Social networks are essential for expanding your web presence—not only for creating social signals now a key component in search engine rankings, which makes your website and blog easier to find in search, but also by giving you more places to be found online.
Creating your profile on each of the major social networks is a first step, but just that. A profile alone won’t get you much. As with most things in life, you’ll get out of social networks what you put into them.
Once you’ve filled out your profile (particularly including your core keywords and links), the basic process for using any of the more than 500 social networks now in existence is pretty much the same:
- Find interesting/relevant/influential people to follow/like/connect with.
- Grow your influence and attract followers/friends/connections by sharing interesting and relevant content—your own, from third parties, and from people you are following / would like to have following you.
- Interact (e.g., ask and answer questions).
- • Twitter, YouTube and Google+: you can follow/add virtually anyone you find interesting/relevant/influential. Don’t be offended if they don’t follow/add you back immediately; they may very well do so once they’ve gotten to “know” you better through your social networking activity.
- • LinkedIn: it’s best to have some familiarity (real world or online) before trying to make a connection. This is a level deeper than the majority of more superficial social networks. This also applies to other professional / social networks (e.g. Plaxo).
- • Facebook: liking a brand page (or asking someone to like yours) is fairly superficial. However, friending someone on Facebook is widely viewed as a deeper level of social networking connection. Put another way, the common pattern is to have more Twitter followers than LinkedIn connections, and more LinkedIn connections than Facebook friends. Only the gauche and boorish would try to friend someone on Facebook that they have no prior connections to.
With those basics established, here are 10 ways for small (or really, almost any size) businesses to use social networks for marketing and PR.
1. Create valuable backlinks for SEO. Links from your profiles and social network posts / updates all help to increase the authority of your website and blog with the search engines, leading to higher rankings. What helps most, however, is having your content shared and passed along by others with high influence in your market space. To encourage sharing, in addition to being active on the leading social networks, place social sharing buttons on your site.
2. Expand your online presence. Google, Yahoo and Bing aren’t the only places people go to look for information. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube all include their own powerful and popular internal search capabilities, and there are numerous social search engines that specifically search social networks and other social media sites. The only way to found on social networks is to be active on them.
3. Develop reputation as a thought leader (or something equally positive). By sharing relevant and helpful information, whether your own of from other sources, you increase your value to those following you, and expand your network. Sharing content developed by others makes you social; sharing content written about you by others enhances your brand image; and sharing your own thought-leadership or other helpful content solidifies your reputation as a smart, valuable resource that can influence decisions.
4. Promote your content / increase web traffic. It’s been written that, “If content is king, links are queen.” In other words, as essential as it is to develop great content, the search engines won’t give it much weight and few people will ever see that content if it doesn’t get linked. Social networks are a great place to build quality links, again particularly when key influencers within the various social networks share your content with their followers.
5. Expand your network of connections. In almost any major city, on almost any day, there are various types of business networking events: breakfasts, happy hours, seminars, forums and other types of events where local business people can meet each other and form new connections. Social media makes it easy to expand your network globally—or at least well beyond the confines of those who either live nearby or travel to major industry events. Social networks are invaluable for helping you make connections with prospective customers, additional contacts within client companies, industry journalists, bloggers and other influencers that it would be difficult if not impossible to connect with otherwise.
6. Develop and build relationships. Making connections is just the beginning. Social sharing and interactions enable you to develop relationships that can be very meaningful and rewarding, over time, with people you’ve never physically met, perhaps even never spoken with by phone. These relationships can lead to increased online exposure, expanded knowledge, new insights and ideas, partnerships, referrals, and ultimately—increased business.
7. Perform competitive and market research. Social media isn’t all about you, of course. Knowing what kinds of questions your prospective customers are asking, what problems they are trying to solve, and their opinions and observations about competitive firms can help you develop content that better meet market needs and set you apart from competitors.
8. Spot opportunities for innovation. Knowing more about the issues and concerns of your target prospects can also inspire ideas for product enhancements or new products, services or processes that lead to increased sales, greater customer satisfaction and loyalty, and/or new market opportunities.
9. Improve customer service. Traditional customer service channels are great for capturing information about and resolving specific customer issues (e.g., product malfunctions or “how do I…” questions). Social networks, however, open up possibilities for learning about other types of issues that may never lead to a customer service call: your product disappoints in some manner, your online form is too long and/or complicated, your website content is confusing, a particular piece of information or contact phone number is difficult to find, etc.
10. Generate leads and grow your email list (carefully!). There’s a reason this item is last on the list: while the goal of social media marketing is ultimately to produce an ROI, where the “R” is usually generated by increased sales, it’s crucial not to promote your offerings too blatantly or too early in the social networking process. Engaging in self-promotion too early will get you labeled as a spammer, damage your reputation and hobble your ability to grow a productive network. Promoting too blatantly is never advisable. Rather, once you have a network established, use social media to promote “gated” content like white papers or reports, invite followers to register for webinars, and promote your newsletter on your blog and other content pages in order to build a list for lead nurturing.
Establishing a presence on the leading social networks and utilizing an effective social media strategy will enhance your online presence and “findability” on search engines as well as within the social networks themselves.