Monday, June 29, 2009

Social Media as a Marketing Tool

Over the past several months, many of our sponsors have been asking us how they should incorporate social networking sites into their marketing plan and better reach the younger segments of their customer base. Most recently, that discussion has been driven by the rapid growth of Twitter and Facebook, and the accompanying tales of companies that have seen great results from clever marketing strategies.

Whether you are an established brand or an up-and-comer trying to build buzz, there is a growing worry among companies that not having a Twitter profile, a blog or a Facebook page means you're "behind the ball." Often, the main barrier is either unfamiliarity with social media or difficulty evaluating whether these initiatives are really worth the time, effort and hassle. So if you decide to commit to building a social marketing plan, what sort of return can you expect and how is it measured?

Understanding Your Options:

In our experience, social media marketing can be worth the time and effort, but it's important to take a measured approach. There are a lot of ways out there to engage customers, including traditional methods like building a sales force or going to a trade show. Social media is just one of many options in your marketing toolkit. The upside is that it's cheap, but the downside is that it takes time on an ongoing basis and requires expertise to really make it pay off.

Before spending a lot of time on social networking, make sure you think through your objectives and come up with a plan for how you're going to use it to complement your marketing strategy. Here’s a quick outline of the value and opportunities offered by a few of the sites that we’d recommend you consider as part of your strategy:

1. Facebook Page
  • Connect with customers from around the world who use Facebook every day (in our case, first responders)
  • Showcase your brand and drive traffic back to your corporate site
  • Engage purchasers with multimedia features such as video demos and product images
  • Grow your list of friends and use Facebook as an engine for announcing everything from a promotion to a major product launch

2. Twitter Profile
  • Provide your customers real-time updates on company announcements, discounts and promotions, product launches and answering FAQs
  • Develop a follower list and speak directly to customers with short, conversational messages about your brand and products
  • Follow individuals in your industry and find out what they are discussion (in our case, we are seeing trainers, media contacts, industry experts, distributors and manufacturers all using Twitter)

3. LinkedIn Group
  • Create discussions between decision makers within a professionally focused environment that is directly tied to your company
  • Educate purchasers by posting relevant information such as news, available jobs, white papers and research results
  • Build a database of active members and communicate to them directly as the group moderator

4. Company Blog
  • Become a thought leader in your market by sharing your expertise and best practices with readers
  • Archive content relevant to your company in a branded, search engine-friendly environment
  • Organize link exchange between valued clients and partners to your blog for increased search value

Getting Started:

Now that you know where to go, let's talk about what you need to do. Like any new marketing investment, learning the best way to use social media for your specific company takes time and a lot of trial and error.

If you do it yourself, you’ll need to allocate time on an ongoing basis to keep your profiles fresh and grow an audience. If you are not willing to do so, don’t even start.

Below are a few brief tips of how to stay efficient as you get started:
  1. Let Others Do the Work
    One of the easiest solutions use services that offer exposure within their existing social network. For example, for our sponsors, we'll post links to sponsor-submitted content, including press releases, new product announcements and white papers, or even direct links to our sponsors' sites to our Twitter feed, Facebook page and in-house social networking sites. We've already done the work of aggregating a network and can speak directly to our members in a nonintrusive way.

  2. Use Tools
    Stay up-to-date on the latest applications that simplify social networking processes. Developers are constantly innovating new ways to interact with social media sites and improve your experience. For example, TweetDeck is a useful app which, among other uses, allows you to simultaneously post messages to your Facebook page and Twitter profile with one click.

  3. Create and Follow a Plan
    Create a social networking plan and appoint someone to become your resident expert. Using Twitter as an example, here are some main points that should be included in your strategy:
    1. Type of content - What are the types of information that you want to communicate? We focus primarily on product announcements, tips and breaking news.
    2. Frequency of posts - How often will you tweet and from how many different profiles? After you decide what type of content you want to post you can then determine the appropriate number of posts. Posts should be done weekly at the very minimum.
    3. Integration - Can you strengthen your corporate site and add fresh content by incorporating an RSS feed of your tweets? Or convert followers to newsletter subscribers?
    4. Promotion - How do you increase your followers and convert non-Twitter users to followers? Twitter can be a powerful way of keeping in touch with customers in between purchases. Adding an icon to your site or newsletter is an easy way to add followers and create more ongoing interaction.

Hopefully this gives you some helpful tips and things to think about as you consider your own social marketing strategy. On a side note, we've recently launched a couple of new services to help our sponsors better make use of social networking. If you're interested in learning more, contact us directly.


Anonymous said...

Twitter is a powerful tool. I use Twitter Search to look for keywords use by people that share my interests like paramedic, EMT, EMS, elearning, and running.

Also Twitter Search generates an RSS feed for search terms that I use to monitor mentions of my company and products.

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