How social media can help your business thrive

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With Facebook boasting 2.89 billion active monthly users and Twitter steady at around 206 million active monthly users, social media is here to stay. It has forever changed the way products are marketed. 

A marketing strategy that doesn’t make use of social media is out of date. To take advantage of this huge pool of easily accessible and instantly available customers, you need to learn the secrets that can get your brand noticed online, which is why we’ve created this guide. 

Whether you have a product to sell, a brand to promote or a cause to champion, this guide will show you how to leverage the power of the big social networks, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok, to help get you noticed and spread the word.

Content marketing

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In a nutshell, social marketing is about using various social networks to build up a buzz about your brand or product. Content marketing is an important part of the social marketing mix. Essentially, this means taking the content you probably already produce and using it in your social marketing. There’s no point shouting, no matter how loudly you do it, unless you’ve got something to shout about. 

For example, say you’re an illustrator and you’ve created a great series of illustrations for a client. You could share one of those illustrations on your social media accounts as a promotional activity, along with a link to your website. If the illustration is good enough and plenty of people like it, they’ll start to share it on their social media accounts, and this can create a buzz about your work. 

In most cases, there’s an initial spike in activity, which steadily tails off over a long period. However, in rare situations this growth can be dramatic, and at some point it becomes self-sustaining. If an image, video or campaign achieves the status of ‘going viral’, it can be enough to launch a whole new business. While a viral hit can boost your product or brand into the stratosphere very quickly, it’s a rare event and exceptionally hard to artificially engineer. 

It’s impossible to predict what will go viral, and it’s for this reason you shouldn’t count on it as part of your social media strategy. In most cases, you need to ensure your social marketing is done as part of an organized campaign, which builds up a decent amount of interest over time, steadily growing your brand. Keep in mind that social marketing is a marathon, not a sprint. 

The guide you’re reading right now has everything you need to understand social marketing across the major social networks and share your content effectively, but don’t underestimate how important it is to have great content in the first place.  Without great content that people are proud to share with their friends, you will fail.

If people see great content being shared, then chances are high that they’ll want more of it, and that they will head to your website to learn more. Of course, not everybody has an instantly accessible stream of memorable content that’s reliably shareable. If the thought of content being key to your social strategy makes you nervous, it might be time to investigate the power of storytelling.

Simply put, people respond to stories - it’s in our genes. You can imagine our distant ancestors huddled around a fire, telling stories to their children over the dying embers. The same approach works well on social media. For example, if you’re looking for funding to start or finish a film project, make a short video to explain why this project is so important to you, and how you arrived at the point where you need more funding to finish it. Straight-up demands for cash won’t impress anybody, but fundraising videos are eminently shareable, so long as they tell a story that gets underneath people’s skin.

A process, not a project

A great benefit of social marketing is that you can measure its success by leads and customers, rather than the more traditional web metrics, such as page views, time spent on a page, and bounce rate. The various social networks have their own analytics to help you assess the impact of your efforts. For example, you can see immediately how many times a Facebook post has been shared, and how many times your most recent tweet has been retweeted, but you also get a much more direct feel for how successful social marketing has been by how your sales or customer contacts are doing. 

What you do on social media has a direct effect, and the results should be instantly apparent. A major advantage of social marketing is that there’s no charge to post on social networks, and provided your posts are interesting and they’re being viewed and shared, your message is getting out there without you having to pay for it. Of course, while the medium is free, your time isn’t, and you will need to invest a significant amount of it in your social marketing efforts if you want to get it right. 

An important part of social marketing is managing the conversation you have with your customers, and there’s no more direct, or public, way of doing this than via social media. Of course, social networks aren’t averse to taking your money to display adverts or to promote your messages. Your initial reaction might be that it makes no sense paying for a promotion when you can get it for free with good content, but take time to consider this option. Facebook advertising and promoted tweets can prove very cost-effective in the right circumstances. 

With great power, comes great responsibility

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Also, let’s not forget, the power of social media can be used for bad, as well as good. If ever there was a cautionary case that demonstrated the way social media can make or break a business or brand, it was that of The Shed café in Bath, UK. One of the café’s customers posted a balanced three-out-of-five review on The Shed’s Facebook page, accompanied by a comment that she would not be having any of the cakes by the till, as they were in danger of being breathed on by customers because they were not covered up. 

Unfortunately, The Shed’s Facebook page responded to the criticism by replying: “You would need to be a midget with the neck of a giraffe to be able to breathe all over them - stupid woman!” It went on to mention libel and defamation in subsequent posts. Within days, the spat had gone global, being shared all over Twitter and Facebook. It quickly appeared in local newspaper websites, and nationally on the Mail Online website under the headline “Great Twittish cake off!” 

Interestingly, there were supporters on Twitter for both sides of the argument, but you just knew that The Shed would rather the conversation was not happening at all. A few days later, The Shed issued an apology via its Facebook page, concluding with a direct apology to the customer who originally provided feedback. This response ended: “ hindsight we wouldn’t have posted the Facebook response we did and therefore would like to move on by offering a heartfelt apology...”. 

This case shows that all you need is one slip up in the way you engage with your customers to damage your business. Even big brands are not immune to social media slip-ups. MasterCard’s PR company once made a total hashtag of things by asking that all journalists seeking to attend the 2014 Brit Awards make at least one tweet with a mention of MasterCard and that they include the hashtag #PricelessSurprises in it. 

The request instantly backfired, and journalists started to use the hashtag to criticize the request. The PR agency defended its actions, but you should consider the difficulty in shaking off negative publicity that’s generated by making a social faux pas 

Bringing it all back home

Social marketing has to lead somewhere. Even if it is your job is to promote your brand and to get it into as many people’s minds as possible, somewhere there is a product you need to sell, and most of the time, that product is on a web page. A landing page is a place where anybody engaged with your social marketing will arrive when they click on a link to your website. 

It must be part of your strategy, and you need to do everything possible to make your customer’s experience of your website as good as possible. Perhaps the most important thing to remember about social marketing is that we stand on shifting sands. At the moment, Facebook is by far the largest social network, with Twitter nipping at its heels, but the social media landscape could look very different five years from now. 

It’s possible that an entirely new medium for social media could emerge and take over the space in the public’s consciousness that is occupied by the current big players. Photo sharing networks such as Instagram appear to have strong momentum right now, and Facebook’s roughly $16 billion acquisition of the messaging app WhatsApp demonstrates that instant messaging shows signs of becoming a dominant communication medium. 

Inevitably, social networks will continue to evolve, and it’s those businesses and brands that correspondingly evolve their social marketing message that will succeed.