The use of Social Media as a business tool is now generally accepted (grudgingly in some cases). Acceptance of the channel and recognition of opportunity is a first step, one that leads immediately to questions on approach, potential issues, concerns and other considerations. The following ’10 Social Media Considerations fro Business’ should help to frame your thinking if you are starting out, or provide a good ‘cross-check’ for existing participants keen to assess performance and practice.
1. Why social media?
Social Media in some form or another is here to stay. The most recent Sensis research highlighted some key facts about the Australian businesses and social media, particularly:
- 79% of small businesses with a social media presence believe investment in social media contributes to increased sales.
- 34% of medium sized businesses have a social media presence
- The average annual expenditure on social media made by large businesses with a social media presence is over $100,000
- 22% of small businesses with a social media presence update their social media daily
- 79% of medium sized businesses with a social media presence have a Facebook page. But what about your audience? In terms of hours spent using these platforms, Australians lead the world. For example, in Australia there are 12,000,000 active monthly Facebook users – that’s around half the population of the country. With Australian leading the way with Social Media, it is not surprising that business follows and most are implementing social media initiatives.
2. What are your objectives?
The best social media approach for you is one that achieves your objectives. Instead of letting the hype of social media drive your behaviour, come at the subject from a top-down strategic approach. What are your personal or business objectives? How can marketing, networking and online platforms assist? What is the best outcome for you at this current point in time? Do you need more ‘discovery and awareness’? Do you need better ‘engagement and interaction’? Do you just need to be better prepared for the future and signal your awareness of the channel? Often it will be a combination of a number of objectives, but one outcome will lead the race and help define the best approach. Ultimately you want social media to work for you and your business – not the other way around.
3. When should you start?
“Since the market and platforms are rapidly changing, lets wait until things settle down” Wrong. Social media is far more about networking than technology. If there was a new ‘Industry Association’ in your field, would you have more influence and make more connections if you joined early or if you joined after everyone else? There’s your answer. You cannot leverage your network, spread the word to your audience or counter negative messages in the marketplace if you have no platform, no presence, no audience, no network and no experience. Build your platform and your network now for when you need it most. You can adjust for technology and platform changes – and your network and content can be transitioned as things change.
4. What’s the best approach?
The best place to start is to use what you already have, what you know and who you know – in order to make your path a free from roadblocks as possible and to allow you to pick off the low hanging fruit. Taking small steps and using existing material is the proven road to success. You will have content from other places that you can re-purpose into social media channels. You know yourself and your industry, so trust in your experience; remember social media is a network more than a technology. You will know (or know of) people who are using social media, so connect with them and ask them for support. You’re probably using it in some form in your personal life if not in your business. Pick the social media platform that is closest to your network, audience, objectives and comfort zone and make it work before expanding into other platforms.
5. Using the Right Tools
Using the right tool always makes work easier. There are platform tools that let you use, research and manage social media channels – ask your network what they use to make their life easier, but Sprout Social and Hootsuite are tow good solutions. Even more important are ‘your tools’ – these are items that guide you. For example a statement of objectives, a policy on social media use, instructions, publishing schedule, monthly metrics report, resourcing model and source content – your ‘internal/personal tools’ will depend on your needs.Get them ready and the exercise of deploying social media, producing content and managing this channel in conjunction with other networking and communications activities will be a breeze
6. What should I expect? (Measurement and Return)
Most social media activity is a ‘slow burn’. Networks take time to build, cultivate and deliver results. You have to give value to get value and the return is a compounding one. Your returns build over time as your network increases, you grow an established voice and the mechanics of the online world gain traction (search outcomes, network effects and inward links to name a few). This means although you should set clear objectives, you need to grow into them. As a guide, don’t expect anything amazing in the first three to six months. Despite the ‘walk before you run’ caveat, make sure you set targets and measure outcomes. At the very least, this will show you what works and what doesn’t. The simple road to success … do more of what works and less of what doesn’t.
7. How do I sustain social media? (the long term)
The best way to sustain your social media effort is to build slowly. Deliberate, considered and fully resourced but constrained effort over a longer period will be more successful that a short mad dash. The ultimate issue of ongoing sustainability depends on integration … making your social media activity mainstream! Your objectives, content, resources and approach should be integrated. If your social media objectives are the same as your business objectives, content is shared and re-purposed, resourcing is shared and the approach dovetails into other marketing, networking, communication and technical activity, then you have a sustainable (and most likely successful) model.
8. What if my ‘brand’ is trashed? (dealing with negativity)
For some organizations, the reason for avoiding social media is a fear of inciting attack and hearing negative or malicious comment. The evidence does not support this and usually any ‘negativity’ is occurring whether you are a participant or not. The advantage of participation is an ability to influence conversation, address issues, counter malicious statements and be aware of the depth of negative sentiment. Consider five people complaining with an average individual audience of 100 followers or connections. You have built a quality social media network and have 10,000 followers or connections – you carefully respond to one of these complaints. Your considered reply, audience attentiveness and message has an audience of 10,000 compared to the combined negative 500 (5 x 100) that preceded your involvement, regardless of whether you changed the individual view of the individual you replied to. You do not have this power unless you participate and build your network in advance of issues arising.
9. What if I make a mistake? (learning and transparency)
If you stick to objectives, professional behaviour and use well conceived tools as a guide (see point 5), the risks are reduced. Most social media comment can be deleted or at least rescinded. If at the end of the day, you make an honest mistake, it is usually best to learn it early and the lessons won through social media can help stop you from continuing to make the same error in a less discoverable or more expensive manner (such as in your products, services and other communications). If your policy is clear on risk-management, professional behaviour, authorization and escalation, you will have the tools and pathways for dealing with more serious mistakes and issues. In classic risk management, the risks are generally low and certainly not worthy of discounting all of the potential rewards.
10. How do I get help? (support)
The great thing about social media is that the network can be ‘self supporting’ and the volume of information online is vast. Use your own filter and experience to determine what will work for you and what fits with your objectives. In terms of a larger organisation, a balance of internal resources (close to the action and message) and external resources (with broad experience and domain knowledge) delivers the best of both worlds. The other great thing about an ‘internal/external’ mix is support (overflow, leave, training, crisis management, two sets of eyes and multiple viewpoints).
But most of all: Get started today … ‘learn by doing’! You will never regret the network you built early.