Often businesses jump on the social media bandwagon because everyone else is on it and they feel pressured to join in. This is usually combined with a lack of understanding of what they are trying to achieve, what they need to do and how to use social media successfully. The following are eight social media best practices that assist businesses to use social media successfully:

Strategy 1: Get Ready For Social Media

Social Media Best PracticesDon’t jump into social media until you are prepared. This means getting your business in order. Social media amplifies messages, whether they be good or bad, so if most of the messages currently being communicated about your brand are negative, then you should fix the route causes behind these issues prior to embarking on a social media campaign.
You need to have a clear purpose for using social media and set goals to ensure your use of social media is working toward achieving your business goals. Prepare a plan that includes details of what resources and level of investment you are prepared to put into making social media a success for your business.
For greatest success, social engagement should be company-wide, so it is important that you establish a team led by an on-line community manager that has the ability to balance engagement with marketing and customer service. Your team will need to respond to customer service issues using social media. Therefore, you will benefit from predicting likely complaints and by constructing policies for replying to any issues, ensuring they match with off-line customer service policies. This includes decision trees that outline, “if this happens, then do this”, which will assist to support the real-time nature of engagement that occurs when using social media.
You should also develop guidelines for both employees and your on-line communities to establish what acceptable and unacceptable is important to set boundaries and manage expectations. These expectations should then be communicated to all relevant parties and remain readily available and shared regularly as you develop your social media platforms.
Finally, prior to staring, ensure that you provide your social media team with adequate training and support so that they can represent your business effectively on-line.

Strategy 2: Start With Listening

Monitor your brand, your customers, your industry and your competitors. You can use tools such as Google Alerts, Twitter Search and SocialMention to do so. Find out what your customers want. This is as simple as asking them. You can use tools such as Survey Monkey or even more simply through off-line conversations. What are your most frequently asked questions? You can also learn by what your sales (or lack or sales) are telling you.
Once you know what your customers and/or prospective customers want, this should guide the type of information you share on social media, enabling you to provide answers prior to the questions even being asked. Listening also enables you to spot and address any negative issues prior to them building momentum.

Strategy 3: Build Slowly

If you have listened well, then you will know which social media platform(s) your customers and potential customers are using. This should inform your decision as to which social media platform(s) your business should use.
It is important that you don’t try to do too much too soon or to spread your resources too thinly.  It is better to do a great job on one social media platform than a terrible job on many. Develop one platform at a time and don’t feel obliged to be everywhere. One or two platforms is quite often all that a small business can handle. Regardless of which social media platform(s) you choose, you should continue to monitor other platforms where you don’t have a presence to ensure you are still listening to what others have to say about your business and to keep abreast of whether or not another platform becomes an appropriate fit for your business as circumstances change either within the social media environment or within your business.

Strategy 4: Reinforce Your Brand Identity

How to use facebook for business, engage your customers with social media, Social media provides an opportunity to create a public forum for your business at a scale that is usually not be possible via your website alone. However, your website still plays an important role and you should use any social media platform(s) you set up as an extension (or outposts) for your website and brand it accordingly. This includes using a consistent look, feel, language and tone. Use similar vanity URLS’s for you social media platforms as your website where possible. This will make it easier for people to find your business.
Most importantly, build out your business profiles completely on each of your platform(s) of choice, as failure to do so has the same effect as leaving your business premises with broken windows for months. This includes full contact details and cross-promotion of any other social media platform(s) where your business has a presence.

Strategy 5: Develop A Community Through Engagement

To develop a fan base, you firstly have to provide a WIIFM (what’s in it for me). This can be a simple statement, such as “Follow us to receive the latest industry news and information” or in some cases it might require something a little more enticing, such as “Like us to receive special offers and discounts”. Whilst these strategies are good, you must then ensure you continually deliver on your promises by creating meaningful relationships that provide value to your community.
Engagement is the new marketing and customer service. By providing content of exceptional quality and value that engages your community you are able to get into the hearts and minds of people so that they market on your behalf and jump to your defense when people have something negative to say about your business. This is the true power of social media and you should identify, interact with, encourage and reward these influencers so that they will continue to champion your brand on your behalf.
Social Media Platforms, Facebook, LinkedIn, Flickr, Google, Google+ ,foursquare, YouTube,To be able to provide content of exceptional quality and value, you will need to set up content feeds specific for your business. This includes subscribing, liking, following (as appropriate to the platform) the businesses and people relevant to your industry, location and interests of your community. You can use these content feeds to both learn through listening (as mentioned in strategy 2) and to share. Sharing is an important part of social media both for developing relationships with others and as a means of providing engaging content without a high workload as a result of developing it all yourself.
Having said that, it is important that you have a balance and manage to create your own content on a regular basis as well. Take a look around your business to determine what is worthy of sharing. If you don’t have content readily at hand, such as blogs, videos, images, links and key messages, then you will need to develop this content.
It is important that you plan what content you are going to share. An annual, monthly and/or weekly content calendar can assist with this. Once a plan is established, you can then source and/or develop appropriate content. Developing content takes time and you will need to allocate time to do so, otherwise it it unlikely that you will ever get around to it. It is good practice to build a library of engaging evergreen content that you can keep on file and use at anytime when you are stuck for things to share.
To be truly engaging, you need to be present and consistent. This means posting and responding in a timely manner.  Whilst scheduling posts may be necessary for your business, you should never set and forget. Instead, schedule in time to log back into your social media platform(s) after posting so that you can engage in the conversations you started.

Strategy 6: Integrate On-line And Off-line Channels

To get the most out of social media you should cross-promote between your social media platform(s), website and off-line activities. This includes promoting your social media platform(s) wherever your customer’s eyes go. Think of all the opportunities – Front door (encourage check-ins), café menus, e-newsletters, website, brochures, business cards and behind the toilet door, to name a few.  Social media should also be incorporated into all events and promotions that your business conducts.

Strategy 7: Use Calls To Action

How to use a call to action in social media, Buy Now,
People often don’t do things unless they are asked or told. Therefore, don’t just assume that someone will share your content because they like it. The easiest way to increase the viral reach of your content is to regularly ask your community to share your content if they feel it is worthy. Similarly, if you are posting about something on your social media platform(s) that you want people to purchase, then use action words such as “buy now” or “visit our store today” to encourage them to take the action you desire.
At the end of the day, you want to convert your engaged on-line community into paying customers in order to provide a return on investment. To achieve this, consider what your social media goals are and ensure you are creating regular calls to action around them. For example, if you are using social media to grow a subscription list or to increase foot traffic into your business, then you will want to be including regular calls to action and enticements that relate directly to those outcomes. But don’t go overboard! As a general rule you should be trying to get an 80/20 balance between engaging content and sales messages to ensure you don’t turn away your community.

Strategy 8: Measure Success

Like anything else you do in business, there should be an element of review to see how you are performing against what you are trying to achieve, as well as to ensure you are continuously improving. This can be achieved by monitoring your social media platform(s) inbuilt analytics (e.g. Facebook insights), Google Analytics, subscription list sign ups, sales or whatever other goals you were trying to achieve. Measure your performance against the goals you set and then update your strategy accordingly, building upon your strengths and developing (or ditching) those areas that under-performed. This will ensure ongoing social media success.
Are there any additional strategies you feel are important for achieving success using social media? If so, please share your thoughts in the comments below.