If you’re not careful, it can get out of hand.
Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, YouTube — they’re all powerful tools for marketing your business online, and you might be tempted to pursue them all. Before long, you’ll have half a dozen accounts, hundreds of people to respond to on each website, and a sense of dread about what’ll happen to your online reputation if you can’t manage it all.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
There are plenty of things you can do to simplify your social media marketing strategy. Here are eleven of my favorites to get you started:
1. Only Go Where Your Customers Are
There are so many social media channels nowadays that it can be overwhelming just trying to figure out which sites you need to participate on. The simplest solution: focus on the sites where your prospective customers are already congregating.
For most businesses, that’s going to include the two big social media sites of the moment: Facebook and Twitter. Beyond that, though, it will depend largely on the niche you’re targeting. Listen to your customers, and see which ones they talk about most, and then deliberately ignore all the rest.
Not only will it take less time, but you’ll be able to do it better. By limiting the number of sites you’re focusing on, you’ll be able to give each one the attention it deserves, and over the long run, that will pay off with much deeper engagement with your customers.
2. Take Advantage of Available Tools
There are hundreds of tools out there that can help you better manage your social media presence. Most of these let you update all of your accounts from one, meaning you only have to visit one site, rather than half a dozen.
A few tools you might want to check out include:
- Flock, a web browser with built-in social media and blogging tools.
- TweetDeck, a Twitter client that also has support for MySpace and Facebook updates.
- HootSuite, an online Twitter client with support for Facebook, LinkedIn, WordPress, MySpace, and others, as well as support for multiple authors and scheduling of updates.
- Ping.fm, an online tool with support for virtually every major social media site and blogging platform.
3. Share the Responsibility
If you look at the successful social media efforts of many companies, both large and small, you’ll see that they don’t just have one person in charge of their social media activities. They have multiple people all chipping in.
Companies like Wired magazine and Etsy use one employee at a time to update their Twitter feeds, rotating that employee on a regular basis. Some companies do it daily, while others rotate on a weekly basis. Either way, everyone gets to disconnect and take a break.
Other companies, such as MediaTemple and Comcast, have several people working at once. Employees may either update one account (often signing their respective updates with initials) or each have accounts that are then associated with their employer (such as ComcastBonnie and ComcastSteve on Twitter, both representatives of Comcast).
4. Enlist Help from the Community
Providing useful, relevant information to your social media friends and followers gets difficult after a while. When you’re immersed in a subject day after day, it all starts to sound the same, and you end up spending more and more time finding content to post.
The simplest fix: ask your community for help.
Let everyone know you’re looking for fresh, interesting content, and then let them send you ideas. You can also follow others who post relevant links and then repost it. No, you won’t be releasing totally original content, but most people won’t care. Chances are, they’re not following the same people you are, so they’ll hear it from you first anyway.
5. Schedule Your Updates
The best social media management tools allow you to schedule updates. This lets you batch your messages so they post regularly throughout the day. Rather than taking five minutes every hour to post an update, you can just take half an hour in the morning or evening to schedule all of your posts for the day.
6. Don’t Follow Everyone Who Follows You
It’s common to feel like you should follow everyone who follows you.
On sites like Facebook, following is a two-way street. You accept a friend request and they automatically see your updates as you see theirs. But on sites like Twitter, users can follow you without any technical requirement to follow them back.
A lot of people think it’s good manners to follow anyone who follows you, and when you only have a few hundred followers, that can make sense. But as your follower numbers grow from a few hundred to a few thousand or more, trying to keep up with all of those people is impossible, so don’t even try. Nothing says you’re obligated to follow them back, and most people won’t be offended if you don’t.
7. Organize Your Friends and Followers
If you just can’t bring yourself not to follow everyone who follows you, then take advantage of the organizational tools out there to filter your feeds.
Use lists on Twitter to categorize those you follow so you can make sure you’re getting the updates from those you care about most. Use friend lists on Facebook, and don’t be afraid to hide updates from certain people who tend to clog up your news feed.
With other sites, use the filtering tools built into some of the social media management apps mentioned above to organize everyone. You can create lists of most and least important people, allowing you to prioritize who you want to watch the most.
8. Stick to a Time Limit
Social media can be addictive.
It’s easy to get lost spending hours on sites like Twitter and Facebook. You find yourself popping over to check your new notifications every ten minutes, interrupting your other work.
The best solution: use a timer. Set it for 15 or 30 minutes, and when the time is up, make yourself logout. Or, if you’re managing multiple accounts, set the timer for 5 or 10 minutes, and then move on to the next account when it dings.
9. Use Google Alerts
Google Alerts is a free service from Google that keeps track of everything published to the web and sends you an email about anything containing keywords you specify.
Rather than spending hours looking for new content to post, set up Google alerts for common keywords and topics associated with your niche. You should also set up alerts for your company name and product names so you know what’s being said about you and your products and can respond appropriately.
You can opt to have the information emailed to you as soon as it’s found, or on a daily or weekly basis. For alerts related to your company or products, immediate alerts are probably the best idea so you know as soon as something is said and can address it quickly. For everything else, a daily digest-style alert is more efficient.
10. Scan Instead of Read
Hang around social media long enough, and you become a master at scanning for relevant information. Reading every update that comes your way would take hours, but you can scan all of them in a few minutes, picking out what’s important and what’s not, and then spending your time where it counts.
The simplest strategy is to look for relevant keywords from your company and industry, and then focus on those. Or, if you’re looking for content to send to your friends and followers, most people will put the headline in their update before the link, allowing you to decide whether or not to click it.
In the beginning, it’ll be tough to figure out what’s relevant and what’s not, but give it time. The longer you are active in social media, the better you get at instinctively spotting things that are important. Like everything else, it just takes practice.
11. Measure Your Impact and Adjust Accordingly
Too often we make a plan for how we’re going to use social media in our business and then blindly stick to that plan for months or years, with little review or adjustment. But that leads to a lot of waste. Like with any other marketing channel, you should periodically review your social media marketing strategy and make any necessary adjustments.
For instance, you may find that you’re just not getting the results you expected from Twitter, Facebook, or one of the other social media sites you were targeting. If that’s the case, do your best to figure out if there’s something you’re doing wrong, and if there’s not, then ask yourself if it’s really worth your time to continue.
This simplifies things by streamlining where we’re placing our efforts. If a certain channel just isn’t working for your business, then stop using it. Refocus your energy into the channels that are working for you.
Social media marketing is powerful, yes, but at the end of the day it’s still just another marketing strategy. You expect it to produce results, and if it’s not, then something has to change.
That’s just smart business.