You’re not alone if your business hasn’t climbed aboard the Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or LinkedIn bandwagons. In fact, as of this year an estimated 10 percent of companies with more than 100 employees still had no social media presence, while others maintain one or more sites but still have no clear idea how to maximize them.

Some seem daunted that social media sites require strategy, while others are reluctant to add another regular task to their to-do list.

The popularity of various social media channels seems to wax and wane, but as a whole social media is here to stay. And many marketing campaigns incorporating them have proven remarkably effective. In a recent survey of marketers in the U.S., 92 percent said their social media efforts have gleaned more exposure for their businesses; 80 percent said they’ve increased traffic; 72 percent said they’re helping develop loyal fans; and 71 percent said they’re increasing marketplace intelligence. Respondents also pointed to new partnerships, lead generation, better SEO rankings and reduced marketing expenses. The direct ROI of social media remains difficult to measure, but 74 percent of regular social media posters reported in the study they’re gaining new business as a result.

If you’re ready to bite the bullet, consider these suggestions for reeling in the benefits of a social media campaign:

  • Create clear goals and objectives. This should align and cross-pollinate with your company’s overall marketing strategy so all parts work together. Are you trying to reinforce your brand, drive followers to your website, boost your email subscription list, gain consumer insight, promote specific deals or products, recruit employees, create buzz, respond to negative publicity, get more foot traffic to your brick-and-mortar location, or all of the above? The more concrete and time-oriented your goals, the better. For example, aim for “We will gain five viable leads from Facebook each month of 2016,” “We will gain 200 followers on Twitter within the first six weeks of our launch,” or “We will receive 30 resumes via LinkedIn in the second quarter.”
  • Choose your most effective venues. Based on visitor numbers, the most popular social media websites in the U.S. as of February 2016 were Facebook (44 percent market share); YouTube (22 percent) and Reddit and Twitter (both 5 percent). Pinterest, Instagram and LinkedIn each represent nearly 2 percent of the market. Every venue has its assets, and each caters to a different audience demographic — a factor that should guide your decision. Research may be required to narrow down your best bets, but Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest are generally considered most effective for the purposes of SMBs.
  • Establish initial profiles. Once you choose venues, create mission statements and specific customer personas for each so you can stay on track. Log on to the websites and follow directions involving cover and profile photos and company information (set aside some time for this task, since each site requires different info). Aim for professional, correctly sized photos and accurate, well-written copy, adhering to your brand’s style throughout. Remember to make company profiles more professional than personal profiles, and pay special attention to privacy settings. If you get stuck, use competitors’ social media presences for reference. Once finished with your profiles, go back and follow the directions on each site for cross-linking your profiles so they all support each other.
  • Plan for measurement. Paying attention to “vanity metrics” such as likes and retweets is a good thing, but do measure meatier metrics like reach, traffic, leads, customers and conversion rate. Free tools like Facebook Insights and Google Analytics offer useful data that can help you immediately tweak your content and its timing. For example, Facebook’s “People Talking About” indicator shows when your posts get the most clicks and shares, while its “reach” tool measures the spread of your social media conversation. You can also gather both qualitative and quantitative feedback by simply polling your audiences. Finally, consider making arrangements to track and consolidate all online mentions of your products, company and/or social media posts in one place (known as “social listening”) by following the directions here.
  • Develop copy and image guidelines. A wealth of information is available on this art and science, but in general, all content should tie in with your specific goals. If you don’t have time to research the pros and cons of each kind of message, follow these general tips:
    • Offer a variety. An industry standard known as “The Rule of Thirds” dictates a third of your posts build your brand via personal posts and responses; a third promote your business and its bottom line; and a third provide visitors useful information or opinions related to your industry.
    • Post content that invites responses and engagement.
    • Try to become known as a source of trending content and breaking news.
    • Try tools like Fanpage Karma or Post Planner to see examples of images and content that have proven popular or viral in different niche markets.
    • When in doubt, focus on quality over quantity. No one likes being bombarded with worthless or overly promotional messages.
    • Don’t be afraid to use humor. Funny or happy content tends to lead to more shares.
  • Make plans for curating posts. Consider who will be assigned to post your content, and how and where you’ll promote it. Once analytics roll in, you’ll have a better idea of how and when your audiences best respond. At first, perhaps plan to post on Facebook three to 10 times weekly; Twitter five times daily; LinkedIn two to five times weekly; and Pinterest five to 10 times daily. That might sound overwhelming, but understand you can program your posts all at once and then set them to run at different times. Need help? Several online tools can keep you organized while offering content suggestions for holidays and other common occurrences. Finally, remember to build responsiveness by replying to viewers’ comments as often as possible.
  • Find followers. Once you’ve launched your venues, you’ll need to recruit followers. Some of that will happen naturally as you pay attention to audience preferences and post relevant and valuable content accordingly. However, you can speed up the process by:
    • Cross promoting your venues on your website, emails, blogs, business communications and printed business materials.
    • Adding Facebook Page Plugin  or Twitter Embedded Timeline to your website or blog to make sharing easier.
    • Hosting giveaways, contests and incentives for new followers.
    • Liking and following other profiles.
    • Maximizing the use of hashtags.
    • Sharing others’ content.
    • Investing in some of Facebook’s promoted posts.

One final note: When it comes to social media, smart marketers make a point of learning about the latest changes before their firms become the 10 percent not on board.

“The social-media landscape changes incredibly fast,” confirms Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian. “You have to be open-minded and nimble to keep up with it.”

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