Not too long ago, “online marketing” meant having a web site-any web site. Today, a web site alone isn’t enough. One of the hottest marketing opportunities online lies in social media-strategically using sites like Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and other online meeting places to establish your brand, extend your outreach and do business with a broader scope than ever before.
As in the web site example, just creating a Facebook page isn’t enough. To succeed with social media, you’ll need a strategy because cyberspace becomes more crowded every day.
Know what you want. What are your expectations for your social media marketing? Are you hoping to build your list (gaining “friends”) for permission-based marketing? Are you hoping to mine special-interest groups to find new prospective clients, consumers or collaborators? Are you trying to create a community landing space for your existing clients, customers and fans? If you have more than one objective, prioritize so that you can invest effort wisely.
Know what the competition is doing. Look for pages created by others in your industry and by leading experts you respect. How are they structuring their pages? What kind of content do they offer? What type of forums do they host-and where do they participate by adding comments to other people’s forums? You can pick up a lot of great ideas by looking at good examples created by other people. Remember that you’re in this for a business purpose, to steer clear of the more frivolous recreational elements (although a little bit of fun shows personality).
Realize you can’t be everywhere. The number of social networking sites is exploding, making it impossible to participate in every good opportunity. That means you’ll need to do some research to find the sites that really appeal to your core audience. It’s easier to go where your audience is already participating than to try to draw your audience to a new location. Experts say you’ll want a presence on five to seven social media sites, so choose wisely.
For example, for my Chronicles of the Necromancer fantasy book series, I’m on MySpace, YouTube, Squidoo, BookMarketing.ning, BookTours.com, BroadUniverse.com, Shelfari, and I have a blog on Amazon.com plus my Ghost in the Machine podcasts on iTunes and a growing number of podcast sites. For DreamSpinner Communications, I’m on Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, eWomenNetwork.com, SmartWomensCoaching.com, WomensCommunity.com, MarketingProfs.com, 911MarketingHelp.com, Squidoo and Namyz, plus my Shared Dreams podcast on iTunes and my Marketing Turnaround blog. There’s some overlap from people who know me in both capacities, but separating the goals of the sites makes it easier to have a coherent message.
Recognize that social media success requires commitment. To be successful, you have to commit the time necessary to really be a part of these virtual communities. Just like real networking organizations, the people who join and then never show up don’t get their money’s worth. With social media, that means answering your “friend messages” on a regular basis, posting regularly to forums (your own and those that belong to others), adding relevant content regularly and actually hanging out online where people can find you. Even if you can’t check in daily, make it a commitment to check in every few days. It’s an investment, like everything else.
Understand the culture. Before you create your page and launch into your social media strategy, I recommend lurking. “Lurking” is online slang for hanging out on a site, reading the posts and watching without exposing your presence by participating. Lurking can save you grief by helping you understand the “netiquette” of a particular site. Most sites will delete your membership for spamming people with overtly commercial emails, for example. So it’s best to invite people to be your “friend” based on shared interests, not to begin with a sales pitch. Read the discussion threads in the forums that deal with your business interest topics to get an idea for who’s out there, who the established experts are and where some of the knowledge gaps are.
The exciting thing about social media and social networking is that they are such new tools that there are very low barriers to entry. And while some people have more experience than others, the tools are so new that no one is hopelessly far ahead. Everyone is learning and experimenting, which makes the playing field as level as it will ever be. So make the jump into social networking and take your expertise to the world.