Get the Most Out of Your Social Media Marketing: 10 Fundamentals

So many small business owners attempt to market their companies via social networking, and so many of them fail at it. These 10 fundamental tips are essential reading for small business owners and solopreneurs just starting out in social media marketing (and it’s a good refresher for those already in the game.)

First, let me start things off by saying that this post is not about link building, SEO, or how to increase traffic to your website. For that you can head over to Mashable or Copyblogger, or read some of the great submissions at BizSugar.

Instead, I want to put a spotlight on the process small business owners go through at the very beginning of their social media marketing campaigns- a time when motivation is high, but not so much effort has been made yet. It’s at this fleeting, precarious moment that many a social networking initiative has already begun its downward descent into the deep, dark abyss of the online socially ignored.

If you want to make the most of your social media marketing efforts, then you need to get the process going in the right direction from the start, and that means being in touch with yourself and your resources, having realistic expectations, and creating good habits. If you take the time to consider the social business marketing tips below, you’ll already be ahead of the game and potentially save yourself a great deal of time and money:

1. Assess your strengths and skills. Some people will be good at various aspects of social networking, and others won’t. Period. The first rule in social marketing (as in any other form of business marketing) is that you should not try to force yourself to be something that you are not. For example, if you can’t write well or you don’t enjoy doing it, then don’t bother writing a business-related blog. If you absolutely must have one, then either find someone else in the business who can do it, or outsource the role.

2. Assess your resources. Even though social marketing is being touted as a virtual Godsend to small businesses because of it’s relative ease, low-cost, and potential market reach, the truth is that for a social marketing campaign to be effective, it generally requires a great deal of time and effort- especially at the beginning when an online presence needs to be developed and new relationships need to be formed. As the old saying goes: time is money, and you need to assess how much of either you can realistically afford to dedicate to your social marketing efforts.

3. Assess your needs. Do you need to promote your professional skills, talents, and experiences? Do you need a quick and efficient way to communicate with customers? Do you need customer input? Do you need to drive traffic to your website? Different businesses have different needs and therefore will use social media differently. Just because a platform exists doesn’t mean that you have to be using it for your social marketing campaign to be effective. The more in touch you are with your business’ needs, the easier it will be to sift through the overwhelming sea of social networking tools and platforms, to settle on the ones that will work the best for you, your business, and your customers.

4. Have realistic expectations and set goals. Will you gain thousands of followers the minute you set up your business’ Facebook and Twitter accounts? No. Build it, and they won’t necessarily come (customers that is, you may attract plenty of spammers though). Is it possible for a business to come out of nowhere, set up Facebook and Twitter accounts and whatever else, and gain thousands of followers? Yes, but with some measure of hard work, skill, time, and maybe even a bit of luck. Bottom line: make sure that your goals and expectations are in line with your efforts.

5. Develop a plan of action. Building on what has been mentioned in the previous two tips, once you’ve established what your core needs are, and you have set some realistic goals, you should then create a list of action steps that will help you to fulfill both these needs and goals. The point to all of this being that the more thought-out and calculated your social media efforts are- in every aspect- the greater will be the chance that the campaign will be a success.

6. Establish a system for calculating ROI. But we can’t stop there, because the online world is a constantly changing sea of attitudes, trends, and technology. Therefore, it is good business practice to evaluate how much of a return you are getting from your social media marketing strategies as compared to the effort involved. This will ensure that any necessary tweaks and changes can be made down the road. Measuring the ROI of social media is not an exact science because of all the variables involved, though there are some companies that can give you a dollar figure on your efforts if you are looking for it. There are also plenty of online tools that can help you with this process.

7. Curb the addiction. Social media can be addictive and for some people clicking on one interesting, non-business related post can easy lead to an hour of unproductivity. (I admit I’m one of these people). It becomes even more challenging if your job requires you to spend a significant amount of time in front of a computer. If you want to get the most out of your social media marketing efforts then you have to make sure that those efforts stay as focused as possible. Therefore, get in the habit from the beginning of clearly setting out your daily social marketing agenda and try to give yourself time limits.

8. Watch what others do first. One often repeated social media tip that deserves mention here is to observe how others are using a particular social networking platform before you jump in with your own input. This tip is important because it will help you to get a feel for the flavor, tone, etiquette, and user behavior within a particular social network so that your input can be better targeted and relevant.

9. Re-evaluate how you are doing. At least once every six months to a year, you should get into the habit of re-evaluating your social networking efforts. Your evaluation should include not only your ROI measures, but also customer feedback, as well as your own feelings about the initiative. Again, this process will help you to stay on track with your social media marketing strategies and help you to identify any potential problems or pitfalls.

10. Be yourself. I’m going to end this list, where I started: whatever you do in the social networking universe, you should stay true to who you are and/or your business’ brand. Think of social media as a man standing in a crowd holding a megaphone and wearing a neon orange track suit. The megaphone helps him to be heard above the noise of the crowd, and his outfit helps him to to be seen among the sea of people. So too with social media. These tools and platforms can help you to emphasize and highlight your unique qualities, so that you and your business can stand out in a crowd.

The problem is that these days just about everyone is holding a megaphone and wearing that same orange outfit- or something equally as eye-catching. So how can you still stand out? By focusing on what is on the inside. Because that no one else has.