As I’ve discussed previously here, being online is an incredibly important part of any business marketing strategy and social media is key part of that. It should not be mistaken, however, as a marketing strategy itself. It is a powerful and extremely useful tool, but like any tool, if welded by the wrong hands it can be dangerous! Social media is about engagement – having a conversation not about shouting or making speeches.

Social media is really pretty easy when it boils down to it. The problems arise when people do not understand the tool or try to apply 20th century marketing to what is very much a 21st century tool. Also please stay away from people calling themselves social medial gurus. There are very few people who actually qualify for the title, and the social media landscape keeps changing, that only the most general principles apply. For this reason I strongly advise everyone who asks about how to get started with social media to not use their business’s online reputation as an experimental playground. Get a feel for all the spaces we are going to talk about before launching on your grand social media adventure!

Facebook

For business to client businesses (b2c) such as veterinary practices or retail / service establishments Facebook is the social media site that you have to be part of if you are going to explore social media. A word about terminology: people on Facebook have profiles, businesses and famous people have pages. You cannot create a page without a profile. Profiles are friends of other profiles and are fans of pages. Confused yet?

The difference between profiles and pages is important because profiles exchange information between each other. With pages the flow of information is one way- from page to profile. There are businesses out there that have profiles. This is problem because it violates Facebook’s terms of service and because your clients might not want to open up their family photos to a buiness they frequent a couple of times a year!

If you have never been on Facebook, then sign yourself up and spend a significant amount of time getting used to the site. I’m not talking about a hour of two here, I’m talking about 10-30 minutes everyday for a couple of weeks. This is how people who use Facebook, use Facebook. Search for old and current friends, become fans of other businesses – even the odd movie star or TV program and see how others are using the site. But stay away from employees or bosses – too much to go wrong on all sides.

The biggest thing to understand about Facebook is that it is not a website in the traditional sense. Clients will rarely look at your business’s page or friends at your own profile for that matter. Facebook users look at their wall. The “wall” is like a notice board that constantly updates with information that is relevant to you – the pages you have “liked” and the profiles of your friends. As these profiles and pages are updated, those updates automatically appear on your wall. I take time explaining this because, as you will see, there plently of businesses who forget this and post 20 updates one after the other and then pat themselves on the back for all the information that is now on their Facebook page.

page

When you post to your page - you are looking at your page. But this is almost certainly not what your fans are going to see.

The problem is that this may as well be spam: who wants to read 20 posts all on the same buiness and on similar subjects all at the same time!? Also, Facebook users tend to respond to what is at the top of their wall, something that is a day or even a couple of hours old may get skipped over. Spreading those twenty posts over ten days will work far better for only slightly more effort.

Wall or News feed

Your fans are going to be looking at something like this. Note the small post at the bottom of the page - it is easy to get overlooked but becoming a spammer is worse!

We will talk more about content in future posts, but it is important to have something to say when starting a Facebook page. Remember, this is the voice of your business talking to your clients. Be friendly, but be professional. See what other businesses a doing and then do your own thing. Facebook is constantly evolving both as a website but also in how people use it.

Twitter

Twitter is a micro-blogging service. With only 140 characters with which to broadcast a message to your followers! Twitter is an excellent business to business (B2B) tool and can be used quite successfully as a B2C communication tool. Twitter, however, is not nearly as popular as Facebook and is demographically quite different. Twitter users tend to be younger and Twitter seems to be much more popular in major metropolitan areas than in smaller towns.

Unlike Facebook, Twitter does not have the same restriction on accounts having to be linked to a real person. Like Facebook, I strongly recommend getting a feel for Twitter by signing yourself up and seeing how other people and businesses are using it. Something to really keep in mind with Twitter is that everything, unless it is a direct message which you have to specifically select, is public.

Twitter page

Everything is public with Twitter - engagement is the name of the game.

There are few new conventions you’ll need to learn for Twitter: @ before someone’s name is how you specify that a message is for someone – it is still public, but allows you to flag the message for someone’s attention. A # before a term is a way of identifying that term as the subject of your message. It can also be used to provide context and helps with searching for messages on a subject. The message “I’ve been waiting for 2 hours” #thisvetsucks” would be a good example of context and providing a message that is easy to find by others – even if you might not want it to be! Retweeting the term used to describe the way twitter allows you to rebroadcast someone else’s message to your followers (similar to sharing on Facebook). Sometimes retweets are prefaced with RT for clarity.

Twitter is a lot of fun and although can take a bit more getting used to that Facebook, and it’s B2C benefits are less easy to see that Facebook, it is ultimately the tool which many find themselves turning for everything from advice to the latest news (Twitter regularly beats the major networks on breaking stories).

Google+

Very much the new kid on the block, Google+ is an interesting mix of Facebook and Twitter. The problem is that it is so new that no one has any idea how it is going to be used and It does not even cater to business at the moment. People who have Google+ accounts (it is still in closed tryouts at the moment) do seem to like it, but like everyone else, are not quite sure how it fits into the mix. I for one don’t even know if I want another social media network and find Google+ pretty limited due to how few of my friends and colleagues are on it.

I’ll cover a few other social media sites, briefly, next week but the bottom line is that social media is a significant part of today’s marketing landscape. If you a marketing, you need to be using Facebook and you need to be thinking about Twitter. Social Media really is a lot of fun. Discover the fun part first and then then work will not seem like quite such a chore.

Still confused? Social media not for you? Post a comment and I’ll see if I can help.

Next week: Waist High in Social Media Marketing

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