Improve your social media marketing strategy

In less than five years, social media has revolutionized not only our communication culture, but also the way we do business. The dizzying effect of unlimited, and sometimes unrestricted, 24-hour access to people and information has transformed the various tools into a tipping point.

There is a large and growing list of sites, including BlinkList, YouTube, Delicious, Flickr, Tumblr,, and the triumvirate of top sites: Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. These social destinations have become to business professionals and entrepreneurs what golf is to high-level executives: an opportunity to strategically network and close deals based on shared interests and personal commitment. But these sites do more, offering users valuable real estate to advertise products or services, create and expand brand awareness, solicit feedback, build relationships, and create community forums. Users also have unprecedented access to consumers, hiring managers, leads, industry experts, and opportunities.

Additionally, social media levels the playing field by allowing anyone access without restrictions of time, location, or social status.

The most diligent and creative players reap great benefits. According to a Forrester Research report, 55.6 million American adults (just a third of the population) visited social media at least once a month in 2009, an increase from 18% on 2008. Recent Nielsen research says that Americans spend nearly 25% of their time online on social media and blogs, up from nearly 16% a year ago.

The initial foray into social media can be daunting and bewildering. Newcomers to space might wonder: Who’s reading? Will I be heard or noticed? Isn’t it all fun and games? Isn’t it invasive? Making the effort worthwhile takes time, patience, and a strategy of working smart, not hard. Whether you’re an entrepreneur or a corporate professional, the success of marketing your products, business, or personal brand will be determined by how well you generate interest on various platforms. In part one of a series on social media strategies, Black Enterprise offers some tips to get you connected.

What business owners need to know

Finding out who your customers are and how they like to be served is essential to the success of any business. Questions and surveys offered on social media platforms can help business owners quickly access that information. Jason Burton, a social media strategist and chief marketing officer at Lab 5702, a boutique marketing solutions firm in Kansas City, Missouri, says this data can help you position your product to broader groups outside of your initial base of contacts. “Put your product in front of the trendsetters or next level of users,” he suggests. “Targeted searches allow you to dig below the surface to find followers and potential influencers who can use or promote your product or service.”

Location-based social mapping services such as Foursquare, Google Latitude, Loopt, Facebook Places, and MyTown allow consumers to benefit from their influence. For example, if you visit your favorite flower shop in Tucson and tweet it to your followers, you get $2 off your purchase. The greater the network and influence, the greater the discount. These services also allow users to find friends and events; share locations, updates, tips, photos, and comments; and sharing via social networks and online blogs. Loopt has more than 4 million registered users and partnerships with all major US mobile carriers and is available on more than 100 smartphones, including iPhone, BlackBerry and Android. Google Latitude and Foursquare have more than 3 million users each. Mobile applications such as ÜberTwitter, MobileLinked IM and Nimbuzz have facilitated greater interactivity on social networks. According to a Juniper Research report, the number of downloads from mobile app stores is expected to rise from less than 2.6 billion per year in 2009 to more than 25 billion in 2015.

What corporate professionals need to know

Carmen Hudson, CEO of Tweetajob in Seattle, overlooks employer branding campaigns when she was a senior talent acquisition manager for Yahoo and witnessed the shift in hiring practices. “Companies are cultivating and marketing a brand that attracts and is attractive to certain types of candidates,” she explains. For companies like Yahoo, Starbucks, Apple and Microsoft, social media is increasingly at the forefront of that strategy. Recruiters, for example, will use LinkedIn to create a search stream of attributes to find precisely the type of candidates hiring managers are looking for with a minimum of time and effort. Additionally, Hudson adds, “They’re also looking at how many followers you have. Do you have a strong network? If you’re an expert, friend and/or follower numbers are strong indicators of that.”

A Jump Start Social Media survey of hiring managers indicates that 66% go to LinkedIn to find job candidates, 23% go to Facebook and 16% go to Twitter. “Job seekers who post and update profiles frequently are agile and often get to job opportunities first,” says Hudson. “Recruiting officers can run a more diverse, comprehensive search through an attribute search flow because they can now find candidates where they play,” says Hudson. At the same time, companies can promote the company’s brand and message, giving the job seeker a more informed perspective on companies as potential employers.

How To Maximize Social Media Marketing To Promote Your Brand Or Business

• A blogging platform like WordPress or Blogspot is essential, advises Warren Laidler, webmaster and creative director of DeLite Multimedia]in New York City. Blogs have a higher potential for organic leads because their content-rich nature makes them more search engine friendly. Search engines love content-based platforms and rank them higher than static websites. “Think of your blog as a launch pad or hub for your company. Your social media efforts should lead back to your blog or website, which should be dynamic and informative, providing content and information that encourages visitors not only to come back, but also to distribute their content to their network.”

• Blogs or websites should contain SEO or search engine optimized keywords and phrases that help visitors find the business when searching through Google, Yahoo, Bing]and others. Laidler also suggests including RSS feeds and useful links on your blog. “RSS feeds allow you to import content from external sources and are a great way to share information that visitors find interesting.”

• Work on commitment and coherence. For example, your Twitter timeline should be a mix of original updates, retweets or shares from other sources, responses from connections, inspirational quotes, and trending topics. A standard formula is two to four tweets per day. Positive activity can also flourish quickly, creating buzz that reaches far beyond a company’s core audience. In the virtual world, consumers and job seekers can become influencers and trendsetters by persuading their network to take action or purchase a product or service. Laidler suggests using tools like Klout or to measure your social media influence and find out the reach of your Twitter posts.

• Choose an image for your social media avatar, rather than a logo, advises Joel Comm, social media expert and author of Twitter Power, a New York Times bestselling book. “People like faces associated with companies. Customize your Twitter background. Use photos, links, contact information, RSS feeds, etc. to individualize and promote your brand.”

• Choose a third-party app or service, such as TweetDeck or Hoote Suite, SocialOomph, and Twitter, that enables quick and easy distribution of posts and other content across multiple social networking sites. “You can embed plugins or apps into the sidebar of your blog page that allow visitors easy access to all of your social networks,” says Laidler. “All social networking sites have plugins or widgets that allow for quick and easy one-click updates.”

• Don’t follow everyone who follows you on Twitter. Perform targeted keyword searches for individuals, companies, and other industry players that are important to you or that you want to have as a customer.

• Show your experience. If you’re in business, you’re already an expert with valuable information that people want to know, Comm says. Use your talents, passion, skill and personality to your advantage.