If you are an entrepreneur today, and not using social media to promote your business, you are missing out on a huge opportunity. But, contrary to what most people preach, it isn't entirely free. Most social media outlets don't require a subscription charge, but they certainly require an investment -- in people, in technology, your reputation, and your time.
There are hundreds of consultants out there who will take your money for guidance in this area, but I recommend that you start with some free resources on the Internet, or one of the many recent books on this topic. One I read a while back, How to Make Money with Social Media by Jamie Turner and Reshma Shah, Ph.D., hits all the right points from my perspective:
- There are risks as well as benefits. As with many start-up activities, you only have one chance for a great first impression. You can jump into social media with a poor brand definition, poorly focused content, unrealistic expectations of customer service, or be killed by malware or viruses.
- Assess social media relevance to your product or service. If your business is industrial B2B products, social media should be low on your list. Spend your time and money on other platforms. If you are selling to consumers, especially younger ones, your business won't survive without an effective social media presence.
- Attracting key stakeholders requires sensitivity. For some customers and many investors, a heavy focus on social networks and viral marketing may be a negative, rather than a positive. A balance of conventional and social communication and marketing is always advised.
- Pick the right platform for your business. Within each of the platform categories defined above, there is a right one and a wrong one for your audience. For example, LinkedIn is attuned to business professionals, Facebook is dominated by the social and upwardly mobile crowd, and the fading MySpace is for tweens and creative types.
- Communication and writing skills are required. Heavy texting experience is not a qualification for communicating via social media. In additional to strong journalistic writing and storytelling, you need business acumen, strategic thinking and planning, and the ability to do the right research. These days, video production is also a useful skill.
- Make social media an integrated part of an overall strategy. An integrated marketing strategy starts with an overall brand management strategy, delivered through online and offline communications, promotions, and customer engagement vehicles. Your Twitter and YouTube messages better match your print advertising message.
- Find the right tools to analyze the ROI. Return-On-Investment metrics are not new, but the tools are different. Get familiar with current social media tools, such as Google Analytics, Omniture, and HootSuite analytics. Over time, put together the data you need to measure your progress on a weekly/monthly/yearly basis.
The key social media platforms today include communications (Wordpress blogs, Twitter), collaboration (Wikipedia, StumbleUpon), and multimedia (YouTube, Flickr). In looking ahead, don't forget the mobile platforms (iPhone, Android), and location-based services (Foursquare, Facebook Glancee).
As with any resource or tool, you need to optimize your social media costs against a targeted return. That means first setting a strategy and plan for what you want to achieve, then executing the plan efficiently, and measuring results. It's not free, but it's an investment that you can't afford not to make.