use Buffer or Hootsuite to pre-schedule your posts for productive times of day, so you don’t have to spend hours managing your profiles. You can also use Bitly or another link-shortening service to track which links get the most clicks, so you can maximize the effect of your future posts.
There are a thousand articles about how to advertise on social networks, so we won’t go there. The bottom line is it’s a good way to get eyeballs on your content – especially in the days of declining TV and print media influence. For evidence, watch what most NFL fans now do during commercials. They pull out their iPad or smartphone and check social networks (or their fantasy team), instead of watching.
Measure Your Efforts With Analytics
It’s easy to fall into the trap of posting, engaging, and advertising on social networks without stopping to measure whether your efforts are doing any good. There are a number of tools available (some free) to help you measure whether your work is doing any good, including social analytics and funnel analytics.
The easiest tool to use is one you probably already use: Google Analytics. Its Social Reports feature allows you to track conversion and engagement metrics from social sources. You can also use Google Analytics to identify what content your customers are sharing (and where they’re sharing it).
If something isn’t working, change your plan and test results.
We could write dozens of articles about each of these steps, but those are the basics. Once you get your strategy down, dive deeper. Just remember, like any new effort, take things slowly and measure your progress. Jumping head first often ends badly.