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Leveraging Social Media in Your Business

How to use various social media channels in your business

In my last post I explained that before you embark on using social media for your business, you need to first determine your objectives and define your strategy. And this strategic planning does not and probably should not involve any specific social media channel at the outset.

A good article that outlines the steps for the planning and strategic upfront work is "10 steps to a practical social media business strategy" by Allen Bonde, where he describes the fundamental and basic steps that must be done upfront, such as creating a mission statement and a marketing plan, assigning ownership and defining policies, all before getting to specific social media channels.

Now assuming that you have done your strategy homework, let’s take a look at how we can leverage various social media channels in an integrated and orchestrated fashion (in terms of specific tactics) to market a business (or a cause), a brand, or products and services.

In the previous post I referenced a number of blog posts and articles from others on this topic that provide good information. What I have here is somewhat different and in a way complementary to what is covered in those articles. Another good article on this topic is “30 Tips for Using Social Media in Your Business” published in Inc. It also includes examples for each tip of how specific businesses use social media. It also points out the caveats and pitfalls of misusing social media and how it can harm the reputation of a business or even get it in legal trouble.

Website

Needless to say that it is critical to have a good up-to-date dynamic website as most other elements (including social media) plug into it. To be able to easily change and expand the website, it may be best to invest in a web content management system. There are numerous providers for such software from small business to enterprise. Such systems may also include blogging module as well that can be used to host the company blogs.

In a large organization with multiple product lines and several content providers it may be necessary to implement processes and workflows for review and approval of the content before it is published on the public site. Such software may provide the means for implementing customized edit/review/approve/publish workflows.

This website becomes the primary container for various other social media elements that I will discuss below, such as blogs and Twitter feed. These may get plugged into the home page, product pages, or the news page of the corporate website.

Blogs

Having active blogs with one or more subject matter expert (SME) writer is of utmost importance. Blogs should not be commercials for the offerings, but they can provide thought leadership and news about the relevant markets and industries. There may be dedicated blogs to each product line and industry in the target market. Again, it may be necessary to implement marcom and legal review and approval workflows to ensure that what is written is in line with corporate and legal guidelines, before they get published.

Twitter

Having presence on Twitter is a must for any business. You may in fact want to have multiple accounts for various products and services or even various departments (e.g. customer support) depending on the size and the nature of your business and offerings. Cisco Systems has over 30 Twitter accounts dedicated to various product lines as well as departments such as support. For effective tweeting it is also important to create the right hashtags associated with the brand names, product lines and other topics. For example if your company has its own conference or public event, you should create a hashtag dedicated to that event. Those tags then should be used with the appropriate tweets consistently.

The tweet streams (feeds) should be pushed onto the appropriate pages of the website.  For example if you have a dedicated Twitter account for a particular product line, then tweets from that account may show up on the corresponding product page. While tweets from an overall corporate Twitter account should go to the news page.

Facebook

I am a big fan of Facebook and am actively on it with well over 1,000 friends. But I primarily use it for personal and community social networking and not for business use. My primary social media channels for business and professional use are LinkedIn and Twitter.

However nowadays even serious large high-tech companies like Cisco,Oracle, and Intel have fan pages on Facebook. Some host multiple pages that may be dedicated to particular organizations or specific products and services. I think this make sense for companies with consumer products. For B2B companies it is questionable how effective it is, but it doesn’t take much to set up a fan page so why not do it?

Cisco main fan page has over 38,000 members and provides continuous updates and news about its products and services. Oracle main fan page has over 27,000 members and it includes the latest news from Oracle. I just viewed Larry Ellison’s video talking about the closing of Sun’s acquisition on that page.

Facebook presence may help with establishing and promoting the company brand name and recruiting good top young talent. I venture to say that more people know about Cisco and Oracle because of their Facebook fan pages than they would otherwise.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is the premier business networking site. There are two primary ways that a business can use LinkedIn services. One is creating and managing the appropriate Linked groups as well as having presence and participating in the relevant industry and technology groups. LinkedIn groups have many features such as subgroups, news and discussions that may be utilized. LinkedIn has also emerged as a serious job site. If you want top talent for your business you probably should use LinkedIn job services.

Youtube

It is a good idea to set up a Youtube channel under the company or product brand name and populate it with videos that can cover various product and industry related topics. For example the videos may be product demos, talks, or interviews. The Youtube channel should then be linked to the website.

Enable syndication & social bookmarking

It is also useful to enable your customers and visitors to easily share and receive content from your website. For example you can facilitate setting up a feed for your press releases so that one can receive them in their Google Reader. You may also want to use page sharing and bookmarking services such as AddThis so that a visitor to your site can easily bookmark and share a particular page of interest using social bookmarking services such as Delicious.

Let your customers participate and listen

So far all I have covered are various methods for broadcasting, publishing, and sharing information with your audience. But social media is not just about you telling others about yourself and your business. It is conversation.

The important and differentiating factor in social media is the notion of community where participants (you, your customers and partners, and your employees) are enabled, empowered and encouraged to participate, collaborate, share information, and help each other. And Web 2.0 technology has readily enabled this notion of community. Concepts such as rating and comments are available for most of such social content.

You can for example comment on blog posts and Youtube videos. On Facebook you can flag any content with Like/unlike and comment on it. Your support/help content should include means for the reader to rate the usefulness of such content. You should monitor what people are saying about you and your offerings on the internet at large beyond your website. For example you should monitor sites such as Twitter and Yelp about your business and products.

Putting it all together

As you can see there are many elements and channels to social media. Needless to say that it is important to have an orchestrated and coordinated effort on using them. You want to have a consistent and timely messaging across all these channels. The frequency of tweets, updates to the relevant LinkedIn groups, Facebook fan page, blog posts, etc. all must be appropriately timed and coordinated. For large companies like Cisco with major social media initiative, it is necessary to have full-time people dedicated to social media to successfully implement and execute their social media plan.

Social Media Guidelines & Policies

It is also a good idea to define, publish and socialize a social media policy and guidelines to ensure proper usage, avoid misuse and ensure consistent messaging. Many companies have already defined their own and some are in fact public so you can view them and base yours based on their best practices. For example here is IBM’s “Social Computing Guidelines”. And here is Intel’s “Social Media Guidelines”. There are numerous other examples of such guidelines and policies online. In “10 Must-Haves for Your Social Media Policy“, Sharlyn Lauby discusses general elements of such a policy.

More Stories By Farshid Ketabchi

Farshid Ketabchi is a technologist and a marketer with about 15 years of experience in product marketing and technology alliances in enterprise software such as BPM (business process management), Case Management, SOA (service-oriented architecture), ECM (enterprise content management), Business Rules and Business Events management, working for leading software vendors such as Savvion, FileNet, IBM and EMC. He also has about seven years of prior experience in software development with focus in user interface design. He is currently a principal analyst at EMC.

Farshid blogs on social media, enterprise software, and product marketing related topics at TekTrends.net or TetkMarketing.net. He also owns and runs a community site at ParsTimeout.com. He is active on LinkedIn as farshidk, and on Twitter and Facebook as farshidk, TekMarketing and ParsTimeout.

Farshid holds an MS in Computer Science, a BS in Mathematics and Computer Science, and a certificate of marketing from UC Berkeley. He is also certified in Pragmatic Marketing. For more details, please see Farshid's Google profile at: google.com/profiles/farshidk.

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