8 Essential Rules for Social Media and Business

Social Media is a complex and evolving medium that many businesses struggle to figure out. Few find quantifiable success with it, many have failed, and most have yet to truly form a social media strategy.

Failure is often a result of using social media before taking time to understand it, including asking the questions why do people engage on it and what are the unwritten rules that govern its use. It’s free exposure, and often organizations fail to intentionally plan their message as they would for an expensive ad campaign.  It’s like trying to run before one has learned to walk. Consider this: In 2010, Nielsen and Facebook did a joint study on the effect of social media for enterprise using the benchmarks: Ad recall, brand awareness, and purchase intent.  Social media had significantly better results than traditional marketing.

Whether an individual, a non-profit, or a business (B2B or B2C) – social media strategies must be well thought out and planned prior to execution. Questions must first be answered, primarily the question of “WHY?”  “WHY are we getting into social media?”  And, “WHY will this motivate individuals to find out more about our organization.” Before every post, “WHY will our followers find this post valuable?Social media is permission based engagement – it is the most effective way to engage people and receive measurable results.  When someone gives an organization permission to speak to them, the organization’s messaging must be “on” 100% of the time. It’s like dating, an organization must woo, cultivate, and meet the needs of their network. The following rules apply to almost every social media user who seeks to develop a platform, client acquisition, increased sales, and better brand awareness.

  1. Social media is relational, not transactional, according to social media innovator Michael Hyatt.  Probably the most important rule for any individual or organization seeking to expand exposure and acquire new customers through an online presence.  Keep the “keys” to the social media account away from the Sales department. Traditional marketing has no place in social media.  Overtly trying to sell a product or service will quickly damage a social media reputation (reputation is quickly damaged and long to repair).  Consumers no longer need to jump through hoops to end their relationship with an organization – no more signing up on the do-not-call-registry, no more trying to figure out how to get off a direct mail list, no more trying to figure out how to say “no” to a good salesperson – they simply click an unfollow button and, *poof*, an organization becomes vapor in their social stream.  Resist automated responders that thank individuals for following.
  2. Organizations must have a dedicated social media evangelist. An organization should have an independent social media manager who reports directly to an executive on the leadership team.  The social media manager should not be accountable to a supervisor who is commissioned or expected to generate a sales quota. They should be the keeper of the keys and the protector of an organization’s network of followers.  Because social media is incredibly fluid and changes at the speed of light (in its first 9 months, Instagram acquired an astonishing 7 million registered users) – this person should have a natural proclivity toward Web 2.0, much like a surgeon, always reading, learning, and staying up to date.  They should be fluent in related technology in order to track and report on the efficacy of the organization’s social media platform – Google Analytics, A/B Testing, Content Management Systems (like WordPress), and third party social media software like HootSuite – so as to assign metrics by which to assess and respond quickly.
  3. An organization should focus on engagement and not on numbers. The numbers will follow but should not be used as a performance indicator. There is significantly more value in having a smaller network of followers who engage on a regular basis than to have a large network of followers who view your page once and are done.  Phantom accounts abound in social media for numerous reasons (do you smell SPAM?).  A single engaged user is worth more than one hundred unused or phantom accounts.  People participate in social media because it’s an effective venue to build professional networks, exchange ideas, and build their own platform – if you’re selling, they’re not buying.  A critical component of engagement is dialogue.  Organization’s who respond to and provide exposure to their more valuable followers will find their generosity reciprocated.  Corporate and product development based on follower feedback is magic.
  4. Define your core audience and identify your area of expertise. Do not try to be all things to all people.  If you want to reach the decision makers in organizations, you may design your social media messaging and expertise around content that educates about organizational development, as an example.  It does not sell your product or service in a direct or traditional way.  But the decision makers who follow will begin to view an organization as an expert in their particular area of interest, they will click on links when enough credibility is built and they will share the content.  In time, they will take the initiative to find out more about the organization including what products and services are offered.  The trust built in social media will transfer to trust in the product or service.  When users see a new post in their stream, they should immediately associate it with positive psychology – they should know that the post will bring them value and it’s not simply trying to sell them a product or service.  They should be inspired to be an active participant as a result of content.
  5. Content is king. As previously mentioned, social media is not the place to make overt sales pitches.  Posts should be succinct, not impulsive or emotional, but rather should be thoughtfully constructed and politically correct.  On Twitter a post is given 140 characters.  In order for followers to RT they must be given enough characters to retweet (subtract 2 characters plus the number of characters in a username).  Posts should add value to followers free of charge, no gimmicks and no strings attached – they may provide information, best practices, or free resources.  Develop free resources to give away on a website or blog.  While posts should provide stand-alone content, most should include a link providing the user an opportunity to find out more.  At least once daily the link should direct the user to an area of the organizations website where they can find free content or resources, such as a blog page.  That’s where users will find out more about the company, its products and services, and share content with their followers.  Those who manage social media for business must understand that the premise that users have given an organization permission to engage them with an implicit trust that the organization will not abuse or misuse the access they’ve been given.
  6. Updates should be consistent and frequent. Social media is always on and so should an organizations presence.  Social media management is not a job relegated to weekdays between 8 and 5.  It takes time and consistent impressions with other users to build the credibility needed for them to engage.  Posts should be daily and typically should occur a few times and not more than 8 or 9 (depending on the network).  When there are dark periods (a day or more without updates) followers get dubious, brand awareness fades, and credibility that has been built diminishes.
  7. A Social Media platform must be manifested. Social media streams and accounts should be integrated into every page of an organizations website and communication including “like,” “tweet,” and “follow” buttons.  Clients and followers cannot evangelize if an organization doesn’t provide them with the tools to do so.  It improves engagement, it says that an organization is serious about their social media platform, it is a big factor in SEO (Search Engine Optimization), and it ensures that website content is fresh without internal redundancy.
  8. A Profile must be Perfect. The profile is the most viewed page and too often the most neglected.  Users decide whether or not to follow an account based on it.  Images, background, and messaging should be consistent with an organizations brand.  It should be concise and not superfluous.  It should include a link to the organization’s website or blog.

Posted August 9, 2011 by Joshua Leatherman

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