8 Hot Social Media Tips For Partners Competing In The Enterprise2:00 PM EST Tue. Jul. 23, 2013
In recent years, social media has changed more than just the way individuals interact with one another, but the way companies do business in the market and engage with customers. In a May 2013 survey of 917 small businesses, Constant Contact, a Waltham, Mass.-based engagement marketing solution company, found that 87 percent of them reported using social media as a marketing tool -- compared to 10 percent five years ago.
In an interview with CRN, Mark Schmulen, general manager of social media at Constant Contact, listed several tips to help growing channel partners better leverage social networking sites. Check out the top 8 expert tips to leverage the full potential of social media marketing.
Tackling the vast world of social media can seem overwhelming at first, especially for small or growing companies, so Constant Contact's Schmulen suggested narrowing the focus. Instead of trying to conquer the entire online world in a day, start small and get to know one network well before branching out to the others. Whether it's one of the major sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn or a more specialized platform like Pinterest and Foursquare, companies should choose the one most suitable for its prospective audience and devote time to developing that as a starting point, according to Schmulen.
"By the end of the day there's so many [sites]," Schmulen said. "What it really comes down to is if you start with one, it shouldn't be that hard to join the rest. For most businesses, the best place to start with is Facebook."
A network is only as good as its reach and a social media channel only as effective as its audience -- so when it comes to social media marketing, a company needs to spend the time to build its core and peripheral audiences before trying to launch any major branding campaigns, according to Schmulen. One of the best ways to build that audience is by offering something as simple as a coupon or promotional offer to users in exchange for a "like" or page follow, Schmulen said.
"You have to build those relationships over time," Schmulen said. "You can really compare email marketing and social media in the sense that they're both forms of consent-based marketing. For those just getting started, you want to find interesting ways to grow your following and don't really focus yet on turning those fans into customers or advocates."
While social networking is often touted for its capacity for free advertising, Constant Contact's Schmulen said paid advertisements on the free sites can help grow an audience even more by reaching potential followers with similar interests who may not have otherwise engaged. Schmulen suggested promoting "like-gated" ad campaigns that require a user to "like" a company's page in order to receive special content or promotions through a third-party app installed on the page, which he said is a "great way to incentivize" a user to follow.
"Facebook has a great advertising product ... that basically allows you to target people based on demographics," Schmulen said, "and makes sure that ads shows up in their news feed. They work pretty well, but work better when you offer something in return. When those offers are interesting, people will share those with their friends."
Although social media presence is important, it won't help a company grow its user base unless the content shared is engaging the audience, according to Schmulen. The thing about social media is that it's about having a conversation with customers, so companies need to post content that provokes users to comment or ask questions that can then be responded to, Schmulen said. If companies consistently post content that isn't yielding responses, just to have a social media presence, it could actually end up hurting those efforts in the end, according to Schmulen.
"There is such a thing as posting too much to Facebook, just as there's posting too little," Schmulen said. "If people are engaging with it, that's great -- you're building a deeper relationship, and they're more likely to see those messages in the future. You need to post engaging content or you're going to fall off your followers' newsfeed."
Despite past conversations about replacing email marketing with social media campaigns, Constant Contact's Schmulen said the best approach is to sync the efforts together so they work in tandem rather than compete. By creating a cohesive marketing strategy that utilizes both emails and social media posts, a company can further grow its online following and "amplify" its audience to encompass both groups, according to Schmulen. A good way to leverage the two systems is by promoting the social media page in company emails and newsletters that may go out to a completely different audience, Schmulen said.
"The reality is using them together is the best practice for today, as a multichannel, integrated marketing campaign," Schmulen said. "If you send out an email to your list of 2,000 email contacts [as opposed to 50 Facebook fans], they're likely to visit your page ... and that's likely to help you reach new prospects with your Facebook page."
While not recommended for newcomers to social media, who are encouraged to focus on building an audience first, Constant Contact's Schmulen said that when a company has built that following, the best way to leverage the platform is by turning all those "likes" or fans into real customers. The best way to do that is by word of mouth, according to Schmulen. By utilizing social media advertising to reach that built-up audience with engaging content, both discounts and sweepstakes can take on a whole new level of impact in turning followers into customers, Schmulen said.
"Once you've built that following and those relationships, getting them to influence their friends and learn more about you [is the next step]," Schmulen said. "The best way to reach new customers is by word of mouth. When you really think about it, social media marketing is about creating word of mouth."
Though increased sales may be the end-goal for building a wider social media audience, it shouldn't come through as the focus of a company's page or posts, according to Schmulen. A company, especially one that's small or growing, should focus on becoming an expert in its product field and posting engaging content that's bigger than just the company, Schmulen said. Using a local bike shop as an example, Schmulen suggested not just posting about deals and in-store savings, but widening the approach to include articles about the best bike trails in the area, safety tips and bike-care options to establish a general interest in its customers' well-being and the company's industry expertise.
"There's a time and place for selling, but I would focus most of your time on education and expressing your passion rather than just selling," Schmulen said. "Social media is not just about selling yourself, but sharing your passion about yourself [as a company] and what you do."
With all the social media platforms out on the Web today, some companies may try to take the same approach to several in an attempt to build a broader network and raise company awareness. However, not all social media sites are designed for the same content or posting cycles, and knowing the difference could be the key to leveraging each site's full potential, according to Constant Contact's Schmulen. Just as posting too much on Facebook without interaction could push a company's posts down on its followers' newsfeed, posting too little on a site like Twitter could wash away a company's tweets in the ever-flowing content stream, Schmulen said.
"The best practice is to post about one to three times a week for Facebook and LinkedIn and once a day for Twitter," Schmulen said. "With social media you can't set it and forget it. You can't just expect people to come to you."