It's not hard to find advice on how to get started using social media in business. Every consultant who has ever completed an engagement has an opinion. The problem is, much of that advice boils down to: "Just dive in and start tweeting." Not helpful, and not likely to lead to successful outcomes. More deliberation is in order.
The first question to answer is where social media can fit into your company's overall outreach efforts. Social media aren't one thing, despite our tendency as an industry to speak about them as if they were, and their uses inside companies can be various. Social media can be used as a promotional tool (Facebook, Twitter, and FourSquare fit well here); as a PR vehicle (blogs); as a real-time aid to customer service (Twitter); and as a vehicle for customer engagement (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn). Like the elephant in the fable of the blind men, writes Robin Neifield, social media "can resemble an odd assortment of different shapes and sizes, textures, and appendages, but when taken together, it's a powerful animal that leaves a big footprint."
Narrowing down to marketing, let's say you've decided to investigate how social media can work in your programs to increase customer engagement. You'll want to plan your strategy, do research, and set guidelines -- this infographic is a good roadmap of initial steps, and summarizes B2Bento's whitepaper on the use of social media in B2B marketing.
In the research phase, you need to figure out where in the social landscape your customers are. Where are the conversations happening? What trends are customers concerned with? Who are the influencers, who the evangelists? Finding this all out takes research that goes beyond simply exploring the keywords you might already be using in SEO or pay-per-click campaigns.
Liana Evans sketches out 10 research tools, from free to enterprise level, that can help you determine where to focus your efforts in the social space. They range from simple buzz trackers such as Google Alerts to sophisticated sentiment analysis packages, including the widely used Radian6 (here is a detailed review of the latter). Google Insights and Twitter Trends can give you a leg up on the jargon and slang that may be used in these media around your industry. Tools such as Technorati, Compete, and Quantcast can help you find influencers and evangelists, and get a bead on their reputations.
Research into keywords and trending topics can also pay off in benefits for pay-per-click display advertising, as Hollis Thomases explains. Researching competitors using tools such as SEMRush, SpyFU (pardon the expression), or AdGooRoo (ditto) can give further insight into what keywords are most applicable to your marketing efforts.
What lessons have you learned along the trail to productive use of social media for marketing? Please share your insights in the comments below.
— Keith Dawson , Senior Editor, The CMO Site
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