With 74% of adults online using social media, businesses increasingly understand its importance for connecting with customers, but don’t always know where to start when implementing a social media strategy.
The hundreds of choices of social media networks can engender a sense of overwhelm about where to best invest limited resources.
Even though it’s possible to narrow the field to a handful of proven power channels, many businesses still do not have the resources to cover all these bases.
This can lead to a number of different responses:
- Paralysis – doing nothing because it seems too hard.
- Putting all your eggs in one basket – heavily investing in a preferred social media channel.
- The scattergun approach – trying to have a presence across key platforms.
None of these is ideal.
Customers expect businesses to be where they are – online – and that includes creating a brand presence through marketing to sales and customer service.
Social media is an important part of the online ecosystem and gives companies a direct relationship with customers.
There’s evidence that when companies respond to customer service requests in social media those customers end up spending 20% to 40% more with the company; 71% of those who experience positive social care are also likely to recommend the brand.
Although studies vary, it appears that companies that are online and engaged are outperforming those who are not by significant amounts.
Given that we are increasingly mobile, a greater number of older consumers are coming online and to the billions of emerging consumers who have never lived without social media, these channels are likely to become more, not less, important.
Doing nothing is not a great option.
2. All eggs in one basket
Focusing in on a single preferred channel allows a business to target its resources strategically.
A business simply needs to understand where its customers are most active and focus resources into limited, but deeper engagement.
For example, given that most affluent investors use LinkedIn and are influenced by the content they find there, financial services companies could skew their investment towards LinkedIn for publishing, curating content and engaging in industry-specific groups.
While this approach has its advantages the downside is that a business can become captive to a platform.
This has implications for strategy and budget if a platform changes its terms and conditions; which is happening frequently as social media networks list publicly or seek additional ways to monetize their offerings.
Facebook, for example, has radically changed the way that posts are displayed, impacting reach to the extent that Facebook is now largely considered a paid media channel.
Brands that in the past were able to achieve significant reach using owned or earned media have had to reexamine their approach (and budgets) in order to remain relevant to their audience.
While paying to reach customers is nothing new in business, it does mark a shift in the way that social media channels are behaving and is perhaps a reflection of greater maturity in the space.
Nevertheless, in any business it’s worthwhile factoring in alternatives for continuity and to provide the business with options.
3. The scattergun approach
Many brands, however, take a scattergun approach, setting up accounts across many channels then failing to properly manage them.
These get little traction and reinforce (wrongly) the impression that there’s no ROI on social media, when they should be read as a sign that a company is too thinly spread, or in the wrong channel for its customer base.
A business that sets up the expectation they can be reached but fails to make itself available creates disappointment and leaves a poor brand impression.
This does not mean a company has to be available 24 hours a day, just that when it has processes for managing customers who connect outside hours, including through the narrative on its platforms.
There are thousands of ghost pages across the web, which are essentially valueless. Sometimes you do need to sign up to accounts for defensive reasons (to prevent being spoofed or hijacked, for example) in which case, provide some commentary on where your customers can engage with you.
There are many tools that can assist businesses to manage the social media ecosystem from within a single hub. SMEs could benefit from tools like Buffer App, Hootsuite and Sprout Social. There are also many sophisticated, enterprise-wide systems.
Ideally a business would be able to reach customers across multiple touchpoints, realistically though, many cannot make that investment right now.
Pare back and pair up
An alternative is to ‘pare back and pair up’ – closing channels that you can’t realistically manage but amplifying your reach by strategically pairing those that work well together.
Part of the magic of the social media ecosystem is the synergy that is created across multiple platforms.
For example, you can share a link in real time on Twitter about a business issue as it breaks but have a deeper discussion about its impact for your industry in a LinkedIn group. That extends the conversation across different spheres and audiences.
There’s a natural synergy between some of the platforms.
For example, LinkedIn is a business network and works very well with SlideShare, a network for sharing slide presentations, something familiar to most professionals. In fact, LinkedIn now owns SlideShare and allows you to showcase your presentations on your LinkedIn homepage.
Some other pairings that might work well:
- For visual brands – YouTube and Instagram
- For customer service – Twitter and Facebook
- For thought leadership – LinkedIn and SlideShare
- For retail – Pinterest and Etsy
- For training – Google Plus and Twitter
There’s no formula, although there is plenty of data on social media use by gender, industry and country that you can use to inform your strategy.
Don’t be overwhelmed by the number of social media choices that are available or fail to build in redundancy in what is a very fast changing technology landscape.
Instead, use business intelligence to make strategic but limited choices that will help you to establish a social media footprint.
This article first appeared in Smart Company.