Walk the Line: Balancing the Resources and Rewards of Social Media

balance-social-article For those charged with growing a business in today’s marketplace, social media can present a bit of a quagmire. With all of the hype around social media and the proliferation of social networks, it’s easy to get sucked in to the vortex, spending countless hours obsessing over follower counts, scouring the Web for interesting content to share and seeking out opportunities to cultivate relationships with key influencers. However, no business – no matter how large or small – has unlimited resources to dedicate to social media. You must find a healthy balance between the time and energy you invest and the rewards you stand to gain from your participation. As with any marketing endeavor, success starts with a plan. When determining how to direct your social media efforts, you take into account three key elements:
  • Your target market
  • Social media sites and the capabilities of each
  • Your short- and long-term business growth goals
By carefully weighing each of these factors, you can create a robust social media plan that is specifically tailored to your business and your target audience.

Know your customers.

At the heart of the question of how much time to spend on social media marketing lies a fundamental understanding of your customer. Without an intimate understanding of who you're marketing to, you cannot determine the best methods of reaching them. This will also help you determine in which social media sites to invest the most time and energy. More than likely, many of your customers are spending time on at least one social media platform. Statistics favor of this theory: 30 percent of people across the globe are online, and these users spend 22 percent of the time they’re online on social media. But be careful not to make assumptions based solely on the age of your customers. After all, it's users over the age of 55 who are currently driving growth in social networking via the mobile Web. One of the best ways to learn exactly how and where to engage with your customers is to do some good old-fashioned research. Ask them to fill out a survey and provide them with a reward that’s desirable enough to motivate them to respond.

Where are your customers connecting?

This is another important piece of the puzzle that will help you fine-tune your social media investment. If your customers spend a lot of time on Twitter and LinkedIn but not as much on Facebook, then you can divide your time and efforts proportionately. The trick is knowing how to find out where your customers spend their time. Fortunately, each social media site provides some basic research tools that will help you make this determination:
  • Twitter: Use the "Advanced Search" tool to search by keywords and by zip codes to find potential customers, and see how much activity you can identify from these users.
  • Facebook: Facebook’s research tools are somewhat limited, but you can check your competitors’ Pages to see what types of posts are the most popular based on the number of “likes” and comments they receive.
  • LinkedIn: Use the "People Search" feature to identify key individuals as well as relevant groups that may have a lot of traction with your market.
  • Google+: Use Google Analytics to determine the amount of traffic or leads you are getting from your posts.
  • Klout: Use this service to see how your followers are responding to your social media activity. Klout can track most major social sites, including YouTube, Flickr and Instagram.

Absolute minimum effort

At an absolute minimum, you should establish a page on each of the big four social media sites: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+. This accomplishes a number of things. First, by listing your address and basic information on social media sites, you’ll help search engines like Google find your website and list your company’s information properly. Also, keep in mind that customers use all sorts of tools to find you, not just Google. If they happen to search for you on their favorite social site, you want to make sure they’ll find you there. The basic information you should have on your each of your profiles includes:
  • Company name
  • Company logo
  • Website URL
  • Customer service phone number
  • Brief description of your company
This puts you on the social media map, as it were. You can certainly begin engaging potential and current customers after this stage, but even if you do nothing else, this will at least make you accessible. Then, based on the level of engagement of your target market on each site, you can determine how much more you want to do with each account.

Developing campaigns

Finally, once you've determined that you should do some level of effort of social media marketing, you know which sites are best for your market, and you've developed some basic profiles on each site, it's time to formulate a campaign. Just as with any marketing campaign, you must start by identifying specific, measurable goals you want to accomplish. By doing so, you can then determine how many resources can and should be invested in the process to achieve your desired outcome. For example, you may want to reach a goal of 1,000 “likes” on Facebook in the next three months. This is doable for a company on just about any budget, and you'll know pretty quickly if you need to put more effort into getting these “likes.” If you only have 50 after the first week, then you need to step it up. Some companies frame their desired return from their social media activity in terms of dollars and cents. This is not a bad strategy for the long term, but if you’re just starting out, it can actually be deceiving. Why? Because the work of establishing your brand on any social media network is a time-intensive process. It will take a concerted long-term effort to grow your following to the point where you can achieve significant levels of engagement and have a reasonable understanding of the relationship between your participation and the company’s sales performance. For that reason, in the beginning, it’s often more productive to focus on activity-based goals – such as achieving a specified number of followers on Twitter – rather than on more traditional ROI metrics. So take a step back, determine what sites your customers use to connect, focus your efforts on these sites and set some reasonable, time-based goals for yourself. Then, as you begin to gain traction on a particular social media site and establish a foundational understanding of how well it works for engaging customers and driving profitable traffic, then establish some ROI goals for your top engagement-level accounts.