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Getting started in social media marketing

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Most business professionals have at least some familiarity with social media. You’ve probably visited YouTube, Pinterest or Twitter for news and entertainment. You have personal accounts on LinkedIn and Facebook – although they may be a bit neglected.

But how much of a social media presence does your firm have? More important, how much should it have? “None” is no longer an acceptable answer, says Social Media Brand Strategist Karen Yankovich.

“A social media presence for your business is important because that’s the world we live in,” says Yankovic, who helps entrepreneurs and small businesses use social media effectively. “We tend to not do business with anyone without at least entering their name or company into a search engine and seeing what we can find out about them.”

In this sense, social media is now one of the most vital tools for inbound marketing. If you do it right, clients will want to engage with you, while maintaining a poor social media can have the opposite effect.

“You have a social brand whether you want to or not,” Yankovich says. “Social media lets you control that brand.”

Creating a framework

Your firm builds its reputation every day through the actions you take, the people you hire and your client interactions. The way you communicate online also shapes how your firm is perceived in the marketplace.

The first step in building your social media brand is to create your firm’s communications hub that includes an inviting, searchable website and a blog rich with content, says Aalap Shah, cofounder of SoMe Connect.

Once you’ve developed your website and blog, gradually expand your social media presence to include LinkedIn, Twitter and, eventually, YouTube, Shah says. Each platform works in a different way to promote your social media brand and your people. And these platforms are mobile-friendly, meaning that they can be viewed by smartphone or tablet, making them easier for customers and potential customers to access.

“That’s important because in 2015, more than 1 billion people accessed Internet information by smartphone,” Shah says.

Social media expert Rob Henderson, of J&L Communications, adds that companies should also have at least a basic presence on Google+, calling it a “no-brainer.” Yankovich also suggests talking to your best customers to see where they hang out on social media

Who should own it

Creating a social media marketing program isn’t as difficult as it might seem to the uninitiated. You’ve got four responsibilities, according to Yankovich.

  1. Strategy development — Crafting the brand message, selecting social media platforms, building out the content calendar and allocating responsibilities
  2. Content creation — Writing blog posts and other content, either in house or by commissioning writers
  3. Execution — Placing messages and engaging with followers
  4. Evaluation — Measuring results

Identify the activities your firm’s marketing team can handle in house, and consider hiring social media marketing consultants to take on any areas of weakness, such as strategy development or content creation.

“Firms must decide who their social ambassador will be,” says Henderson. “It’s crucial that your ambassador keep a regular cadence on social media.”

This person sets the tone for social media usage and helps your organization avoid situations that could cast it an unflattering light – for instance, having an employee unfamiliar with your social media protocol post a damaging message to your company’s Facebook page.

Still, Henderson warns against being too buttoned-down in your social media communications. Too much training can make people think that engaging in social media is a rule-driven practice, he says.

Marketers should understand that social media is a looser, less formal and more immediate form of brand communication, with content at the core. Yankovich cites the 80/20 rule as a guideline for posting social media content.

“Eighty percent of your posts should provide value,” she says. “You can self-promote with the other 20 percent. But don’t be ‘that guy’ who jumps right in to the conversation and starts promoting.”

Platform profiles

Each social media channel is a different beast, with its own advantages, challenges and ways to execute content.

“You want to create a funnel,” Henderson says. “For example, after optimizing your website for search, a user finds you and engages with a whitepaper or video. The call to action is to follow you on Twitter. You tweet about your LinkedIn group, you post on that group about an event your firm is sponsoring or speaking at. They attend, and then the relationship can form in person.”

Your social media strategy should flow from channel to channel. Here’s how you can use each platform to drive engagement with your audience.

Company blog – The blog on your firm’s website is primarily where you want social media traffic to flow. Your social media content should get clients or prospects so engaged that they follow a link to your blog to learn more, find out about your business and eventually pick up the phone. The content must be rich and informative, providing real value to readers and positioning your company as the source expert.

When Shah starts helping clients compose content calendars, he asks them to provide a list of the top 10 questions people ask when contacting their business. Build content out by answering each of these questions, leaving room for current industry events and other timely topics, he says.

As far as makeup and frequency, Yankovich recommends posting 250-word articles every week. But other social media experts say quality is of greater importance than frequency.

“You’re better off writing 1,000 to 2,000-word posts once or twice a month,” Shah says.

Once you’ve developed initial blog content, write brief synopses as teaser headings to place in your social platforms, with a link to the post.

Shah also offers this rule of thumb for corporate blogs.

“The amount of time you spend writing a blog is the same amount of time you should spend promoting it on social media channels.”

LinkedIn – This is a must-have social media platform for business professionals. Yankovich suggests not only showcasing a strong corporate brand on LinkedIn but encouraging your associates to have equally strong profiles. After all, people hire CPAs, not CPA firms.

“Your company page can be very simple,” she says. “You can literally copy and paste the page from your website, then encourage your people to link from there. Your firm will look stronger if, when you click on individual pages, all your people look like rock stars.”

Individual profiles are owned by employees, not by your firm. You can’t always control how they’re written or their conformity to the company brand, unless you take that upon yourself with their permission.

Making low-cost advertising buys on LinkedIn can also help you maximize your visibility to a very narrow LinkedIn audience.

“You can buy sponsored posts weekly for $20 or less and slice and dice recipients against geography, demographics, job titles, types of firms or other factors,” Shah says.

Then use LinkedIn messages to tease your hand-picked audience with links to relevant, informative blog posts.

Twitter — “Think of Twitter as a conversational channel more than a marketing channel,” Shah says. “Use it to connect to journalists, subject matter experts and other industry influencers.”

Volume of messaging is important. Make sure your name is always in the feed, with new, fresh content.

“If you tweet once a day you may as well not even tweet,” Yankovich says. “You should be out there ten or 20 times a day.”

Your presence, however, must be strategic, not just frequent. Yankovich points to Tylenol as a successful example.

“They went on Twitter and searched for the hashtag ‘headache,’” she says. “For anyone using it, Tylenol replied and offered a free product sample.”

YouTube — Sometimes it’s better to show than tell, and YouTube is the most important channel for visually communicating your message. And all the technology to do this is literally at your fingertips.

“Everyone can shoot videos with their phones,” Yankovich says. “Upload a video and say, ‘It’s tax season. Look at how crazy it is here.’ People relate to injecting the personality of the people behind the brand. They want to know who they’re doing business with.”

Whichever channels you select, there are ample tools for measuring results.

“LinkedIn and Twitter have very robust analytics that are free to use,” Henderson says.

“These are good for finding out which posts have most engaged your audience. You can also buy more advanced tools like Sysmos and Radian 6, which will report on things like sentiment around your brand.”

The main rule is to avoid being intimidated. Start small. Gauge results. Learn by trial and error to nourish your brand, and stay in the conversation.