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Social Media – A Beginners Guide

By David Terrar, Founder and CXO of Agile Elephant

This is a guide to get you started on the road to becoming social media savvy.  If you are here on Compare the Cloud then you are interested in leading edge technology from either the buy side or the sell side.  You might be thinking in terms of your personal brand, or your company’s profile.  Whatever your focus, one thing is certain – social media is part of the fabric of 21st Century business.  You need to master it, or it will master you.  Let’s get you started!

Why Bother?

Over the last 20 years the World has steadily been going digital, with the most significant changes in terms of cloud, social and mobile technology happening within just the last 10.  Business in general, and marketing in particular, has been transformed. More than 4 out of 5 businesses of all sizes from Fortune 500 to SMEs are using social media in their communications and marketing today.  From books, to cars, to our next IT investment, as buyers we now do a significant amount of research via social media – we trust recommendations from our peers more than direct marketing campaigns – before we even talk to the sales person in the shop or at the potential service provider.  In turn, if you are doing the selling, if you use social media to research your prospective customers, then you are guaranteed to be more successful than your colleagues that don’t – in fact 85% of customers expect businesses to active on social media.  And what about hashtags?  Just about every event, advert and TV programme now has a hashtag and social media conversations going on around them.  The shift to social media is happening whether you like it or not, whether you join in or not.  In today’s ultra-competitive business environment social media is a key tool you need to be using to connect, to win business, to differentiate yourself and differentiate your company. 

20 years of a World Gone Digital

What does it give me?

For your company it can help you:

  • Gain more exposure
  • Find prospects and leads
  • Increase website traffic
  • Find new business partners
  • Improve search engine rankings
  • Reduce marketing expenses
  • Close more business
  • Improve brand awareness
  • Add value to your reputation

For you personally it can help you gain:

  • Credibility
  • Recognition
  • Influence in your market sector or area of expertise
  • Valuable intelligence on your prospects or competitors
  • Potential clients
  • Rewarding partnerships
  • New opportunities

Social Media Strategy in three steps

Marketing has changed forever.  We’ve moved from a world of a few TV channels, to a world of 100s.  From one way TV, print and billboard broadcast style advertising to a two way conversation across multiple channels using many different types of technology.  But the key to this new world was expressed in a seminal, on-line book in 1999 called the Cluetrain Manifesto which explained:

“All Markets are conversations” 

That simple phrase points to how you can be successful with social media.  You have to find where your customers are hanging out, go there and join the conversation.  We put it in to a 3 phase strategy:

  • Find your community
  • Add value (but be authentic!)
  • Make it part of your workflow (and make use of your tribe)

Find your community (or what channels should I use?)

Where does your community hang out on-line?  There will be many answers to this.  It will depend on the type of product or service, your particular industry sector, and the specific audience you want to address.  There will be standard social media channels like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube to address, but there may be specific forums and bulletin boards you need to consider too.  For example, suppose you are selling services in to the small business space in the UK.  If so, you can’t ignore a traditional bulletin board style forum called UK Business Forums – you have to be there answering questions, joining in discussions.

Add Value (but be authentic)

The key to social media success is in adding value to the conversation.  Too many companies use an old style marketing methodology and simply broadcast their standard messages on these new channels.  Press releases online – no added value and no personality.  That doesn’t work.  What you need to do is listen to your audience, join in the conversation and add value by answering questions or by sharing good quality, relevant content.  Answering their questions will demonstrate your expertise in the subject.  Sharing good quality content will add value, but it isn’t easy.  It takes time and effort to find good sources and then share – ideally with some added commentary – but manage this  correctly and you will stand out from the crowd.  As well as the content you need to share some of yourself too – people are interested in authentic voices and authentic stories.  Storytelling is a powerful component in any marketing, but it becomes even more useful in the social media world of near instant communication and rapid feedback.  As well as the content you find, you need to create content yourself, and that’s hard for everyone and every organisation.   You and your company should consider starting a blog if you haven’t already.  It’s the single most significant thing you can do to improve your success in social media and online.  

Make it part of your workflow (and make use of your tribe)

To be a social media success means working at it, probably every day, certainly a few times a week.  Creating a strategy is important and ensuring that you stick to it is essential – it should become part of your natural workflow. There are a huge selection of tools, some free, and some where “going pro” is useful and modestly priced which can help you make the most of your time, track and monitor the success of your strategies and automate the process too.  These tools help you search out conversations, follow particular topics or groups, find good content and make it easy to retweet and automate some of the process of sharing and replying for you.  On top of making it a habit, don’t forget to enlist the help of your tribe.  That might be colleagues in your company, or other experts and commentators in your field, your customers or your friends.  When you post a good Tweet, Facebook or LinkedIn post, tip off your tribe to share, retweet or comment.  The extra activity will help you get noticed, gain recognition, and more followers.    

What channels?

As we said in finding your community, you need to think beyond the standard social media channels and recognise there are other online spaces, forums, sites and bulletin boards that might be extremely important for your industry sector or topic.  But what of the standard channels – should I be there?

Twitter – almost certainly

Facebook – possibly, and particularly important for retail and certain audience types

LinkedIn – it’s the professional’s network, and you certainly need to be there as a person and probably as a company

YouTube – video is a powerful medium, and with today’s smartphones making production easier – certainly worth considering  

A blog – a significant investment in time, but definitely worth it

The rest – Google+, Pinterest, Instagram, Flickr, Xing, Foursquare, Tumblr, Vine, etc. If you are just starting your social media journey you probably don’t need to consider these yet, but for certain topics and certain types of business they will become useful and relevant at some point.  You also need to watch for new trends.  Periscope is a new service for instantly live streaming, publishing to your Twitter timeline/followers and simultaneously recording the stream so you can publish it on YouTube.  People are experimenting with it today, but within a year it might become significant.  Keep an eye open for these new networks as things can change fast.   

Creating content

Whether it is 140 characters of a tweet, or several hundred words of a blog post, you need good, compelling content.  The “content marketing” topic has been steadily gaining in importance, both because it is a primary feed to your social media strategy and because of the continual changes in Google’s search algorithm.  Now, more than ever, fresh, new content is exactly what you need to improve your social media, blog or your website’s search ranking.

Create good headlines!

The world is awash with digital content.  If you want your signal to reach beyond the noise then you need a great headline to get noticed.  Learn the rules from traditional journalism, the tabloids, and more than 10 years of experience of the bloggers that have gone before you.  Numbers always help (as in “101 killer ideas for your headline”).  Lists and how-to articles get read.  Controversy is good.  Secrets are great.  Are they the best, or the worst?  You get the idea – invest time in a good headline, then people are more likely to follow your link and read.

Use visuals!

There is no doubt that your tweet or your article is more likely to be read if it comes with a strong image or a cool diagram.  It takes more effort, but it’s worth it.  Video can be powerful too.  

Create a good profile

For every different social network, you need to understand the basics and set up a good profile.  You’ll need a professional photograph as your avatar, a good description with keywords that explain your expertise, and links to your blog or website.  For some you will need a header image or background.  Choose carefully – these are your 5 second attention grabbers. 

Get help!

There is plenty of good advice online to help.  You can find help at Hubspot or Copyblogger or Jeff Bullas.  

Or you can come to Agile Elephant for help and advice.  We provide a range of social media training, workshops and services to help you educate your team, define your strategy, set up and support your social media presence and run your various social media channels.  Contact us to find out more.