I have been to the National Air & Space Museum in Washington D.C. at least half a dozen times. It’s the one place I absolutely have to visit if I’m in the area. And for good reason! Apollo 11’s Command Module Columbia is right there, hanging alongside Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis. A magical place for a space and science geek like me.
Nestled within the exhibits is a small planetarium that has a variety of shows running. When I was younger, the show I liked best was one that started out in the grass along The Mall in front of the museum, then raced up into the sky, beyond the Earth, and farther. Each moment taking us further and further out into space, giving us a true perspective on our place in the universe.
Naturally, it makes you realize just how small you really are. Just tiny specs crawling on the face of a rock, flying through the universe at 1,000 miles per hour.
Sometimes, Social Media can seem just as insignificant.
Through my blog at The Social Media Hat, I’ve spent years exploring every aspect of Online or Digital Marketing, and have focused on the incredibly effective elements of Content Marketing, which are Blogging, SEO, Email and of course, Social Media.
Many businesses take their marketing a step further of course and include paid advertising and offline marketing.
All of those elements together create a complex and varied mix, with social media just a small portion.
So the question is, how does social media integrate into our overall marketing plan and strategy? To answer that, we will first explore all of the different ways in which businesses can effectively use social media to promote and grow their business. We’ll then be in a better position to determine social media’s place in the marketing universe.
We will also review some social media “best practices” so that you’ll have some tangible and actionable takeaways.
Finally, we’ll review some examples of how both big brands and small businesses are effectively using social media.
Ready to go on a trek through the stars?
RELATED: Learn from Mike Allton how to structure a Digital Marketing Campaign in this interview on Digital Inbound.
What Do We Mean By Social Media?
Before we get any further, now would be a good time to make sure we’re all on the same page in terms what we even mean by “social media” as there are many, many different networks and platforms.
The primary networks are Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest and Instagram. Some additional networks which should be routinely considered are YouTube, Periscope, Snapchat, SlideShare and others.
You see, a social network is technically any network in which users can create profiles, connect with others, and share information. Which means sites like Flickr and Tumblr are also social networks.
Therefore businesses have many choices when it comes to social media activity. While I think every business should have a profile and some measure of activity on as many networks as possible, the focus and priority should always be the one or two networks which stand to offer a business the greatest return.
Think about the demographics of a network, the types of posts and content that is preferred, and any personal preferences you have to help determine which networks you want to focus on.
While you’ll likely want to avoid a brand new network that has yet to establish a consistent user base, just about any of the remaining social networks have plenty of users and opportunities. Pinterest, for instance, one of the smallest of the top networks, still sports over 100 million active users every month. Who wouldn’t want to market to 100 million potential customers?
So select one or two networks to really learn and master and just maintain all of the rest.
How Social Media Can Be Used
Once you’ve settled on one or two social networks that you want to spend the bulk of your allocated time on, here are some of the things that you can do.
Broadcasting – Every time you have a new article, product release, event, presentation or something else, you can share that to social media and let your followers know. If it’s interesting and valuable – you are creating interesting content, aren’t you? – people will tend to click through to your article, like it, and perhaps share it with their own followers, increasing the potential reach of your business online.
Branding – Unless you’re a globally recognized brand, social media can be a great place for you to begin to educate people about who you are and what you do. This is an important consideration because of the virtual impossibility to measure the results of branding efforts, yet it is extremely important.
Relationship Building – Of course the entire purpose of most social networks is to network with other people, and businesses should be aware of that fact. Followers of your social profiles should not be treated like people wandering by your place of business. Rather, treat them like interested customers who have walked in and are asking about what you do. If you talk to them naturally and with consideration of their needs, they’ll respond quite positively.
Business Development – Along the same lines as relationship building, there are opportunities with social media to discover and connect with peers and colleagues and other related businesses who might be eager to work with you on projects or collaborative efforts. Be open and on the lookout for that.
Learning – One of the best, yet least considered benefits of social media to businesses, is the opportunity for you to learn more! This happens quite naturally when you’re very particular about who you choose to follow. If you focus on following peers and influencers in your industry, you’ll find your news feeds to be filled with fantastic information. (That’s also an easy way to create a great stream of content to curate! But we’ll talk about that more in a moment.)
Social Proof – The concept that follower counts and social share counts don’t matter is, unfortunately, naive. The problem is that too often, businesses focus on building up those numbers as fast as they can, regardless of where the numbers came from. What you want is to build a solid online community of targeted fans. In this manner, your social proof, and the followers it represents, will actually result in positive ROI for you.
Customer Service – Increasingly, customers are turning to social media to find and contact businesses for help. You need to be there for them, as that is currently a significant differentiator between most businesses and their competition.
Testing – Anything that a business and marketing department dreams up to do is nothing more than a guess until it’s been tested. Campaigns, articles, presentations… we never know whether or not our audience will really be interested in something until it’s published and shared. Unless, that is, we test the waters first using social media. For instance, Twitter is fabulous for testing headlines and quotes. Want to test some ideas and get some input? Start a discussion within a Google+ Community. Subtle use of your social networks can help refine your marketing ideas.
Search – The role of Social Media in Search has always been a somewhat confusing one – mostly because it’s evolving daily. While having social media profiles will not likely result in improved SEO for your main website, the additional listings do show up in search results themselves, giving businesses a larger online footprint. Furthermore, Google can index and rank individual postings on Twitter and Google+, which means those status updates are treated much the same as individual web pages. It can often be just as valuable for a Google+ post to appear in search as the article it links to.
Sales & Prospecting – More than just broadcasting sales, businesses can leverage social media to identify prospects and participate in conversations that are directly related to the solutions they’re offering. On LinkedIn, for instance, you can search for and connect with key individuals within businesses that you might want to contact. You can then “drip” on them using LinkedIn’s tools for endorsements, recommendations, status updates, pulse posts, InMail, and milestone events.
And finally, Listening – Which is when businesses use their content and other people’s activity to pay attention to what their target audience is most interested in and learn from that. Sometimes you’ll listen to comments and discussions around your brand, while other times you’ll take note of common issues your prospects are having and look for ways you can help.
Social Media’s Place In Marketing
With all of that in mind, is should be clear that social media’s place in marketing is layered and multifaceted. How all of those techniques and mechanisms come together will vary from business to business.
For instance, a B2C business can more easily leverage social media for broadcasting, branding, social proof and customer service. While business development and learning are likely easier for a B2B.
What’s important is being aware of all of the ways your customers may respond and relate to your business and to be there for them.
What’s also important is to recognize the need to integrate social media into every aspect of your marketing and customer lifecycle.
Make sure that your website has integrated icons so that visitors can easily find and follow you on your most important platforms.
Make sure that your outgoing emails and newsletters also contain links to your social profiles. And be sure to ask new subscribers and customers to join your online community and follow you on your preferred social channel.
If you’re taking advantage of offline advertising such as direct mail or television ads, remind your audience that you’re on social media with standard icons.
In fact, one of the greatest ways that you can integrate social media into every other aspect of your marketing today is to find and use a unique Hashtag.
Hashtags, on the networks which support them (Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest), allow posts to be automatically linked together. When you use a more generic hashtag, like, #marketing, you make it possible for people clicking through marketing-related posts to more easily discover yours.
When you create a unique hashtag though around your brand or campaign, you make it easy for viewers of your other marketing initiatives to jump into the conversation.
In July, for instance, at SiteSell we ran a series of live Events throughout the month. During each event I interviewed a number of influencers within topics like Social Media and SEO, and we branded the entire series #SiteSellPresents. Not only did we use the hashtag on social media posts, but it was on the blog, graphics… everywhere! The result was that people were able to find and participate in the events and discussions, regardless of where they heard about it.
The bottom line is that no matter what you’re doing in your advertising, consider how social media can be a part of that and support that initiative. If you need help, consider one of the top rated tools for social media management.
Social Media Best Practices
Now, as you get into your social media activity, it’s good to be aware of some of the Social Media Best Practices so that you can be more effective with your time and effort.
Be Present – I can’t stress enough the importance of this, as many businesses simply aren’t paying attention to social channels. Every business needs to create social profiles and then create processes or use tools to help monitor those profiles for comments and activity. And then respond! Even to complaints and criticisms.
Focus On The Best Platform – As we discussed earlier, you need to focus on the social network that’s going to be the most value to your business. And that might be a network that has fewer overall users than the others, but is just a better overall fit for you. Once you’ve made that determination, and it’s OK to test things out for a while, you need to double down on that best network. If it’s YouTube, make sure that you’re putting resources into creating excellent videos, for instance. If it’s Facebook, consider running contests or sponsoring a private Group. The point is to learn what techniques and approaches work best on that particular platform and run with them.
Own Your Content – Do make sure though that whatever you’re doing on social media, you aren’t investing so much into a network that you’re making it the true hub of your content and marketing. In other words, make sure that the bulk of your content is on your website, where you own it, and use social media to distribute and discuss.
Single Voice – Your business should have a defined Voice – that should be part of your overall Marketing Strategy – and your social media activity should reflect that, even if it’s technically multiple people posting and talking.
Entertain, Educate, Engage – Again, remember that social media, for most people, is truly about being social, so always try to Entertain, Educate and Engage when you’re on a social network. Remember those Three E’s. Your audience will appreciate that and respond accordingly.
Measure – Follower counts are often referred to as a “vanity metric” because it’s too easy to get enamored with bigger and bigger numbers. Instead, businesses should start by measuring engagement, referral traffic, leads and conversions. Tools like Google Analytics and SEMrush can play a vital role in helping marketers to understand the impact their social media activity and campaigns have on their business.
Finally, should you Curate content? This is another question that only you can answer for yourself. Generally, if you’re able to create significant amounts of unique content, regularly, yourself – curating content becomes less necessary. Alternatively, if you’re able to create new content weekly or less often, you’ll likely need to find other people’s content to share to social media so that you can have a bit more activity across your profiles.
Examples of Outstanding Social Media
Let me share just a few examples for you of some excellent social media activity.
First is Michael Hyatt. Michael is a renowned author and consultant, and he consistently creates outstanding content and social media activity. His Facebook cover photo deftly promotes his latest digital download and lead generation content, an ebook on being more efficient at work.
Throughout the week, Michael shares new content, listens to and responds to comments, even on other people’s posts, and he also routinely asks questions that engage his audience.
You can find him at facebook.com/michaelhyatt
Next up is Guy Kawasaki, someone who has truly mastered the art of curating content and using that – other people’s content – to build a huge audience.
Guy is a tremendous influencer in the tech industry, has authored many books, and is now helping to evangelize Canva, the online graphic design tool. If you follow Guy on virtually any social network, you’ll see his unique voice and desire to empower people coming through, even though much of his social media activity is actually controlled by my friend Peg Fitzpatrick.
You can find him at facebook.com/guy
Manly Pinterest Tips
Finally, let’s take a look at Manly Pinterest Tips, a video series and podcast run by my friend Jeff Sieh. Jeff identified the need for more men to recognize the value of Pinterest as a social network, and set out to create great content around that idea.
Jeff films a regular interview format show on Huzzah and Facebook Live, and then takes that content and uses it to create a podcast and blog post, all of which powers his social media activity.
You can find him on Facebook at facebook.com/ManlyPinterestTips
Michael, Guy and Jeff are three examples of folks who get social media and how to use it to reach their fans and grow their brand. Pay close attention to not only what they’re doing, but who they’re interacting with. Following influential and experienced people on social media is a great way to learn from example, day in and day out!
I hope you’ve had some thoughts on how you can integrate social media into your marketing plan, and discovered a few new people to follow. If you have more questions, leave them in the comments below!