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Tweet your way to success?

How your company should use social media to grow

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Think you need Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, LinkedIn and YouTube to market your business? The answer is maybe. Because there are so many tools out there, it’s imperative you create a well-defined social media strategy. Each business is different. A restaurant’s social media strategy will be different than that of an accounting firm.

Virginia Business asked Kyle Hawke for advice in navigating the use of social media. He is president and co-founder of Whinot (http://www.whinot.com), a virtual consulting firm that offers marketing solutions for small businesses.

Virginia Business: What are the most significant benefits businesses can gain from using social media?
Hawke: Social media is just another channel to interact with customers, suppliers, or partners. Rather than being a one-way communication channel though — like direct marketing — social media allows you to have a two-way conversation.

VB: How should a company go about crafting its social media strategy?
Hawke: A good social media strategy should have five components. The strategy should:

  1. Define your social media objective. What result are you trying to create? More leads? Customer feedback? Are you trying to identify trends? These objectives will drive the rest of the strategy.
  2. Define the message to be used. What types of content (informative vs. persuasive, videos vs. hyperlinks, etc.)  will you use related to each objective? What is the conversation style you will use?
  3. Identify the platforms to be on. Social media goes beyond Facebook and Twitter. You need to identify which platforms should be used to address their objective and target audience. Identify any differences in the message for each platform and how the platforms will be integrated. Integration must exist between the platforms used online as well as offline.
  4. Communication practices and policies. Agree on the frequency of communication and outline a plan on content and execution.  You should also address key policy topics such as the level of privacy versus openness, how to address praise and criticism, and how to monitor social media sentiment.
  5. Define the metrics of success. The hardest part of social media is to understand, “Is it working?” You must define the metrics of success relative to your strategy. You also need to understand what tools you will use to track these metrics. You should have a plan to review the metrics and respond to them.

VB: Does it work better for some types of companies than others?
Hawke: Both business-to-business and business-to-consumer companies can benefit from social media. But with B2B it’s going to be harder to make an impact because the buyers in your target organization may not be involved in the social media strategy or execution in your customer’s or target customer’s organization. Regardless of whether your customers are using social media, all companies should at least have an ear open to what their competitors, suppliers or partners are talking about.

VB: What are some of the most common mistakes companies make when using social media tools?
Hawke: Early on, most companies think of social media in terms of the platforms or tools to communicate, like Facebook or Twitter. Social media should start with companies listening to what’s being discussed by their target audience. Then they can develop an informed plan on how to add value to that conversation. The tools are just a means to an end.

VB: What social media sites should businesses consider?
Hawke: The social media platforms that should be used by each business really depend on the nature of their business.  Consultants may focus most heavily on LinkedIn or video-sharing sites such as YouTube or Vimeo. Restaurants and service providers will be better off on Yelp or Foursquare. Every business may feel obligated to have some sort of presence on Facebook and Twitter, but I am not sure that’s necessary if that’s not where your target audience is hanging out or being influenced.

VB: Any other things companies should be aware of when using social media?
Hawke: If you are thinking about getting started with social media in 2011, you can start by simply listening. Today, you can go ahead and setup a Google Alert to listen to what your competitors are saying. Would you barge into a group of people at a conference and start talking without knowing the topic of the discussion? No. So why would you barge into social media without listening first?

Then by next week you can start engaging in someone else’s conversation. Within a month, you can define your social media strategy and by the end of the quarter be up and running on one platform and testing the waters for yourself.

VB: What’s the one thing that companies should avoid with social media?
Hawke: Your social media strategy should not be to simply, “Sell more stuff.” Nobody wants to talk with a sleazy salesman who is always shoving products down their throat.


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