Tweets, Peeps and Bleeps: Is Social Media Right for Your Business?

With the recent explosion of social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and dozens more, customers frequently ask me if they should jump on the social media train. My answer is usually more complicated than a straight “yes” or “no.” Like any long-term marketing or branding strategy, you have to look at every angle to make sure social media fits with your brand, resonates with your audience, and supports your business objectives.

Certain organizations are naturally well-suited for social media, while others may struggle to make the new medium a viable marketing function. Giant consumer brands such as Coke and Nike have poured millions into social media marketing. Both companies have strong brand loyalty—committed fans who are loyal and craving more interaction. These fans are willing not only to buy Coke or Nike products, but they casually refer the brands to their friends (peeps) using social networks. Through social networks, Coke and Nike have created online platforms where “brand advocates”  can interact with their brands to generate constant buzz.

The question is, how do you generate that social media buzz if you’re a small business without a million-plus marketing budget? Entrepreneurs may have smaller budgets, but they often compensate with creativity, passion, and a willingness to take on any new challenge in order to achieve success. If done properly, social media marketing can increase your visibility, drive traffic to your web site, and help promote your brand online at a relatively low cost.

Before taking the social media plunge to promote your business, here are a few guidelines to consider:

Allocate time and resources:
Social media may sound like a good idea, but you’ll need to dedicate time on a weekly basis to managing your social media strategy. It’s important to make the time or hire an expert to help. I’ve seen way too many idle blogs and defunct Facebook accounts when I’ve clicked through to see more info about companies online.

Be relevant:
Make sure you have something to say before you hop on Twitter or update your status on Facebook. All marketing activities should be based on telling your unique story and supporting your brand message. To be successful, you need to present snippets of your larger story in a way that will engage viewers and lead to ongoing dialogue.

Keep focused:
Remember, it’s about your business, not what you had for breakfast this morning. Sure, the nature of social media is casual, but don’t forget to present yourself and your company in a professional manner. Imagine how you would introduce yourself in a face-to-face networking opportunity and focus on cultivating that impression online.

Frequency is key:
It’s impossible to build an online presence by posting one blog entry every other month or updating your Facebook status every few weeks. Like any marketing function, social media requires frequency, consistency, and ongoing finesse. To shape expectations, you may want to establish a long-term schedule so viewers can anticipate your communications.

Connect the dots:
Social media marketing should plug into a larger, more comprehensive marketing mix. Think about how social media can support other marketing activities, both online and offline.

Social media has entered the mainstream. If you’re thinking about jumping in the water, make sure you have the time and long-term commitment required to build a successful social media program.