Michael Hennessey
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Design | Thinking

Social Media 101 - For Business

Many of my clients have asked me about social media and how they can best use it for their business outreach efforts.

Often, businesses I've talked with about social media are far more familiar (and comfortable) with how "traditional" marketing communication tactics operate. They've sent mailers and e-mails, created print and digital ads, all of which are "monologue-based" ways of reaching your audience. You speak and hopefully the target audience will respond sometime in the future.

Social media is "dialogue-based" and in real-time. "Traditional" marketing communication strategies in this environment typically tend to fall flat, or worse, be perceived as insensitive or not relevant to the ongoing discussion you are engaging in. Which, in turn, reflects badly on your business.

Creating a good social media outreach strategy for your business means setting up some parameters in advance. I'll ask my clients the following questions to work out an appropriate social media strategy, tailored for their unique business and marketing outreach efforts.

Question 1: "What do you have to say?" - This question is meant to start a discussion with my client about their social media strategy and how it relates to their business goals. A business that offers a product for sale might have a different approach to social media outlets than a business that offers consulting or advisory services.

Like any conversation, your audience is interested in what you might have to contribute to the discussion. Simply announcing a new product line or stating a unique business methodology won't necessarily bring much to the social table. That would be like standing on a table in a crowded restaurant and shouting. Social media is about listening first and then engaging in a dialogue with relevant and pertinent information.

Question 2: "Who do you want to talk with?" - This question starts a discussion about who their social media audience might be and how the business can or should engage in their social conversation. Part of this discussion is also about where the relevant audience discussion happens, leading to finding the most appropriate social media arenas to engage in.

A critical aspect of this question is also a reminder that social media conversation is a dialogue. Engaging in an online social conversation about your business or product offering carries an expectation with your audience that you intend to hold up your end of the conversation, not just talk at them. Businesses should be prepared to continually engage in multiple conversations with their audience, handling both positive and negative feedback.

Question 3: "How do you want your audience to respond?" - I ask this question primarily to initiate a conversation with a client about what their expectations are for their audience and to talk with them about how to craft their social media conversation to help realize those expectations.

In essence, the goal is for the business to bring something relevant and valuable to the discussion that is going on. Offering unique insight to a discussion or providing a free source of valuable information, at just the right time, goes a long way to generating a positive response from your audience.

Crafting your message to allow and expect a response is a simple way of telling your audience that you really want to hear what they have to say. Providing a dedicated forum or online discussion area (perhaps on the company website) to encourage the conversation is also an effective way to encourage those social contacts that really want to engage with you.

Question 4: "Who in your organization is going to lead and moderate these discussions?" - This is an important aspect of social media business strategy. It's so important to have a dedicated individual or team with the responsibility (and authority) to engage in social media conversations on behalf of the business.

Since relevancy to a discussion is so important in a social media conversation (just like a real life conversation) it requires constant attention to those social media arenas that your business has chosen to engage in. There needs to be someone (or a team) in your business who will be listening and looking at relevant social media conversations and is ready to respond and add to the discussion.

You can think of it as having a business presence at a trade show event that is open 24 hours, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. You may get 2 conversations today, 6 tomorrow, 30 more next week. How quickly your business can respond, in a relevant and valuable way, goes a long way in promoting confidence in others to also want to talk to you. A significant lag-time in the conversation can have the opposite effect, generating negative impressions on your business and it's interest or willingness to truly engage in the dialogue. 

Having a dedicated social media individual (or team) as a part of your social media outreach is as vital to the success of your strategy as what you actually have to say in the online conversation.

I hope these thoughts and insights give you an idea of my approach to creating a social media strategy for your business. If you are interested in using social media for your business and want to know how, please contact me and I'll be glad to talk with you more about it.

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