This post was originally published in Entrepreneur on April 22, 2014, at http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/233251.
Social media can give entrepreneurs the same opportunity to build community and engage customers as their better funded competitors. But when time and resources are limited, it’s crucial to laser focus social-media efforts to achieve goals: Do you want to drive sales, generate qualified leads, build relationships with current customers and bloggers in your industry? And of course figure out how you can measure it.
For entrepreneurs needing a little help developing their social media plan, here are a few tips.
Be crystal clear on who your target audience is. Determining your target demographic is imperative for success (without customers there are no sales). Make sure you have a clear image of who you exactly what to reach. Make sure you know them inside and out and are familiar with their interests, needs and biggest challenges. How does your product or service solve their problems? Also look at influencers in your industry, as they can play an important role in reaching your audience.
Which social media sites are they on? Determine where these people like to socialize and stalk them. If you’re tightly staffed and have limited funds to contract help, it can be difficult to actively engage in a variety of sites. In that case, pick two or three sites — preferably the ones that are used most often with your audience — to do well. You can always add more sites later.
Plan your messaging strategy. Make sure your branding strategy and story brings your company to life. That said, keep in mind, it’s not about you or your brand, it’s about what your customer likes and wants. Connect your customer’s interests and challenges to your content and how your products or services can help them.
Don’t use social media to just talk about your business or product.While it is okay to sprinkle in a few tidbit here and there, no one wants to continually hear about how awesome your company is. Instead, provide useful information and news related to your specific audience’s needs and interests. Also, share related content from other sources, not just from you.
Mix it up. Feature a mixture of different kinds of content — from news to practical tips and humorous stories. Emphasize by using visuals such as images, photos, videos, infographics and slide decks.
For example, Citrus Lane, which sells subscription packages to parents of young children, shares entertaining, fun visuals on sites like Facebook, as well as provides deals, contests and handy tips.
Keep your website as your home base. While social media is imperative, make sure your website remains your anchor. (Also, don’t neglect building your own opt-in email list.) Post original content on your site along with guest articles in places your customers and influencers visit. Then use social media to share the content and drive traffic to your website and sales or lead pages.
Social Media Examiner, HubSpot and Buffer each use an outstanding blog with expert content that is so helpful people want to share it with their connections, resulting in widespread exposure. Their creative social-media posts drive traffic to their blogs and more importantly, attract and engage customers.
Listen first. Before engaging, make sure you understand the feel and tone of the social media platforms you’re interested in using. Think about the kinds of customer-service issues or pitfalls that might arise. For example, anywhere your business has a presence like on Twitter or Facebook, customers will expect you to answer any inquiries or complaints quickly. Also, think before you post, as even if you delete it, once it’s public, it’s hard to take it back and messages can go viral quickly.
Engage and interact. Social media isn’t a megaphone, it’s a conversation. It’s a great opportunity to connect with customers and influencers from bloggers to media people. Seek out related tweetchats, LinkedIn or Facebook groups or Google+ communities. Pose thoughtful questions and respond to people’s queries with helpful information that isn’t just pitching your business.
Prioritize. Focus on what is most important and test what works best for your specific audience and message. How will you measure what success looks like? Assess regularly and tweak what you do based on your results. Monitor website traffic to see which social media sites are driving traffic. What patterns drive your website, e-commerce and sales stats? Watch for which days of the week and time frames you post and which kinds of content seem to work best.
Keep your eye on the big picture. Don’t get too caught up in any one social-media site or tactic unless it’s giving you fantastic results. Keep an eye on changing trends and how you might take advantage of it, such as if a new social-media site is growing in popularity with your customer segment. And lastly, tie in your social media strategy with your other marketing efforts.