Tweeting, commenting, blogging -- Fortune 500 brands and small businesses alike are engaged in social initiatives, promoting their brand through social media. Looking at the bigger picture, outside of being engaged simply because it's a trend, how does social actually yield results and meet your bottom line?
Let's look at the components critical to long-term success as you plan your social strategy. Begin by identifying your business goals, analyzing your target audience, and their behavior, and understanding the type of content that resonates best with your demographic.
Identify your goals
Different businesses offer different things and, therefore, have different goals. Whether you sell a service or a product, begin by identifying your objectives for the year. Are you tasked with generating a certain amount of sales, driving brand awareness among a certain audience, or increasing traffic to your digital presence? Map out each of these alongside hard metrics in the beginning of your yearly cycle through a chart that correlates goals with initiatives and results. Referencing this organized method throughout the year will enable you to effectively work towards meeting and even exceeding your expectations.
Do your due diligence
Get to know your audience. Learn about their behavior, how they consume content, and through what media. Understand where they go on the web to learn more about your brand. Does your customer head straight to Google when looking for the best financial advisor? Or do they search a social network to find local resources? Next, perform that search and see what comes up. Are your competitors owning the organic rankings?
"If your audience is searching for your offering using search engines, search marketing should be part of your marketing mix," said Joy Kim, search manager for Digitaria. "Search data can tell you a lot about your target demographic, and their search pattern and search volumes of relevant keywords can help you understand the intent behind keywords and prioritize your content topics. Knowing what users seek will help brands create engaging content that increases their visibility online."
Produce relevant, compelling content
If research and site traffic indicates your demographic is making 80 percent of purchasing decisions based on Yelp reviews, appoint a community manager, identify key influencers, engage in the community, and interact with people talking about your brand.
Acknowledge positive feedback and address the negative, and no matter how clichéd, always put yourself in the customer's shoes. Provide a solution that will put a smile on their face and encourage them to not only return, but share their positive experience with extended networks. Remember, although it may seem like you're talking to one person, millions may be watching -- and search may just pick up that conversation.
Identify the type of content that resonates with your audience and track success specific to your goals. Are social shares or click-throughs part of your goals?
"Measure each piece of published content and revisit the data to understand what worked best according to your success metrics," said Mark Kegley, senior analyst for Digitaria.
Additionally, listen to how your audience consumes this information. Are they sharing specific pieces of your content? Or only "like"-ing it? Digital sharing, whether a retweet with a point of view or even an email, indicates interest in content -- which is often the case when stories, jokes, or videos go viral. Use each post as a testing ground to understand what best resonates with your core demographic to ensure you are not risking loss of engagement, social followers and, possibly, brand loyalty.
If the data shows you've met your goals, continue developing content similar to that format -- be it call-to-action or contests. However, if it's not meeting your expectations, revisit the type of materials being published, and leverage your existing social following to understand what people want to learn more about. Think of the comment field as a digital focus group -- they are user-generated insights which are free of cost, and which may equip you with bits and pieces for a meaningful content strategy, and even inform future developments.
Bring user feedback to life
Social engagement enables brands to learn more about their customers. Whether you are a product or service-oriented company, the digital space provides a platform to interact with your core audience and gain a personal understanding of how they feel about your existing offering, as well as what can be done to enhance their experiences.
Often, this knowledge can be applied to new developments. Here's an example: If cookie and cracker expert Nabisco has a social footprint and wants to learn more about how and if customers are enjoying its new Ritz toasted cheddar cracker, it can use the medium to ask questions and gain valuable feedback, serving as a digital focus group. Whether comments are positive or negative, Nabisco has the opportunity to learn what people want -- and how the product could possibly be even more easily consumed (literally!). Let's take a look at some potential scenarios and how they can be used to "feed" into new developments:
Customer feedback: "Due to the size of the bag, I always eat far too many at a time and that never feels good after."
Solution: Introduce smaller sized bags for portion control
Customer feedback: "I enjoy eating these toasted chips as a snack when on the go, but it often results in dry mouth -- and I don't always have something refreshing."
Solution: Develop on-the-go baggies with dip compliments
Customer feedback: "I want new flavors."
Solution: Test new popular flavors that may do well in-market.
We're not saying to go create a solution for each consumer -- obviously, there's truly no possible way to develop custom products for everyone. However, this feedback, often provided by the masses, can certainly spur new ideas for innovation and should not be overlooked during research and development phases.
Always remember: people go online to find "virtually" anything, and there is opportunity for every vertical to be engaged in digital through relevant and meaningful content. You have the power to create an easily consumable education path for your customer, driving brand awareness and ultimately meeting your bottom line.
On Twitter? Follow Stephanie Shkolnik at @Stephanie00.
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