The holy grail of marketing has always been to develop a relationship with your customer. The idea being that through this relationship with your client base, you can predict, pre-empt and possibly even coerce them into remaining loyal to your product, service or brand.
The predominance of social media over the last 18 months has been a gift for marketeers – now your customers can actively choose to follow you on Twitter, become a fan on Facebook, link with you on Linkedin or promote their involvement with you through their FourSquare updates.

An essential part of the modern marketing mix is to incorporate the power of social media into your marketing strategy for the year.
Like search engine optimisation a few years ago, a number of consultants, specialists and expensive advisers will, for a fee, advise you on how to maximise your profile, increase your followers and attempt to monetise those that choose to interact with you on a social media channel. For many SME’s, engaging an external social media consultancy can be a costly exercise that will need to be proven as a worthwhile part of a marketing strategy before additional budget can be allocated to it.

My step-by-step pointers to taking the first steps in building your social media profile, without having to increase your marketing budget, are simple:

1 – What you want to get out of it?

Before devoting any time to social media, you should be asking what this will do for your business and why you are doing it. If you are a supplier of industrial ball bearings and your target is to get 500 Facebook followers, then you should be asking whether or not this is the right channel for you. Are your customers avid Facebook users, or is a professional network like LinkedIn a more appropriate forum for you?
Remember, using social media should be treated in the same way as any other public initiative your firm may undertake. The only difference with social media is that your mistakes will be seen immediately and by a potentially huge audience. Apart from your client base witnessing any social media faux pas, your competition will all be able to have a good chuckle at your expense too.

2 – What you are going to put into it?

Social media takes time. Not just the time it takes to set up the account and input all the relevant and appropriate information, but time spent every day working on whatever sites you’ve chosen.
It’s essential that you are regularly updating your site, feed, fan page or whatever with interesting and relevant information. The MD of your firm getting a new tie might be big news in the office, but really, your customers haven’t signed on for this.
What people do want to see is relevant information on what your firm is up to. It can be a great place to announce news on forthcoming initiatives, promotions, offers etc, but also an invaluable forum for you to post news and info from your industry. This industry information, in addition to adding fresh content regularly, has the added bonus of making you seem very well informed about your industry.

3 – Make sure you are listening

By linking with a social media channel, a customer has made a very powerful statement and made a commitment to you. They have already made a public display of brand loyalty, which would have been unheard of a few years ago. Like all loyalty, this public display deserves to be rewarded.
When planning your content for your social media channels, you should be planning offers that are exclusive offers for those channels. Offering a money-off discount on production of a voucher only downloadable by following a link from Twitter will do two things – generate increased sales and show how effective Twitter is as a way to communicate with your followers.
However, if you neglect to add any content to your networks, or your content is lacklustre, you can expect to see your followers leave you in droves. Unsubscribing to what you have to say is a simple click of a button, and customers will always vote with their feet.
Also, social media channels make it very easy for customers to contact you, and increasingly, people expect to be able to contact a firm with suggestions and questions, so make sure you are paying attention to people contacting you and you are responding to them within a day or so. No one likes to be ignored, and if you are responding to people, ensure you are doing it in appropriate way. If a customer has taken the time to contact you, take the time to respond in an appropriate way and with an appropriate tone of voice.

4 – Get involved

By being involved in your own social media marketing, you’ll soon get the bug for it and find yourself learning from other firms’ successes and failures. Learn from them and make sure you do repeat the successes and not the failures.

Where social media takes us over the next few years is anyone’s guess. What is certain is that it’s here to stay, it’s essential for modern businesses to be involved and it can be fun.

While right now it’s almost impossible for you to measure the impact of social media against your bottom line, that may not always be the case, and as the cliché says, you’ve got to be in it, to win it.

About the Author:
Scott Morris is a Surrey-based writer who spends a lot more time thinking and writing about social media than he does updating his Facebook status. He’s contributed to publications as diverse as Print Week, The Idler and Eye magazine. If you’d like to talk to him further about social media, please email: morrissw@gmail.com

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