The Top Four Social Media Behemoths

laptop-whiteman-shoutThere are too many social networks to give a detailed blow-by-blow account of how to maximize online marketing efforts on each, so we’ll focus on the top four: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube. The lessons learned here can be applied to other social media.

Twitter

Twitter is a free online social network that allows users to write brief messages up to 140 characters in length on their profiles and view those of other users.

Organizations that use Twitter are flexible, connected, have direct relationships, and can communicate with their base more rapidly. They can trumpet their brands without blowing their budgets.

Chances are, people may already be tweeting about your organization (or its mission). Twitter is the most authentic focus group ever made. Eavesdropping on what people are saying is easy. Just use the Twitter search engine (http:// search.twitter.com) to read the buzz about an organization and industry.

Twitter allows an organization to deliver great customer service to an individual or a group, and because all subscribers can see the response, many people will benefit from that one example of customer service. But organizations have got to walk the walk. Setting up an account that isn’t maintained isn’t savvy execution. Use Twitter to engage in authentic conversations with customers, not as a self-serving propaganda tool. Lots of organizations are starting to use Twitter to answer customer service questions in a short, succinct, community-shared way.

These days, having a Twitter account is a necessary tool to stake territory in the wild, wild web. Just as organizations need to have a good website address, a Twitter account is prime real estate that needs to be claimed. A Twitter site is often one of the top listings in a Google search. Don’t believe it? When the British Petroleum oil disaster hit the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, the primary Twitter account that most people (including journalists) saw was a BP parody account launched by critics.

If the organization has a blog, posts can automatically populate onto Twitter by using Twitterfeed.com. Having a blog post live on a blog and also automatically feed to Twitter helps boost visibility and increases the potential for people to see the content.

For mom-and-pop shops with little or no ad budget, Twitter can serve as their main marketing outlet. Businesses as small as mobile coffee kiosks can tweet new locations or deals. Because small business owners can tweet right from their phones, it is immediate and easy.

Even if the organization only has a small website, its Twitter page can be changed so that it is visually consistent with the website and other branding.

Unfortunately, there are some major Internet entities that don’t bother to do this, losing a prime opportunity for brand emphasis. Just because an organization may be small doesn’t mean that it can’t outshine the big guys.

Twitter Tools

Twitter seems like a lot of work, but there are hundreds of tools that can help you get the job done as efficiently as possible. Twitter tools are changing very fast. To learn about the latest and greatest tools, just Google the phrase “Twitter tools” and read the latest reviews. Here are a few that many people swear by:

- HootSuite. An organization’s Twitter feed doesn’t have to be written live in real time. Use tools like HootSuite to schedule tweets in advance. By the way, you don’t even need to tweet yourself. You can hire a web marketing firm to do it or use HootSuite to manage tweets among multiple social media accounts for one easy login (www.hootsuite.com).

- Twitter Search. This is a great way to streamline your “Twitxperience.”

To see what is going on in Twitter right now (because everything with the web is right now), just go to Twitter Search, type in your search subject, and voilà! The latest, greatest Twitter scoop. You can see who is retweeting posts, review comments about an organization, and quickly check in on your favorite social media influencers and industry leaders (http://search.twitter.com).

- Twitter badges. To tout tweets, “pimp” your blog with Twitter badges. It marries fashion and function with fabulous flair, all via a simple widget. (Do a search for “Twitter badges” or “Twitter widgets.”)

- Twitterfeed. If your organization has a blog, posts can automatically populate onto Twitter by setting up a free feed (http://twitterfeed.com).

Twitter: The Business Case

Technically speaking, Twitter is micro-blogging, but don’t look at Twitter as a mindless collection of tweets. See it for what it really is: a very powerful real-time search engine/relationship tool. With roughly 200 million users and 65 million tweets a day (as of mid-2010), Twitter has reached a critical mass that provides an important number of business functions such as:

- Marketing multitasking. When your organization does anything new, from posting a blog entry to starting a video contest, announce it on Twitter. Twitter feeds can automatically update most social media outlets including Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, and others.

- Displaying your brand. Twitter is a prime location and interaction tool to help you build a brand in real time. The 140-character limit means you can’t just repost your organization’s slogans. You have to show folks that you are living those values.

- Conducting research. Using Twitter, you can find real-time keyword trends (how many people are talking about my brand right now?). You can also do research about how people are conversing about a topic. Twitter Search (http://search.twitter.com) is the easiest Twitter trend tool to get started. Type in a key phrase and you’ll see a live feed of the current conversation on that trend.

You can be even more proactive in your research. If you’ve got enough Twitter followers, you can ask them a simple survey question such as, “How many of you would like X over Y? What about Z?” You can ask your Twitter followers about anything from advertising on your website to which CEO headshot is better. (Just keep in mind that the results aren’t scientific and you’ll be hearing mostly from a vocal minority.)

If an organization doesn’t have a lot of followers, follow the Twitter feed of someone in the same topic area who has a lot of followers and pose questions there. Just be sure that the questions have conversational value and are not a sales pitch. (“Hey, Pepsi Twitter followers, want a 50 percent off coupon to try Brand X cola?” is not cool, but “Hey, Pepsi fans, what do you think makes Pepsi a better soda than the others?” or “Why is Pepsi better than Brand X cola?” or “Who has better advertising: Pepsi or Brand X cola? Why?” is okay.)

Discover New Customers and Have Them Discover You

When someone uses your organization’s key phrases in their tweets, feel free to follow them and invite them to follow you. These people are already talking about the topic or brand, so it is likely that they might be interested in your Twitter stream.

The key to social media is that it is social. It is shared. That means if one of your followers retweets your organization’s Twitter posting, all their friends see it and might become new customers. And their friends retweet, and so on, and so on. Not to mention all the link sharing that happens on social bookmarking and news sites like Digg, Reddit, Delicous, and Google Buzz.

Believe it or not people often search for brands on Twitter before they search for a company’s main website. Twitter is the perfect no-cost way to promote introductory offers. When you think about your Twitter content stream, think about what you might offer longtime followers as well as first-time potential clients.

As you continue your “Twitorial,” consider these Twitter tutorial best practice tips as you venture into the wild world of Twitterville:

- Handle complaints before they become a big issue. Major hotels and airlines have people who are dedicated 24/7 to monitoring the uses of their name and fi nding people who are complaining about their service. When someone complains, that person often gets a quick Twitter response that helps to resolve the issue. This real-time customer service helps the individual, and it also displays the organization’s commitment to customer service.

- Find business partners. While B2B connections are what LinkedIn touts as its value proposition, in reality Twitter is also a great place to find people who can help your organization (not to mention you personally) achieve your goals.

- Create an authentic persona. Companies present different faces on Twitter, from the corporate entity to individuals. Choose a user name and focus on establishing a relationship with users. Users need to feel they are connecting either with a real person or with an organization that shares their values. They follow tweets because they have a passion (or at least an interest) in their topic.

When setting up a Twitter account, you can have just one link to your main site or blog. A link to a blog may be the better choice because social media is about relationship marketing, and a blog allows readers to get to know the blogger/organization in greater detail.

- Pick a friendly photo. Most photos that work best are natural-looking ones with a smiling face, plain and simple. People want to connect with a person, not a brand. Don’t think that’s important? Some people will decide whether to follow a tweeter based solely on his or her profile picture. You can always test between a company logo or personal photo to see which works best.

Twitter offers standard page designs, but more brand-conscious marketers will opt to customize a Twitter page so that it visually matches the rest of the organization’s branding.

- Tweet responsibly. Tell folks “what’s happening.” Share comments that are relevant, entertaining, and useful. Tweets are best when they are “news you can use.” Once again, it is about delivering value through online marketing. Tell folks about products in development and share interesting information. Don’t sell, relate.

- Discuss, don’t sell. Social media is, well, social. Don’t be the bore who only talks about him- or herself. Join other discussions and contribute.

- Don’t sell. Discuss. Listen to what the other folks are saying and respond as a human being would, not a brochure. Just keep in mind that every reply (with the exception of direct messages) on Twitter is in public view.

- Ask questions. Answer questions. Ask survey questions, discussion questions, branding questions, and more. Then discuss the answers.

- Share. Sharing is caring. Share links to other tweeters, blog posts, quotes, interesting pictures, and so on. Most likely anything on the topic (or even off topic, if it is entertaining) will be appreciated by Twitter followers.

- A picture is worth a thousand words. When you’ve only got 140 characters, sometimes a twitpic can be the most eloquent posting ever.

- Retweet. If you find something interesting as you read other folks’ Twitter feeds, retweet it (click on the Retweet link on the original post) to share it with your followers. This isn’t just good Twitter etiquette, it is micro online marketing. Retweeting is a gift that keeps giving. When someone retweets, the original poster gets new eyeballs. The traffic works both ways. If you retweet a top tweeter, her followers will see your name and may start to follow you.

- Tweet your blog, blog your tweets. When every new blog entry posts, tweet a link to it. On your blog, include your Twitter feed (or at least links to it). Use URL-shortening tools like TinyURL (http://tinyurl.com/) or bit.ly (http://bit.ly/) to shorten long URLs to get the most out of your 140-character maximum space.

- Become a top tweeter. For most organizations, the more followers, the better. Pop singer Lady Gaga hit five million Twitter followers in July 2010. Presumably she delivers value because all five million followers are interested in Lady Gaga, her life, and her music. While even a fraction of that number would be fantastic for almost any organization, what matters most is communicating with a specific audience interested in your product or service. Think quality, not just quantity. Organizations can have a substantial ROI on Twitter with just a handful of the right followers. But usually Twitter ROI is a numbers game. The more quantity, the greater the chance for quality. So how do you become a top tweeter? Create value, of course, but as with other areas of life, in order to lead you must first follow. Follow a lot of the top tweeters to learn from the best.

- Follow people in the relevant topic areas. The more people you follow, the more likely others are to follow you in return.

- Use other social media to increase your Twitter audience. Share links to your Twitter profile everywhere. Make it your fi rst way to connect with your audience.

- Don’t forget to use Twitter to connect to the real world. Politician Sarah Palin has turned her Twitter followers into a mobilized grassroots force. Her tweets often get more mainstream press ink (and airtime) than a full-page editorial would. Why? Because they are short and to the point.

They offer her world view and are action based.

President Barack Obama did the same thing in the 2008 election. His Twitter profile (http://twitter.com/BarackObama) was everywhere in his print literature. Obama’s casual Twitter followers became donors (most of them were small donors who collectively had a huge impact). Some of his followers became activists using Twitter to mobilize some real-world door knocking to get out the vote. The Obama team also used Facebook, MySpace, and YouTube and made sure his online marketing campaigns worked together hand-in-glove. For example, a new blog entry that included a new YouTube video was announced on Twitter, and events were posted on both Twitter and Meetup.

Twitter has a lot of pluses for marketers. It is immediate. It is short. You can add photos easily. You can update it from your phone. But as with Superman, the source of its greatest strength is also its kryptonite. Twitter’s 140-character limit restricts conversations to Q&A ping-pong. To deeply interact with a customer base requires more than tweets. To take the relationship to the next level, you’ve got to become friends. By now, you know what that means.

Facebook

If Facebook were a country, it would be the third largest in the world. Facebook reached over 500 million users in just six years. According to Cecilia Kang’s July 19, 2010, column in the Washington Post, “the population inhabiting Facebook now equals that of the United States, Japan and Germany combined.” The Top Five Ways Facebook Can Boost Business Facebook’s power goes beyond simple relationship building. It is a muscular online marketer that delivers results. Here are five ways Facebook can boost business.

1. Facebook builds awareness. Facebook can build connections via personal profiles, pages, and groups. It also offers affordable, targeted, cost-per-click advertising options that can be lasertargeted to the city where the organization does business, the age range desired, or the interest groups wanted. When someone sets up a personal Facebook profile, that person usually adds his or her age, gender, interests, location, and other information. It’s easy to advertise to people on Facebook based on geographics and psychographics.

2. Facebook brilliantly distributes information. Facebook allows marketers to leverage personal and professional contacts to share information for free. Facebook can even help revive dead venues.

When a leading Santa Barbara restaurant called The Wine Cask closed and reopened a year later under new management, a simple announcement by the general manager on his personal Facebook page spurred new business and boosted awareness to old restaurant fans.

3. Facebook creates community. Social networking serves to bring people together. Building and branding a Facebook page or group allows local contacts to converse with each other and boost business. Let your community become your best salespeople and free focus group. Listen to the conversations and allow raving fans to share and get in on the conversation. Seth Godin, a marketing guru and author, talks about tribes. Tools like Facebook allow tribes to come together and create communities. Companies do not sell, people sell. Put the power in people’s hands and go where they are—on Facebook.

Facebook can offer additional low-cost customer service.

Through Facebook, organizations can answer questions, receive feedback, promote events, and provide news to their target audiences for free.

4. Facebook can boost sales. Let’s face it, organizations have to fight harder than ever to survive in a tough economy. But your organization (for profit or nonprofit) can have a competitive edge with Facebook. When Facebook is used to serve (not push propaganda), organizations will do well.

When used with the right intention and managed regularly, Facebook can be a no-cost marketing tool to help organizations gain a competitive edge.

Converse directly with customers and create a community where you can learn, share, and connect, all in a fun way.

Facebook Best Practices

For marketers, Facebook is a social networking platform that is beyond pokes, jokes, and friend finding. It is about boosting marketing and sales. Organizations and public figures can have pages, people have profiles, and groups that want to have more regulated discussions have, well, groups.

Think about it this way. Sarah J. Smith has her personal Facebook profi le page where she posts updates about her son, Luke, and her dog, K9, and their private adventures that only her friends can see. Sarah, a big fan of Doctor Who, reads everything she can on the official BBC Doctor Who Facebook page. Seeking like-minded fans, she creates a Facebook group for Doctor Who fans in Ealing, London. These fans meet both online and in person, sometimes going out to meet with other London-based Doctor Who fan clubs. When they meet via Facebook or in person, they discuss which Doctor Who products they plan to buy, news, favorite episodes, and more.

Facebook pages and groups like this are an online marketer’s dream because they are actively mobilized around a topic. And you do not have to rely on fans to create a Facebook page. These pages can be created by marketing managers, consultants, or by organizational leaders. These brand-conscious fans define themselves by their consumption and are primed to buy even more.

Organizations can create their own pages, but people can also create their own fan pages and groups. The downside is that the official brand has little or no control over what these groups do on Facebook as long as they don’t violate Facebook’s terms of service. Once they are started, the group’s members are in charge, but if you feed them well then they will feed you.

Most online marketing will involve creating an official page for an organization (http://www.facebook.com/pages/create.php). Some public figures still use their personal Facebook profile for their online marketing, but most have opted for an official page. If the Facebook profile gets a lot of traffic, Facebook may change a personal profile to an official page.

Facebook Page Invites

After you create a page for your organization on Facebook, you can message your friends on your personal contacts list and send them your page link, then invite them via a personal message to join. Random strangers may also stumble upon your page and opt to “like” it or request to join your group.

You can go also to the left area of your Facebook page (under the page logo on the left side) and click on “Suggest to Friends.” With people spending more and more time on Facebook, organizations cannot afford not to spend time there. Whether the investment is managing a personal profile, page, or group; supporting a group of fans; listening to social conversations; or paying attention to competitive Facebook use, this social platform is not going away anytime soon.

LinkedIn

With over 85 million professionals, LinkedIn is a professional’s social marketing network to exchange information, ideas, and opportunities. A public LinkedIn profile acts as an individual’s résumé, creating the opportunity to share expertise and credentials. Recruiters actively search LinkedIn for qualified professionals to fill job positions. Many professionals use social tools like LinkedIn for personal online marketing, making sure their profile is tagged with descriptive words and phrases that a headhunter may be searching.

Many companies want their employees to have active profiles to enhance visibility and boost connections for sales. LinkedIn offers the ability to create groups where organizations can launch discussions with like-minded professionals or participate in other groups to gain visibility, make contacts, and more.

Organizations can post a profile so people who may be researching them can see who they are, what they do, whom they serve, and who works for them.

Lastly, LinkedIn multitasks, allowing links to websites, blogs, and Twitter accounts to be added to profiles. LinkedIn also has a feature under the applications setting that allows a blog to automatically feed into a profile. Many marketers do not see LinkedIn as a messaging tool like Twitter and Facebook, but the power of content with credentials can help boost an individual’s career and help get an organization more eyeballs and enhance contacts. LinkedIn is one of the best “interactive Rolodex” tools out there for online marketing.

YouTube

According to comScore’s rankings, YouTube is the number two search engine on the World Wide Web and tops all social media activities. Video watching is the number one activity dominating social media (we know what you are doing during work hours!). Organizations are using video sharing sites like YouTube to search for content, share tips, and make “show me to tell me” content that is very easy to take in (remember that social media content sticks due to the entertainment factor). Whether a CEO is making a personal announcement, a customer service rep is talking though tech tips, or a customer is giving a testimonial, online video supports social media by creating a visual and audio connection to make a meaningful impact.

Videos can be embedded into blogs and on websites, shared on Facebook, and tweeted to followers. In true social media form, videos can be rated and shared, and have social media widgets that make sharing very easy.

Many professionals have become “weblebrities” (web celebrities) by creating their own YouTube channels. Like blog posts or tweets, great video content can make a measurable marketing impact.

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