It's 9 a.m., and your Website is getting traffic from all over the globe. People are signing up for your newsletter, downloading files, watching demos, registering for your service, and giving you their credit card numbers. Business Nirvana!
The first question any marketer should ask is, "How did they find us?" Social networks are providing new media for communication with pockets of real customers with real money to spend.
Still, even though everyone wants to build social networking to "listen in on the voice of the customer" and to "obtain live feedback," there are risks. Here are a few suggestions to help make your social networking project a success instead of a waste of precious marketing dollars:
1) Define expectations. Before you get started, define your expectations and what you hope to learn by engaging in social networking on behalf of your firm. Don't overplan. You don't need a 90-day campaign plan to join Facebook (Nasdaq: FB) or Twitter.
2) Identify the team. It is better if you have multiple people monitoring and engaging to keep the flow to your site as real-time as possible. This does not mean you need to hire new staff. Carve out time from your team's schedules to engage actively for one or two hours a day. You can cover a lot of ground quickly in the social media world. Be warned, though: You can also get very lost, very quickly, if you're not careful. Set boundaries and guidelines to ensure the team is working together toward that common goal (see No. 1).
3) Stake your claim. If you haven't done so already, go to every social network you hear about and register. Even if you never engage with that particular site, it will be good to have your corporate brand name locked down. This goes for product brand names as well.
4) Know your tools. It's important to know which tools to use to mine information from social networks. Google Alerts is a wonderful service and at the top of my list. TweetBeep does the same for Twitter and is fantastic. BudURL.com gives you insight into tracking your social network activity as it spreads throughout the Web. The more intelligence you gather, the better off you'll be in the end.
5) Find your voice. Every good writer knows the importance of "finding their voice." If you're not the best person to "connect" with your customers, find someone who is and who speaks their language.
6) Communicate. Your first foray into a social network is like walking into a dinner party halfway through. Share a few comments and toss out a few lines of bait. Look for your cue and then engage. The conversation you start today may last for days or get caught up in a larger group. Go with the flow. Along the way you'll pick up a few fans who think the way you do and others who disagree, but I assure you the conversation will be lively and valuable.
7) Collaborate. Identify people within social networks who want to contribute to your cause. Sometimes they are fans, but not always. Those who disagree with your way of thinking may be generous with their feedback, and you'll both learn something in the process. Use social networks to create ad-hoc focus groups. The more open the conversation, the deeper you'll see into the buying behavior of your customers.
8) Educate. Social media is all about sharing. Don't keep what you've learned to yourself. Share it with anyone willing to listen. Encourage others to share what they have learned, and do all you can to foster growth in this area. Not only will you grow your own market, but you'll also expand the entire market, identify new opportunities, and uncover hidden partnerships.
9) Invite. Create a social media page on your Website that showcases the sites where you engage. Again, it's all about communicating in the places where your customers gather. Be open to trying new sites.
10) Analyze. At the end of the day, you can't prove what you can't measure. Go back to your original list of expectations each day. What have you learned? What can you change to invoke greater results from these activities? If you had to give three pieces of advice to someone challenged with the same tasks, what would they be?
— Andy Meadows is founder of Live Oak 360, an Austin-based Web technology services company.
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