A 5-Step Strategy For Social Networking

As I’m sure you know by now, social networking is the hottest new marketing trend for business of all sizes, including small businesses. But without a dedicated marketing department or a big budget available, it can seem like an overwhelming task to just figure out what to do with social networking, or how to get started with it.

So before you jump in and create a Facebook page or a Twitter account, here are five steps you can follow to make it easier to get your own social networking strategy in place, and also to develop a plan to keep it going for the best possible results with the least amount of additional work for you and your staff.

1. Start with your goals.

Start by determining your business goals for using social networking to promote and market your business. By establishing these goals, you can stay focused on what you want to achieve, and concentrate on the things that will help your business the most.

Some goals to consider include:

* Reaching new potential customers that may not otherwise come in contact with your business

* Getting your message to spread virally through the social networks

* Improving online visibility for your business

* Making a good impression on customers (let’s face it, a social networking presence is an expectation of many consumers today)

* Gaining an edge over your competition

* Building inbound links and improving search engine rankings

These are just a few possible goals, of course. Your goals will depend on the specific needs of your business.

2. Pick a few social networking sites to start with.

The best strategy for many small businesses is to select three or four social networking sites that will give them good “coverage” in the social space. We typically set up our clients in Facebook, Twitter, and either YouTube or LinkedIn, since these are fairly easy to use and they integrate well in an overall social marketing strategy (we will talk about integration in Step 3, next).

It’s also a good idea to customize your profiles and use your company’s existing branding (logo, colors, tagline, graphics, look & feel, etc.) to provide consistency among profiles, give profiles a more professional look, and make it easy for users to recognize and remember your business.

3. Integrate your social networking profiles with your web site and other marketing initiatives.

By integrating your social networking profiles, you can avoid creating social networking “islands” that end up creating extra work for you and/or your staff, where you have to manage and maintain each profile individually. Instead, an integrated social marketing strategy means that you “write once, publish to many” in an organized, well-thought-out strategy that benefits your business and is efficient for your staff to maintain going forward.

For instance, let’s say your monthly e-newsletter has just been published (and sent to your emailing list as part of your regular monthly marketing activities). Now imagine that you want to further publicize the new issue, and also provide links to your web site where additional readers can find it.

With an integrated strategy in place, you can send out ONE announcement that could automatically be posted to your Facebook page, sent out as a “tweet” in Twitter, fed to your account in LinkedIn, published through an RSS feed on your web site, and even added as a new post in your blog. In this integrated example, your announcement would have been posted instantly in five separate places on the web, with just ONE action on your part. That’s the power of integration.

4. Create a Content Pipeline

Once you have your social networking profiles set up and integrated correctly, it’s a great idea to create a content pipeline of items you can use to regularly update your profiles and communicate with your readers.

Start your content pipeline by looking at the marketing activities you are already doing. Do you send out an e-newsletter each month? Post regularly to your blog? Do you run ads in monthly publications, or send out coupons? Do you use Google AdWords or advertise with web banner ads? Do you send out press releases or sponsor community events? Almost anything that you are already doing can be re-purposed and used in your content pipeline.

Once you have a list of items to use, pull out your calendar and put together a basic schedule for adding content to your social networking profiles each week (or month). Remember, if you have an integrated social networking strategy in place, it will be quick and easy to add the content once and have it automatically distributed to all your social profiles at the same time.

5. Track and Measure Results

Like any other marketing initiative in your business, you need to monitor your results in order to know if it’s working and if you are meeting your goals. The same is true for your social networking strategy.

To help you do this, there are many free monitoring tools available online, such as Twilerts or TweetBeep (for Twitter), Technorati RSS Alerts, and Google Alerts that can help you track instances of your company’s name, product, people, etc. when (or if) they are mentioned online.

Also, you can watch your web site stats to see if your social networking strategy is helping to drive additional traffic to your site, and also find out which pages are getting the most traffic. Over time, it should become clear if your social networking strategy is helping you achieve your goals, or if you need to make some adjustments to improve your results.