Social Media Strategy for SMEs

Social Media is still going through the hype stage. You’d think success with it simply depends on setting up an account, throwing out a few words of wisdom and waiting for the cash to start rolling in. The reality is that it requires thinking and some hard graft to make it

Gareth Edwards, the National B2B Centre’s Associate E-Marketing Consultant, has used his extensive experience of working with SMEs to develop a series of practical steps that will help you get the results you’re after.

Introduction

The real challenge of using Social Media is not how individual sites work – most people can eventually sort out to do a tweet – it’s about how to fit Social Media into the way you operate and what changes you need to make to incorporate it.

Social Media is not a magic bullet. It is another part of your marketing activity and like any other marketing technique you have to plan to be successful. I would also stick my neck out and suggest that there are plenty of you for whom Social Media shouldn’t be top of your marketing priority list.

The steps I have outlined below should give you an indication of what’s required. Feel free to contact me at the B2B Centre if you have any questions about the approach.

Understand how Social Media marketing can help.

People often jump into to Social Media because they see it as a way of generating sales.

In fact Social Media is providing benefits to businesses in lots of different ways; as a research tool, to help with brand recognition or provide better customer service, for instance. Some commentators would even say that Social Media is not a good selling tool because your audience expect interaction and relationship building not a hard sell.

Define your objectives

It is easy to get caught up with tactical objectives such as the number of “Likes” on Facebook or Retweets on Twitter. While it is important to know how well you are progressing within individual tools there is a bigger picture. Do more of the right people know about your products? Have you improved the opinion of your services amongst their users? Is the phone ringing with enquiries? Are more people clicking the buy now button?

What you measure should be driven by your overall business objectives and, in particular, your overall marketing objectives.

Target Audience

It is easy to assume that all of our clients are the same. That’s rarely true and it is important to understand what the differences are between different groups of clients or people involved in the buying process. This helps us choose the right Social Media channels and define the appropriate messages.

Try developing some outline “personas” that describe your ideal clients and take time to recognise the difference between, for instance, the consumer, the buyer and the specifier for your products and services. They all want to hear something different.

Choosing the right Social Media channel

There is more to Social Media than Facebook and Twitter. In fact there are thousands of different Social Media sites out there, any of which could be the place where your customers hang-out or where your clients talk about the key issues in your industry.

The key is to do your research and find the places that your audience uses and then look at how they use a specific channel. The same people may be on multiple sites: on Facebook they might be interested in guitars, on LinkedIn it could be groundwater monitoring equipment.

choose your social media channel

How do you find out? Try asking them directly through calls or surveys. Or utilise Google or the search tools in almost all of the Social Media channels themselves. A few searches on the name of your sector, industry buzz words or products and services will start to identify people.

What are we going to talk about?

Lots of people set up a Twitter account spend a week blasting out tweets about their new products and then complain that they have run out of things to say.

In reality everybody I have worked with has a treasure trove of interesting stories just waiting to be told. Trying doing a “Success Audit” as a way of unlocking your hidden resources. Also remember that you don’t have to keep writing original content.

How about sharing an article or a picture that you found with your network? Think about generating interaction by inviting a response to your opinions on your industry, asking questions or using polls. Quizzes and competitions can also be a good way to get a reaction.

Remeber that you can also reformat your content to suit the Social Media channels you use.  If you start out with a five paragraph blog for instance, then consider using cut and paste to create one or two Facebook posts, and five or six tweets.  I call it the Social Media cascade.

There is also no shame in repeating messages (although you might want to reword them a little). Very few people will look at everything you send, and most people have a preferential Social Media channel that they use more than others.

Set up a Social Media business process.

For SMEs the big challenge of Social Media is how to incorporate it into the operation when resources are limited and budgets are tight. Budgeting and scheduling are two ways to help once you have decided on your audiences, channels and objectives. As you start to develop the list of activities and tasks required you can allocate time and people to particular jobs. It’ll soon highlight what’s feasible without more resources or the need for external help.

You can then develop a couple of perspectives on the on-going workload. Firstly create an annual schedule that captures what happens in a typical year. Is there a particular industry cycle (i.e. gearing up for Christmas), what changes are there in client requirements during the year, do you attend regular trade shows or conferences. This will give you some ideas for Social Media content in advance and tell you when you need to have material ready.

calendar

The second perspective is a weekly or monthly schedule (preferably based around a regular management or marketing meeting) during which you can decide specifically what the key topics are and what Social Media output you are going to produce.  This gives people a chance to contribute new ideas, to understand what required of them and an opportunity to shout up if they can’t fit it in.

Something else to consider is establishing policies and procedures regarding who can say what and when.  Assigning overall responsibility to an individual is a good idea and it is important to clarify what tone and style is required for each channel.

Using Social Media Channels

While there are differences in the way the different Social Media channels work and what you can do with them, there are some key approaches to take whichever channels you use.
Keep your profile/bio updated. It’s often what people see first and how they form an impression of you. It also provides the core information that appears in searches so make sure you use relevant words.
Use pictures, graphics and video as much as possible. People respond well to visuals and in many cases it’ll be the only way to get across your skills and expertise.
Use the contact upload features. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn all have a facility to upload contacts from email tools so that you connect with people you already know. It could shortcut a lot of hard work.
Promote. Promote. Promote. If you stick up a Facebook page or a Pinterest board people will find them…slowly. There is a lot of competition for people’s attention so you have to promote your activity as much as possible. That means adding Social Media icons on your website, email signature and stationery. Consider creating campaigns to launch a new channel – email clients with the link.

Management Tools

There are a variety of tools available to make your Social Media activity just a little easier.

At the top of the pile are dashboard tools such as Hootsuite, Tweetdeck and Socialoomph, which allow you to manage a variety of Social Media channels from one place. These type of tools provide a variety of additional benefits but the biggest one is that you can schedule posts in advance, which makes it much easier to keep up a reasonable output. You still need to look at what’s going on though, in order to respond to queries.
There are also a host of other tools – some part of the Social Media channels themselves, others external – some that I use include Facebook Insights, SocialBro and FollowerWonk.

Measurement

We have already talked about the need to define metrics that show how you are contributing to your business objectives. After you have selected a set of Social Media channels you can extend that to include metrics concerned directly with their use. The numbers of fans, followers and connections is usually a good starting point but you might also want to track who is following. Look out for particular job titles or working in specific sectors.

analytics

SocialBro is a good tool for measuring Twitter activity, while Facebook and LinkedIn have internal tools – if you want the detail on LinkedIn you’ll have to pay.

More often than not you be trying to move your Social Media audience towards your website to download some material (e.g. a white paper or product guide), get your contact details or make a purchase. To track this activity you’ll need Google Analytics (Check out our article Google Analytics – First Time Through), a free monitoring tool that can tell you exactly where your site traffic is coming from and what happened when it got to your site.

Summary

You have probably realised that there is more to this Social Media stuff than you first thought.  It’s good to spend plenty of time thinking about how you can use Social Media to meet your specific needs in the context of both your market and your clients.

The great thing is that you can test ideas out.  Keep an eye out on the reaction to a particular type of post or when you are using a different channel and see what happens.  Remember to give it enough time to gain some traction but if it doesn’t work then change or stop.

If you need further help then we have a one-day Social Media training course that will explain how to define your strategy and make it work in practice.

Gareth Edwards
Associate e-Marketing Consultant, The National B2B Centre Ltd.
gareth.edwards@nb2bc.co.uk