If you haven’t taken the plunge into the world of social media marketing yet, then you need to make it a top priority in 2012. Every additional minute you spend on social media activities can only help your business, and every minute you’re not active in social media is a missed opportunity that your competitors are happy to take.
Think of it this way: Fewer people are using resources like the Yellow Pages to find businesses, products, and services. Instead, they look to their favorite search engines or social media sites for information and recommendations from their friends.
Here are some ways to get started with social media marketing in 2012. Use these ideas to capitalize on the shift in the way companies communicate and market to their customers.
Experiment with Different Platforms
Social media marketing can be extremely overwhelming, but once you dive in, you’ll realize it’s not as intimidating as it seems. Get started by experimenting with popular platforms like blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Create personal accounts that aren’t affiliated with your business and learn how the networks function before you create your business profiles. In other words, get beyond the initial learning curve before you debut your business’social media presence.
This step is particularly important for small business owners who don’t have the budget or manpower to devote to social media marketing activities. If you don’t enjoy the medium you’re using to promote your business via the social web, you won’t be motivated to keep your content fresh.
However, if you use social media platforms that you enjoy, you’ll find yourself publishing more content, keeping active, and having fun. This helps to attract more followers who are likely to share your content with their own audiences.
Consider Your Resources
Do you have employees who can help you with your social media marketing activities? If not, do you have a budget to contract external vendors to help you create content and participate in social media? Your answers to these questions are critical to helping you develop realistic social media marketing goals.
It’s easy to get caught in the trap of thinking your business needs to be represented and active on every social media site. If you don’t have the resources to create quality content and conversations on each social media site, then this type of strategy is likely to set you up for failure.
Successful social media marketing relies on quality content and conversations that are updated frequently and are highly relevant to the target audience. Therefore, it might make more sense for you to focus your efforts on a single destination such as a Facebook Page or Twitter account rather than trying to be all things to all people.
Find Your Audience
Here’s one way social media is different from Field of Dreams: if you build it, they won’t always come. First, you need to find your audience on the sites where they’re already spending time.
Conduct Google searches with the keywords you think your target audience is using when they look for your products and services online. Follow the links and look for social destinations where you can join the conversations already happening between your target audience members. It’s important to build your reputation and relationships before you introduce your products and services.
You can also use Twitter tools to find people that match your ideal customer profile. For example, you could WeFollow to search for Twitter users by topic, Monitter to find people talking about keywords related to your business, or you could use the search features our own Sprout Social application
Create Useful and Meaningful Content
All your social media efforts will be in vain if you’re not creating content that’s useful and meaningful to your target audience. Furthermore, your content should be trustworthy and transparent, not filled with self-promotional messages. No one will follow you, listen to you, share your content, or talk to you if the only content you publish is about yourself.
Instead, your content should be entertaining and interesting. Acknowledge your followers and share their content, too. Remember, social media marketing is a form of “pull marketing” where your audience “pulls” the information they want from you. This is opposed to traditional “push marketing” where advertisers push messages to consumers in the hopes that someone will notice them. Don’t interrupt online activities — enhance them.
Streamline and Integrate Your Efforts
Leverage the many free or affordable tools that are available to help you streamline and integrate your social media marketing efforts. For example, you can use our own social media management application to publish updates to multiple social media profiles, to find new audience members, and to monitor your online reputation.
Also, integrate your online and offline marketing efforts by cross-promoting your social media profiles on your blog, website, email signatures, signage, business cards, ads, and so on.
People like to consume content and interact with businesses in different ways. Therefore, your ultimate social media marketing goal should be to surround consumers with your branded content so they can self-select how they want to interact with your brand and business. By cross-promoting and integrating your varied marketing efforts, you can connect with the largest audience of interested consumers to successfully build your business in 2012 and beyond.
This post discusses Sprout Social, our social media management tool for businesses. To learn about our editorial ethics and our commitment to objective coverage of the social media space, visit our About page.
Susan Gunelius: Susan Gunelius is a 20-year marketing veteran and President & CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company. She has authored nine books about social media, content marketing, branding, copywriting, and blogging, and she is a marketing columnist for Forbes.com and Entrepreneur.com. Susan speaks about marketing, branding, and social media at events around the world and is often interviewed about marketing topics by television, online, print, and radio media organizations.