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“If you really want to know about business, you should refer to Scott Steinberg.” -Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Group

Social Media Marketing: 10 Must-See Hints and Tips

Like social media speakers of all kinds can point out, social networks are exploding in popularity and performance. But with more businesses, brands and working professionals turning to social media and inbound marketing as a source of public relations, corporate communications outreach and marketing activity, it’s important to remember. As ephemeral as the dialogue we engage in on social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ may seem, the conversations we engage in can have a pronounced impact on both our organization’s ability to successfully operate and customer relationships – and one whose influence can echo far beyond a simple post or tweet.

Stakes are high for today’s leading enterprises though, as social media speakers might also note: The anonymous, public and often informal nature of Internet dialogue often leads corporations to relax their guard, even as levels of audience scrutiny sharply increase. Managing a brand’s social media presence can be a tricky balancing act, albeit one that’s made much simpler when you follow a few simple hints and tips. Specifically, keep things polite, professional and always acknowledge your audience’s voice, and be adding value or insight to the shape of evolving exchanges.

Looking to enhance your corporate social media efforts and drive meaningful dialogue with end-users without appearing indifferent, insincere or ill-attuned to customers’ needs? Here are ten simple rules every business and brand should follow to show fans and followers proper respect, and maximize the value of their online presence.

  1. Thou Shalt Be Patient and Considerate. While many campaigns can and do go viral seemingly overnight, it’s important to remember that businesses rarely experience instant breakthroughs or meteoric audience growth on social networks. More important than chasing huge follower or subscriber counts is to consistently and meaningfully engage an audience by creating helpful and insightful content that addresses key concerns or speaks to their needs. Over time, through constant contributions, postings and two-way dialogue with users, this commitment will help your business build a loyal and involved following whose influence and bottom-line impact may far outstrip that of larger, but less engaged audiences by several orders of magnitude. Be relevant, be generous and be sincere – while doing so may not seem as sexy or instantly gratifying as posting a video or infographic that goes viral, it will help you build trust, empathy and – most importantly – relationships, the coin of the modern social realm.
  1. Thou Shalt Not Be Indifferent to the Voice of Thy Customer. When you engage in social media, you’re committing yourself to taking a role in very public and ongoing customer conversations – as social media speakers will tell you, this means consistently having to acknowledge other parties’ opinions, and embrace both the good and the bad. While it’s nice to receive compliments, many times, organizations will just as often be faced by harsh or critical feedback. Instead of looking the other way or pretending the situation doesn’t exist when someone posts something unflattering, take a moment to objectively assess and internalize the feedback being received. Constructive criticism not only presents opportunities to learn, grow and improve our efforts to serve end-users – it also presents a chance to engage in human exchanges, and apologize, fix and appease the situation. In other words, the goal is to create conversations, not critics, and optimize the level of customer support and service provided to your audience. Sometimes, simply taking a moment to listen and acknowledge others’ voices, or answer questions directly instead of sending users careening through a maze of mind-numbing customer support pages, can bridge and mend gaps that threaten to build a gulf between you and end-users.
  1. Thou Shalt Be True to Thyself. You’ve spent ample time crafting your brand’s core values, mission statement and messaging throughout your website, marketing materials and advertising efforts. Now is not the time to abandon the positive image you’ve worked so hard to cultivate, or forsake professionalism or propriety in the name of popularity. Given the medium’s more personable nature, social media exchanges should certainly be more human than more formal outreach efforts. But all should be respectful of customers, audience needs, and the positive image you’ve worked so hard to cultivate. To this extent, it’s important not only to respect fans’ and followers’ time and intelligence. It’s also vital to be consistent with your branding and messaging across all platforms, so fans and followers know both who you are and the values that your business stands for.
  1. Thou Shalt Think Before Thy Post. Trade secret: Every post or status update you share should add value for your audience, regardless of whether that value comes in the form of enlightenment, entertainment or an uplifting exchange. To this extent, make every share unique, and think about how to ensure that it counts – i.e. what can you add to the conversation that others’ can’t? As a simple example, retweeting posts of note is an excellent way to share information – but adding your own opinion, or links to resources that expand further on thoughts shared, is an even better one. Likewise, if you post every single little detail or update about your brand, industry and products, fans may be likelier to quickly becoming fatigued, unless these items are pressingly relevant. Respect your audience and think about how to make posts superlative, singular and of notable worth before sharing. As before, the key question to ask yourself: What’s in it for them? Many voices are competing for attention online. Always be considering how to stand out above the din, and both drive interest and incentivize pass-along.
  1. Thou Shalt Be Brief. Remember to keep it short and sweet on social media websites: You have only a few seconds to catch someone’s attention, and even less time to keep it. Therefore, make sure your posts have an immediate impact and utilize concise language, links, references or (better yet) visual assets such as photos, videos and infographics which quickly convey key information at a glance. Look for ways to distill ideas down to a single statement or elevator pitch that clearly and quickly communicates subject matter, tone and target audience, and provides further points of reference should audiences look to dive deeper into the topic.
  1. Thou Shalt not Hog the Conversation. Like we discussed before, social networks function much like cocktail parties: While everyone may have something interesting to say about themselves, no one wants to hear your entire life history, or get stuck talking to the person who ignores others and only talks about themselves entire time. The same rule applies to your social media presence, where it’s important to listen before speaking, and hear what others have to say – doubly so, as the dynamics of conversation and rules of online behavior may differ depending on context and the parties in attendance. In fact, Business Insider suggests that companies should follow the 60/20/20 rule. This means that 60% of the time you should be spent proactively engaging your audience, 20% spent sharing content your audience will care about, and the remaining 20% should be spent talking about your brand or business.
  1. Thou Shalt Do Good. Social media works like satellite radio being pumped through a speaker system – it can make your online voice louder, and travel further, faster than ever before. Always be engaging and upbeat (negativity never reflects well on the poster, especially online, where conversational subtlety and nuance are often lost in translation), and take advantage of the opportunities presented to promote positivity. Remember the advice that social media speakers will always give you: Material you post online should be less promotional than beneficial in nature, and designed to help audiences save time or money, enhance learning and awareness, or offer key opinions and insights – in other words, built to improve the recipient’s condition. From securing support for charitable ventures to offering deeper looks at evolving industries and trends or helping fans and followers make valuable connections, consistently look for ways to aid, assist and uplift your audience.
  1. Thou Shalt Keep it Strictly Business. For corporations and working professionals alike, it’s important to note: While color and personality are always welcome online, business and pleasure seldom mix well in social media contexts – personal and corporate accounts are best kept separated. Remember: Users following business accounts do so because they identify with your brand, and expect content in keeping with its core image and focus. Posting anything outside of this realm may prompt confusion, surprise, and/or indifference, and has the potential to reflect poorly on your brand. Communications should universally be polite, professional and on topic – where cause for possible misinterpretation or controversy exists, play it safe and skip posting. Tone and voice should, as noted above, also be upbeat and respectful – complaints, negative comments and stabs at the competition should be avoided at all costs.
  1. Thou Shalt Respect the Hashtag. Hashtags are a great vehicle for highlighting topics of relevance, drawing audience’s attention and fostering fan engagement. However, they can also be dangerous when used incorrectly – i.e. too frequently or in inappropriate contexts. Oftentimes, brands overuse hashtags or place them in unrelated posts to drive added visibility. But doing so may leave viewers feeling cheated, add no relevant context to conversations and/or potentially alienate readers. This can cause a negative reaction to your online voice and ultimately your business, which will not only not help you to gain any new fans, but potentially detract from your brand.
  1. Thou Shalt Not Lie. Skip the temptation to embellish, fib or inflate the truth online, especially since it can easily backfire or even lead to potential legal repercussions. Likewise, be honest with your audience: If fans and followers have questions about an evolving scenario – e.g. a potential PR crisis – sometimes, the best answer is simply a prompt: “Apologies, but we don’t know… however, rest assured we’re working on it, and will let you know as soon as possible.” Trust is the foundation of any relationship, real or online, and its loss can have a marked impact on both your brand and customer perception. As Benjamin Franklin once pointed out, it takes many exchanges to build a positive reputation, but only one mistake to undo it.
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