10 Step Random Social Media Strategy

Having been helping out a friend for his new Startup/SME recently, I advised on a few basic tips on social media (emphasis on basic) to get them thinking. So basic I thought I’d post the tips here, for anyone new to social media marketing. Social media has moved on leaps and bounds since I last wrote on the subject. And the pace of innovation cruises on as more sophisticated platforms emerge (FourSquare, mobile apps) and existing platforms develop (Facebook Open Graph), pushing the boundaries.

The Social Media Bandwagon

Image courtesy of Matt Hamm via Flickr

But with so much going on, where do you start? For most, the start, at this moment in time, exists of Facebook, Twitter and Blogging. Each have their values, purposes and challenges, but where do you focus your social media marketing on when starting out? Here is a random thought process which helped this SME think about the potential for developing their Social Media strategy.

1. Twitter is your most prolific business building tool in Social Media Land

Many think Twitter is a real engagement tool to speak to their customers (ie Dell) yet so many others find the B2B benefits far outweigh the B2C. For this particular company, with their new product, Twitter can be a great way to create market interest and awareness. If you’re in this boat, find Twitter users within your industry and look at who they follow – follow these people. They’ll either be customers of the brands, or business partners/competitors. This is a great way to build awareness. You need to get following them for them to follow you and find out about your new product. Follow all the mainstream companies in this industry.Think about what your most important metrics is however – is it purely the number of followers? Retweets? Click throughs? This should influence how you build up your portfolio of followers.

2. Ensure you keep Twitter updated

So if you’ve taken the Twitter route, then keep it updated! The accounts that fail are those that are
  • neglected – you have a thousand followers but forget to post updates
  • boring and useless – you post insomnia fodder, wake up!
  • updated too frequently – those Twitter accounts that post messages every 5 minutes and clutter my incoming Twitter stream…. yes I unfollowed you!
You will lose followers if you subscribe to any of those.

3. Engage.

Twitter is about sharing and conversing; share your own tweets but also retweet interesting, on-topic stuff. Also try and comment on what others are saying.
Why not:
  • relate and respond to your followers; what are they talking about?
  • analyse trending topics – can you add anything of interest to get Retweets or more Followers?
  • tweet about interesting things you’re doing (like taking your product to a location for free giveaways for example)
  • retweet interesting but relevant stuff
  • IF you have a blog, automate Tweets each time you write a post – drive interest back to your blog!

4. Design a decent Twitter background

Its not hard; its a great way of introducing your product or brand – break open the 140 word limit with a 1000 words! Inform followers on who you are and what you do, make it look as professional as any page on your website. Its another entry point to your brand, treat it like any other page within your website

5. Post your Tweets onto your website

Twitter Birdy

Image courtesy of Matt Hamm via Flickr

That is, the homepage of your site or within a sidebar of your site, using one of the many Twitter to website plugins available. This will automatically show recent Tweets from your Twitter account. Its a great way of getting more followers and to show that you’re actually talking about cool, relevant stuff that your website visitors will want to subscribe to.

6. Facebook takes time to evolve.

I’d concentrate fully on Twitter first as a startup. Facebook interactions are different to Twitter. Facebook ‘fans’ would be admitting to using or being affiliated with your product or brand. The advantage with Facebook is having messages seen in your fan’s timeline, giving additional exposure to their friends.However Facebook users tend to be more protective of becoming fans of brands than Twitter followers are of following Tweeters. I believe Facebook has a more targetted, B2C benefit than Twitter but this conversely takes more time to nurture to fruition. It also depends on the brand and product and how mainstream Vs niche you are.

7. A Blog (weB log) is a great opportunity to build some 1-2-1 interaction with potential and actual customers

Blogging, words and life

Image courtesy of Kristina B via Flickr

Blogs have been around for years. Much longer than since the term was coined in fact. Its a communication tool and a gateway into your company/brand for your customers, both existing and new. Company blogs range from high level corporate noise through to meaningful insights. This is where the likes of ASOS.com really capture the true essence of what I feel a blog, in the social media marketing sense, really is. A blog creates 2-way dialogue. You’re not talking at your customers, you’re conversing with them. You’re talking their language, about things they’re interested in and you make them feel part of your brand. You make them want to contribute, and make them feel they’re part of your community. New customers see this and warm to this. Existing customers want to spend more money with you because they feel an affinity. This is not just blogging, this is emotional entanglement with your brand.

And because of this, who blogs your brand makes the world of difference… don’t leave it to PR, or Marketing, or Customer Services. Leave it to someone who gets your customers, speaks their language, lives your brand and can communicate with the masses… ASOS have a range of bloggers and this helps keep things fresh and relevant… crucial in an overgrowing Internet of blogs, blogs and more blogs.
Create posts which are interesting but importantly, engage the readers – ask a question or get them thinking. For example end your blog post with an outro question like ‘Do you enjoy shopping online? Would you miss shmoosing the malls if high street retailers went online only? Perhaps both can exist side by side?’

8. Reddit and Digg it!

There are numerous social bookmarking websites out there including Reddit and Digg – if you can create some really interesting blog posts, submit them onto the social bookmarking websites. They’re a great way of extending your small reach. Consider social bookmarking websites as the modern day alternative to the yellow pages. Except you can add articles for free, highly targetted around your article to attract customers/site visitors to your brand or product.
Get people you know to sign up for these sites and get them voted for. The higher the voting, the more chance a) they will get clicked/visited and b) they will pass ‘link equity’ back to the blog meaning you’ll enhance your SEO efforts too! Perhaps that’s best left for another article.

9. Youtube videos as brand messages and traffic drivers

If you have videos of anything to do with your products, get them into your own section in Youtube. Not only will these rank well in search engines but embedding these into your website into a relevant page will boost rankings of that page over time – you’re serving useful content to your site visitors and search engines like that.

10. Keyword optimise your profiles

For example your Twitter profile: insert the typical keywords you’re targetting as well as the brand name. These may help your Twitter profile rank. Same goes for Facebook, YouTube and anything else where your profile is publicly visible. There is the notion of covering brand searches with maximum brand exposure – if you could rank your website number 1 for your brand term, your blog number 2, Twitter account number 3, Youtube page number 4 and perhaps Facebook page number 5, where would that leave competitors? Vying for spots in paid ads of course but it would ensure a clean sweep of the key SEO positions!

And Finally

Setting Social Media KPIs

Image courtesy of James Cridland via Flickr

Ensure you have your KPIs in place before you start! Yes I jumped in head first into tips on strategy, but nothing creates a better strategy than defining your goals from the start… be clear, be SMART, be cool – whatever, just ensure you know and understand your KPIs for social media else you’ll be walking the social media landscape without a checkpoint for success.
There are a whole range of social media initiatives, tips, strategies etc which I’ve not covered off, but hopefully this simple list provides a few pointers on where you could be taking things if you’re still thinking of starting out, or are new to the Social Media Marketing concept.
What else would you advise a new company starting out in social media? Add your tips below!
Depesh Mandalia
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Time for Twitter?

Like many people out there, many thousands of people, I’ve been using Twitter now for a while and it is getting to that point where it is no longer something ‘fun’ to check up on to see what’s going on, but actually quite a burden and time consuming to keep tabs on! There are some great tools out there like TweetDeck and HootSuite (which I use, more on that later) which help to manage Twitter but it has become quite difficult to find the time.

The reason email is so successful is because you can queue the emails to read later as a recipient; I’m finding this difficult with Twitter. To the extent that I’ve stopped following some good Twitterers like Guy Kawasaki due to the mass of updates they make which makes tracking difficult!

I’m still following Mashable but that’s on the borderline too – where is the line drawn between being useful and being a burden?

When I first joined Twitter, it was great to see short excerpts on what other people were linking to like articles and releases. It is a shame that the most simple of things become difficult. Just look at the number of issues Facebook is having right now. I read a report that the sign-up rate is slowing down and the return rate (i.e. logging back on) is dropping, both signs that people are not interested like they used to be.

And this is when the playing field starts levelling and other, possibly better, innovative players enter the market. Just look at MySpace. Still going strong yet with a fraction of the market it used to have.

So am I still going to use Twitter? Damn right. But perhaps not as often as I’d like or as often as I’d used to.

About those Twitter tools….

TweetDeck – I like to use this to keep tabs of Tweets. It sits on your desktop and alerts you when a Tweet arrives. You can also create vertical windows within the application to keep tabs on conversations. In addition you can also log into your Facebook account though I’ve not found that feature too useful.

HootSuite – A fantastic little tool primarily due to 2 things; you can use its URL shorting service, which gives you access to click-stats and you can monitor/Tweet from more than one Twitter account. Great if you have a personal and business one!

There are loads of other tools out there but hey, here’s 2 for starters!

Depesh

I’m tweeting! Twitter’s growth and possible fall…

Twitter – what is it all about? I’ve been thinking that for the past year. Why waste time sending 140 words or less!

Actually its more of a social notification tool. A great way to receive up to the minute thoughts and opinions on anything out there!

http://search.twitter.com is probably the most useful part of it, since you can search for ‘real-time’ discussions.

If you wanted to search the news as it was written or recorded at a particular point in time, you could search ‘Obama Iraq’ in a search engine to see what was written.

Alternatively you can search Twitter and find out what is being discussed, RIGHT NOW. That’s right now as in your time, as you’re sitting there reading this, not my time, at the time I’m actually writing this. Great thing is the last post I just read is going to be different to the one you will see on the same topic. They are the latest in the long list of discussions (following his speech today on withdrawing from Iraq). A discussion is dynamic.

In summary, Twitter is fantastic for leveraging the here and now, what the online world is thinking or writing about any one thing. Can’t fit it into 140 characters? Not a problem, Twitter compresses long URLs into shorter ones to fit! Google sees the value of this…

For me the next big platform is how Twitter turns this profitable. A subscription service would no doubt alienate most users, advertising may annoy many but who knows? Is Twitter about to take on Google to some level? Google did, after all, make a bid on Twitter which was rejected. A wise decision? Perhaps. One thing is for sure, Google thinks it is important enough to spend time on! Is Google about to launch an app which is the same, but better? Will it try another takeover bid?

For all that’s great about Twitter, I think it needs a big injection of Google (that is, Google’s technology):

We’re sorry, but something went wrong.

We’ve been notified about this issue and we’ll take a look at it shortly.

Sorry? You have probably 10m users and you’re sorry? A simple search repeatedly brought up this error, it is not the first. Twitter just cannot cope with the amount of traffic it generates. This is where Google really could add value. Many don’t think it is right for Google to monopolise, but for me, the simple Web user, I love Google! iGoogle, Google Maps (and mobile), Google Analytics, Trends, Web Optimiser – the list of useful apps Google provides is vast. Yes competition is healthy but if Google continues to provide such fantastic services whilst being arguably number one then I’m all for it!

Depesh

Social Media & Customer Reviews – Subjective reasoning and what to do about it

Tripadvisor & Online Travel Agents (OTAs)

“Hotels.com will be integrating TripAdvisor hotel reviews on all of its 31 web sites across Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The inclusion of the reviews is part of the brand’s mission to help its users choose the best property for their travel needs.”
http://www.hotelmarketing.com/index.php/content/article/hotelscom_includes_tripadvisor_reviews

Whilst Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) are quick on the uptake, their philosophy into Social Media is pivoted around ensuring the customer receives the right accommodation based on their preferences. Travel agents are far more promiscuous in their promotion of individual hotels or holiday providers thus the TripAdvisor model suits OTAs better than it does the independent hotels.

Brands cannot hide from the Social Media space due to the global reach of TripAdvisor; embracing TripAdvisor within a brand’s e-commerce strategy has yet to prove itself across the sector to be beneficial; moreover brands are looking for ways to manage their online social status whilst maintaining their integrity. Ventures include Facebook ‘fan’ pages, YouTube video groups and bespoke social media solutions giving the brands a closed control on their online PR.

Brands

In communication with TripAdvisor, the following brands were cited as examples of successful TripAdvisor integration:
http://www.kkhotels.com/en/hotels/london/k-k-hotel-george/traveller-reviews/#startposition
http://www.libraryhotel.com/ (scroll down)
http://www.novotelstkilda.com.au/explore.html

The latter 2 examples show the more moderate embracing of the Social Review stratosphere.

It seems for many, TA raises more questions due to the very diverse range of views expressed. The key to customer reviews is the personal nature of the reviews and the particular experience of the user.

A “25 to 34” year-old couple visiting Hotel X may describe the hotel as “being surrounded by rotting seaweed” and commenting “wish we had saved the money and gone to Resort X just down the road”  is in stark contrast to the same hotel regarding “some of the negative reviews on here”.  After booking his break and then checking TripAdvisor,  Mr Smith  (a fictional character) states “[I was] somewhat worried about what to expect but gladly, I was not disappointed”. On the “rotting seaweed” he commented “the area is not the best area in the bay but for what I paid for I was very much impressed! Oh – and I’m a usually miserable 38 yr old so take this as praise! :-)”

Would you visit Hotel X? I’m sure a vote on this would be split at best, most perhaps siding not to stay at Hotel X.

Mr Smith rated Hotel X at 5/5 whereas Mr Jones rated Hotel X at 2/5. Both had contrasting experiences.

Delving deeper, Mr Smith is a middle-class office worker who spent the weekend at Hotel X for the location and enjoyed the accessibility and comparitively cheap price.

Mr Jones however is a Financial Director of a large law firm and expects much more class from a hotel. He thought Hotel X was more a hostel than a hotel and will probably fire his PA for booking Hotel X! Does this now change your perception?

From past experiences and analysis into customer reviews it has become a dangerous haven for many brands. Whether you’re a hotelier, retailer or financial institution these facts are hard to avoid:

  • Customers are more inclined to post a review when they’ve had a bad experience
  • Customers are likely to post a review if they’ve had an exceptional experience
  • Over 80% of online consumers trust, or use online reviews before making a purchase (apologies I do not have the reference at hand for that figure..)

If 2% of your customers have a bad experience, a further 2% have an exceptional experience and the remaining 96% had a good experience, how would this impact your brand? Would 80% of potential customers trust 2% of your actual customers meaning you lose business to a competitor? Food for thought…

To control or not to control…

The fear for brands with ‘uncontrolled’ customer reviews is the openness of interpretation. Without ‘some control’ on how the feedback is portrayed to the end-user, the branded website hosting 3rd party reviews such as TripAdvisor could well become a PR and Guest Liaison nightmare with more time spent negating the negative reviews. What Tripadvisor does extremely well is in leveraging social power to provide consumers with a great insight into destinations amongst other things. The damage this has on brands is that when you’re the owner of Hotel X, TripAdvisor to some extent doesn’t really care (at time of writing!) what the customer wrote as long as it is clean and honest. Now whilst the manager of Hotel X can go online and respond to comments, how many people will already have been put off, and will continue to be put off even if the Hotel X manager states that this is a one off..

Contextual Reviews

Tripadvisor are used as an example due to the fact that they are arguably the number on travel destination review website in the world! However this is by no means a dig at Tripadvisor. In fact Tripadvisor do currently attempt to provide context to reviews; whether this is enough I don’t know.

An alternative approach to a situation like this is to consider a bespoke solution, tailored towards your brand’s product, allowing categorisation of context for the review. How old is the reviewer? What was their expectation? How could their experienced have  been made better?By leading the customer you can ensure they cover as much of the good as the bad and allow the viewer to firstly make up their mind as to “whether this customer is like me”.

This can be placed against your brand’s own criteria for with some openness on who they’re targeted towards using subtle yet distinct copy. If your hotel is a budget hotel with a USP of  “the best budget view of the bay” then make sure customers see this when they see the reviews.

In summary the Internet world is ever-changing and sooner or later more and more brands will realise the potential business they’re losing out on by not embracing it. I can only hope brands start to realise that it is not really as scary as it sounds, with a little insight and know-how!

What do you think?