Okay, I admit that at first light, social media marketing (SMM) may appear like child’s play. After all, what is there to it? Create a bunch of profiles, Digg a little, Stumble a bit and you are set, right? Wrong! That is the exact attitude that can kill your social media campaign (and dreams) before it can begin.
I don’t mean to suggest that it is beyond a social media novice to successfully carry out a marketing campaign. Armed with enough knowledge, I am fairly certain, even a novice will be able to pull it off. Nor am I making it out to be more complex than rocket science. However, approaching it with a complacent attitude definitely won’t be helpful. Social media, as much ‘fun’ as it is, is not without rules. And successful social media marketing is possible only if one, pro or novice, follows these rules.
1. Build a strong social network. So, you have a profile on Twitter, so, it has over thousands followers. You pat yourself on your back for building such a strong social network. Boy, are you ever so wrong? Have you taken care to ascertain how many of these thousands of followers are legit? And how often do you interact with your followers, respond to the tweets you receive? Less than positive answers to either of these questions mean that despite the impressive number of followers, your social network is as weak as it can get. Interact with your network, only that can ensure your network is as true to you as you want it to be and that your message is conveyed successfully.
2. Expend your effort building the trust quotient of your site. If yours is not a trusted site, set about working on improving the areas it is found lacking in. When you engage in SMM, you are inviting the entire world to scrutinize your site, if you think it won’t be able to stand up it, wait until you are ready to launch you campaign. You can start by ensuring your site is clean of harmful viruses and spammy links.
3. It’s simple, it may sound a little hackneyed, but it is also true – pretty impossible to drive a social media campaign without a blog. Bloggers pioneered and now sustain social media, without them, there would be nothing to Digg, or Like or Stumble. Social media would be reduced to a couple of social networks and unending streams of status updates. (All right, maybe a little more than that, but you get the picture). Integrate a blog (pretty easy to do with WordPress) into your site and update it regularly with ‘good’ content!
4. This is a classic tip, works every time. You may remember a time when ‘List’ posts were all the rage (as a matter of fact, they are still very popular), how they could draw traffic to a blog like nothing else could. Well, now with the immense popularity that video sharing sites seem to enjoy, creating a video in the vein of a List post (for example, a ‘How To’ or an ‘x Best Tips’ video) and uploading it on sites like YouTube and Tubemogul is something that can really benefit your SMM efforts. Sure, you wouldn’t say no to instant exposure and the possibility of reaching millions of viewers. Apart from YouTube, you can promote the links to the videos on sites like Facebook and Twitter, and effortlessly double the exposure your brand stands to receive.
5. Keep your eyes peeled and your ears open, and your finger on the pulse. Bad anatomical idioms aside, being aware of all the changes happening around you on the web is important not just in social media marketing, but any kind of marketing on line. Subscribe to feeds from relevant sites, use an RSS reader (like, Zune or Feedreader) and be among the first to comment on posts you like or find particularly relevant. Commenting on posts is great way to get in to the thick of the social activity on a site, but being the first commenter will give you the opportunity to initiate a discussion and channel it in the direction you wish to.
6. Social media marketing can hardly be possible unless you are willing to be, you know, social. It’s a given that you should make your presence felt on all the major social sites, but what is equally important, but is often overlooked is being part of micro-communities – that are relevant to your business. While your message may get lost in the irrelevant ‘noise’ on established social sites, it has more probability of reaching the intended audience in a smaller, but niche, micro-community. If you have a site about pet grooming, joining a niche community for dog lovers like Dogster will greatly help your business.
7. Stick to your brand philosophy! Just because you are depending on a (relatively) modern approach to marketing doesn’t mean you have to abandon your brand’s basic ideology, which has hitherto guided you. Let your brand philosophy guide your SMM strategy, it will stop you from over-promising and help sustain your brand identity. Investing in social media monitoring tools to watch your brand image is not a bad idea either- you can tell if you’re straying from your philosophy by the reaction of your consumers.
8. Be familiar with the social culture of the communities you frequent – very important, lest you commit a social faux pas and the other members banish you from the community. If you have ever participated in a forum discussion, you know what I mean. Like forums, social communities have a certain culture – certain jargons they favor, certain topics that are preferred. If you wish to be accepted as part of a community, be sure you are well-versed with its ways and are prepared to adapt. Though essentially they do the same thing, Digg and Reddit has different and distinct cultures; if you are found to be pro-Reddit on Digg, you’ll be buried even before you can say social!
9. Don’t ‘spam’ on social sites. A no-brainer, really. Everyone on the Internet knows that Spam = Evil, so if you are engaging in social spamming, you are clearly prepared to see your SMM campaign die an extremely quick death. But to those of you, who are yet to commit this cardinal of sins, let me say this: DON’T DO IT! Not only you lose your credibility, social or otherwise, but all your efforts will go to naught as well. Social spamming isn’t limited to offering unsolicited irrelevant links on social sites; posting promotional comments (with or without links), Digging or Stumbling posts on popular topics that are in no way related to your site, even sending automated Direct Messages on twitter are considered spammy practices.
10. Avoid blatant marketing tactics, be subtle. I know what you are thinking, “what’s the point of having a ‘subtle’ marketing campaign?” I am afraid that’s the way things work in social media. The ‘social’ element (a.k.a user/follower/fan) in social media apparently has little patience for overtly promotional and gimmicky marketing tactics. Give then fun contests, quizzes and games that don’t ‘corrupt’ the social space too much, and they’ll love you!
11. Don’t forget to keep your social profiles live and updated. One would think, this goes without saying, but there are enough ‘dead’ profiles out there to change one’s thinking. I don’t like following, friending or even ‘fanning’ inactive profiles, I can only imagine it is true of other social media users too. Freshness is of the essence in social media, if all a profile can provide is stale information, it is of little use to anyone.
12. Don’t forget about Online Reputation Management. A significant amount of signals monitored in ORM come from social sites. So, while you are engaged in SMM, it is of vital importance to gauge user reaction to your product and to take appropriate measures to counter any less-than favorable signal. If these negative signals point to an actual problem with your product, take them to heart and address the issue immediately. If they aren’t, work to rectify the wrong perception.
13. Don’t drop search in favor of social. You SMM efforts should complement your SEO efforts. Choosing one over the other will turn out to be nothing so much as a mistake. Continue building links and optimizing your site while you build your presence in social media.
14. Don’t try to do too much too fast. Let your SMM take a natural course. Natural being the keyword here; just because you figured you got into the game a little too late, don’t try to make up for it by working over time. So, tweeting updates every half an hour – bad idea. Your followers want to receive useful tweets from you, even one tweet a day will very likely keep them happy. Try not to flood their streams with less-then-useful, overtly promotional tweets, this holds true for your activity on other social sites as well.
15. You social media activities should be primed to bring exposure to your site. They certainly should not be used to go on the offence and slander your competition. Battling it out with a competition can do more harm than good to your SMM efforts.
16. Don’t engage in social climbing – you can’t have a successful SMM campaign if you have only people with big, established profiles on your network. While seeking to climb the social ladder, arguably in an effort to boost the importance of your profile, you may lose out on many a potential customer.
Consider these rules while you are chalking out your SMM marketing plan and you can stop worrying about your efforts backfiring on you.
Bhavya George represents Social Maximizer, a social bookmarking service that assists webmasters in promoting their blog posts & articles in various social bookmarking sites.