It would be easy to think that between the time you begin to read this post, and the time you finish, another social media outlet will be born. They seem to spawn that fast. So where should you invest your time and resources?

The best answer is also the obvious one: Go where your audience is.

Social MediaHow do you learn where they are? First, use a survey mechanism or any on-going customer contact system you have to ask your customers where they like to hang out, social media-wise. Learn which is their favorite venue, why, and how often they spend time there. Keep questions as objective and clinical as possible, and maintain a record of customer responses so you can use it to recognize changes in the future.

If there is one social media platform that gets named over and over again by your customers — Facebook, perhaps — then focus your social start there.

What if your instincts tell you that your business needs social media, but you have little or no research to guide you? Assuming you’re in a fairly traditional business, you can make a start with one of the mainstream services, which are:

Facebook: More than 1.3 billion monthly users, about 18% of whom are in the U.S. and Canada.¹ Most response to a Facebook post comes within the first five or six hours — a good reason to post messages early in the day rather than at the close of business. Facebook spans all ages and can accommodate videos within your posts.

Twitter: More than 280 million users, 80% of whom use their mobile phone to connect with your message. About 23% of users are in the U.S.² Trend-spotters follow Twitter religiously.

YouTube: A billion-plus users watch more than six billion hours of video every month. Four out of five YouTube watchers are outside of the U.S.³ This presents an opportunity to go viral whenever your video breaks from the norm, contains valuable information or uses humor. (Or, it’s a cat video.) The bulk of viewers are 18-35, but how-to videos can appeal to all ages. (YouTube is owned by Google.)

Pinterest: 40 million active monthly users. Women drive more than 90% of the activity on this site, with the average poster placing in the neighborhood of 150 items³ online — a highly engaged audience, particularly for home decor, fashion, beauty, food, and arts and crafts. An excellent channel for reaching stay-at-home moms.

LinkedIn: Over 185 million users, many of them actively seeking a new employer. About 20% are recent college graduates looking for a career start.³ Linked In is growing fast, reportedly signing up two new members every second. Promote your company here if you’re actively or continuously hiring.

Google+: 500 million users, whose average time using Google+ is under 8 minutes per month.³ This suggests lower engagement, making Google+ not the top priority for many businesses. (If you don’t regularly follow marketing news, this might surprise you given Google’s dominance in other areas such as online search and internet advertising.) However, posts on Google+ are likely to show up in Google’s search engine results.

Instagram: The photo-posting site has more than 200 million users, with many in their teens.³ If you are marketing to teens, note that a heavy proportion see Instagram as their favorite social media site. Although you can post short videos, users expect to find mostly static images. (Instagram is owned by Facebook.)

If your business is new to social media, don’t take on multiple platforms at the same time. Start with one that fits your business goals, master it, and measure the results before adding more.

Although each platform has its strengths, launching your business presence on four or five of them is too large an undertaking if you’re new to social media. Instead, choose one or two that make the most sense and are within your capabilities to maintain, and learn to use analytics to measure their effectiveness (remembering, of course, that it takes time to build success).

Business-to-Consumer. For a B2C business, Facebook is an excellent way to bring more of your company’s personality to light and learn whether your business is “liked” by consumers, so that’s often a sensible starting point. You might add Twitter to your mix later, using it to point followers to your company’s Facebook page or its website. This one-two combo can often garner attention for many consumer-facing businesses, and it offers opportunities for your customers and prospects to communicate with your company in real time.

That said, if the main features of your product or service are highly visual (e.g., clothing manufacturer, art gallery, animal adoption agency), then Pinterest is definitely worth your attention. It is easy to use and good at putting clicks through to your website. Just make sure that links from each Pinterest image lead directly to a related page on your website — not to the website’s home page. This way, you won’t frustrate your potential new clients by expecting them to dig through your whole site in search of a single object.

Business-to-Business. If you are a B2B business, then recognize that certain industries tend to favor specific social media. For example, a logistics company may get a solid following via Twitter, simply by tweeting its ETAs and thus building trust with its customers by keeping them highly informed about transit progress. On the other hand, a furniture designer who unveils new lines twice a year might do much better posting them on Pinterest, and then alerting followers by email with a link to new Pinterest boards. Whatever your method, invite your B2B audience to share widely, because they know qualified business buyers who are otherwise invisible to you. To start, however, learn where your clients and prospects like to receive social business information, and deliver it there.

Some B2B businesses find that their clientele or industry simply doesn’t use much social media for business purposes. In these cases, it’s smart to rely on your blog and email marketing system to keep your audience regularly engaged. They may not speak up as often as socially active groups; but that’s okay. Stick to your email routine and be consistent about inviting them to read your blog.

If you use a laptop or desktop, remember that your audience is probably reading your posts on a phone or tablet. Make things work easily in their viewing environment.

Responsiveness and Reputation

The operative word in social media is “social,” meaning your prospects and customers will use the platform to communicate with your company and tell you how they feel — whether that results in a question, a rant or a rave. Like any communication, these messages hunger to be heard, so your immediate, up-beat, encouraging response is vital. Failing to respond promptly and supportively can cause negative repercussions that stain your company’s reputation, as a disgruntled or ignored consumer shares their frustration with a wider audience.

So, as you set up your social media account, make sure to plan who monitors it, and how often; and how and when all communication is answered. You might, for example, send alerts to a cell phone, or use a social media app to organize sending and listening to your audience. That way the company can respond immediately, and even remotely.

Final word about reputation: If you’re a one-person or family business, avoid the rookie error of beginning your company’s social media presence by simply piggybacking on your own personal Facebook page or tying its traffic to your personal phone. This will save you from explaining to your children why your middle-age vendors are trying to “friend” them, or apologizing to your spouse for that hysterical video of your inebriated mother-in-law — the one that somehow went viral following your inaugural business promotion. Instead, start with fresh social media accounts in your company’s name. If you’re in a medium-sized business, you might want to spring for a company cell phone that can be tied to its social media accounts and used by your social media manager. This way, when your social media manager leaves to work for a competitor one day, the phone, its account and its history all remain with you.

Management Tip: Flexibility is critical to keeping a good social media manager happy. If  you hire one, recognize that it can be an “on-call, 24/7” role. So, if your social media manager spends three hours communicating with your company’s followers before leaving home, and thus gets to the office an hour after his or her peers, make sure you’ve acquainted the staff with the difference in their roles to avoid undue resentment or criticism.

Considerations

  • How much time can I/we dedicate to learning about and managing social media for the business?
  • What is our social media strategy? Who is our target audience, what features of our product or service are highly interesting to them, and how do we communicate those?
  • Which social media channel makes the most sense for us? How long should it take to build a sizeable following? How will we know whether it aids conversion?
  • Do we create assets (images, videos, content) in another part of the company that could be effectively re-purposed for our social media plan? Or will we need to create lots of new content in order to fulfill our social media needs?

 

 

Sources: ¹Facebook, ²Twitter, ³Digital Insights