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Whether I’m consulting with business clients or conducting social media workshops, the same questions come up repeatedly. They are great questions and need to be understood before engaging in social media. I’ve attempted to answer 5 most asked questions, but in reality, I’ve only scratched the surface.

Does my company need social media marketing?
This question is a favorite of mine and one I’d like you to consider after reviewing the video below. Social media is not about what someone had for breakfast. For those of you harder to convince, be sure to watch through to the end.

Okay, I’m convinced. Now where do I begin?
Many start with tactics. They add their business profile on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter and then ask themselves — now what?  Or, worse still, they use the social networks to advertise their products without a full understanding of why they are there. What must be in place before implementing tools is a social media strategy. Here are 5 things to consider when building your strategy:

  1. Research and listen — where do your existing and potential customers spend their time? (use industry keywords in Google Blog Search, Twitter Search or SiteVolume) What is being said about your company? (look at Google Alerts, SocialMention or Socialcast).
  2. Identify goals — what is it you want to achieve with social media? To increase brand awareness, leads, conversion rates, etc?  With an eye toward adding value, understand what your target audience cares about and wants to read, and publish and distribute content they need.
  3. Begin a conversation — interaction is key to building trust, credibility and action among your prospective customers. (Conversation does not mean advertising to your audience as discussed in my previous post Using social media: how will you be human?) It does mean engaging with them. And, it means providing them with information they want, asking what they think and as a result, watching the volume of your fans and followers increase.
  4. Define targets — interacting with your online community, becoming one of them, and writing compelling content, will help you gain momentum with prospects by allowing them to see how your business can help them. Conversion is an organic result of establishing trust online and people buy products from those they trust. Be sure to measure your progress using tools such as Google Analytics. And, as with any good strategy, identify weak areas and redefine your targets where necessary.
  5. Establish parameters — as businesses using social media grows, so does the need to have a policy in place to help employees understand their role. The policy should set expectations of employee participation in both business and personal accounts which align with your company’s goals. Equally important is to have a crisis management policy to allow you to react quickly to a negative situation online about your company or brand.

What should I talk about?
Knowing what to say is probably one of the hardest things for those new to social media. Many businesses feel if they don’t make products, offer discount coupons, or are not a B2C company, they don’t have a real need for social media. But the fact is, no matter what product or service your company offers, social media provides a venue to engage with your existing and potential customers. It puts the control of improvements to products and services in the hands of your customers. Giving up control is tough, but critical for businesses to succeed with social media marketing. In return, businesses gain customer loyalty and trust through thought leadership without the direct sales pitch.

Still not sure what to say? Check out Alltop. It is a digital magazine rack where information is collected from different sources to help readers find sites of interest. It displays information you need on one aggregated page, listing the top 5 stories. To understand how it can be useful to you, read Eight Ways Marketers Can Benefit Using Alltop or How Business Can Benefit From Using Alltop. Alltop gives you industry news to share with your audience and saves you time. Which brings us to the next question …


How much time should I spend on social media marketing?
In his recent post How Much Time Should I Spend On Social Media #1 blogger and social media guru Chris Brogan talks about best practices for social media management. In a nutshell, he recommends spending about 2 hours a day, divided into chunks of time:

  • Spend 1/4 of your time “listening,” finding out what is being said about you, your competitors, your marketplace.
  • Spend 1/2 of your time communicating to your audience. This is your time to connect with potential customers by making comments and replying to questions.
  • 1/4 in creating content. Whether you’re blogging, writing e-newsletters or online articles, updating content is how you get found on search engines. (SEO is driven by updated content.)

Does 2 hours a day seem like too much time to dedicate to social media marketing? Consider the time and money you invest in SEO efforts, cold calling, conference calling, advertising campaigns, e-newsletters and customer visits. Social media reaches beyond territories, offering time-saving tools and an increase to Web site traffic at a fraction of the cost of other marketing methods.

How do I measure ROI?
Maybe you’re already convinced why you should use social media marketing. One question remaining is likely to be: How do I measure my return on investment? How do I sell it to company stakeholders? The ROI question is probably the biggest obstacle when trying to get buy-in from senior executives. Measuring social media ROI and its effect on the bottom line is still a challenge for even the best marketers. In Dirk Shaw’s recent post Moving beyond social media metrics to business outcomes he talks about early social media metrics having a loose tie to business goals, which raised the question whether social media could do anything for business. In a later post How do you report social media success? he examines how social media activity impacts business outcomes, which is key to achieving executive sponsorship. Also, How to Measure Social Media ROI for Business a post from Mashable offers tips on qualitative and quantitative measurement. And, if you still want more, read 6 Must Read Posts about the ROI of Social Media.

Social media strategy and ROI have yet to be clearly defined. As social media continues to grow and change, networks like Facebook and Twitter are looking for ways to monetize their own businesses, and will continue their efforts in making social media marketing more appealing (and profitable) for business leaders who will help keep them afloat.  

These are the 5 most asked questions I get. What other social media questions do you think should be included?

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With recent talk of a flu pandemic preparing to invade the Northern Hemisphere in just a few weeks, wouldn’t you like to spread something good virally? Then, a dose of pay it forward may be just what you need.

Novelist Lily Hardy Hammond wrote, “You don’t pay love back; you pay it forward.”

The pay it forward concept involves repaying kindness by performing random acts of kindness for others. Sociologists refer to it as “generalized reciprocity.” 

Whatever the phrase actually means, it’s likely most of us picture it as a little kid with a big idea in the film with the same name. That was the extent of my knowledge, until last week.

I waited patiently in the drive-thru at our local Starbucks for my usual non-fat Caffè Mocha. I scarcely noticed a woman in the car in front of me as she paid for her coffee and drove off.

380_Image_PA_starbucks_drive_thruI moved up to the window to pick up my coffee, when the barista said, “Never mind paying, your coffee was paid for by ‘Anne,’ the woman who was in front of you.” I gave her a surprised look and she continued, “Yeah, last week we had 10 cars in a row that did the same thing, one after another.” Still a bit stunned, I looked into the rear view mirror and noticed there was no one behind me. She looked at me and said, “Just buy one for someone next time.”

I was happy, yet puzzled that someone I could NEVER thank would do such a nice thing for me. It soon turned to curiousity about how this whole thing started.

When I got home, I plugged some keywords into Google and found that Starbucks has been virally spreading this concept on and off since about 2005. A nice gesture apparently started from an angry one. An impatient Starbucks customer began honking and yelling at the driver in front of him. This driver, a tai chi master, responded with a bit of Zen, and bought the angry man’s coffee. This set off a chain reaction of drivers buying coffee for the person in the line behind them and so on. (Although, many think that Starbucks uses it as an undercover PR campaign.)

The concept continues to spread through social media channels and is used by credit unions, non-profits, and even eBay and Flickr.

Whatever its reason for promotion, if social communications can bring an idea to life that sparks real people to do real nice things for each other, should we care?

No matter how you do it, by all means, do it. If you don’t drink coffee, or frequent Starbucks, here are five other ways you can pay it forward.

  1. Give life to others at the next Red Cross blood drive
  2. Take a stressed-out coworker to lunch (and listen)
  3. Donate your time or funds to help a local animal rescue shelter http://www.romeothecat.com/
  4. Become a Big Brother or Big Sister http://bit.ly/5MkE
  5. Give to a true pay it forward organization http://www.heifer.org/

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