A social strategy

Being social doesn’t mean being everywhere at once.

From the pages of In Business magazine.

Once upon a time, way back in 2006, the idea of your business having a social media presence seemed almost ridiculous.

Ten years later, if your business doesn’t have a social media strategy it’s practically an anomaly.

Today companies devote time, resources, and entire positions to managing social media. The ability to connect with consumers of your products and services, often in near real time, is a powerful tool for increasing sales and engagement, especially in an age when one bad online review can spread like wildfire.

While most businesses large and small are now utilizing social media, what they’re getting out of it varies greatly. Area experts say one problem many businesses face when they approach social media is the idea that they’re missing out if they aren’t on the latest platform or app.

Another challenge is creating and then finding the best ways to utilize content on whatever social outlets a business is using.

Less is more

While it’s virtually impossible to post too much on Facebook or send too many tweets via Twitter, Steve Noll, a business professor and social media instructor at Madison College, says it is possible to be on too many platforms at once — not just possible but common.

Marketing and advertising on social media is really no different than regular advertising, Noll notes. If a company is taking its ad budget and putting it toward TV, radio, print media, and billboards, it’s very likely spreading itself too thin.

He uses the example of advertising in a print magazine. What will have a bigger impact on the audience a business is trying to reach — placing an ad that runs every month, or placing an ad that runs just once a year because the ad budget is tied up in a host of other mediums?

“The social media approach is no different,” Noll advises. “The smartest thing you can do is focus on one platform and make sure you’re doing it right. If you’re on Facebook, for example, but not completely taking advantage of it, you’re missing out. Are you doing Facebook 360 videos? If you’re not, that’s the stuff you should be focusing your time on. Stop trying to be on everything. That’s the old adage: do one thing good and do it better than anyone else.”

Spencer Smith, an instructor at UW–Madison and principal at Spencer X Smith Consulting, which specializes in digital marketing, agrees. He notes that it’s really important for businesses to recognize context when thinking about their social media strategy.

“I see LinkedIn as that way to tap into a business network you already have but then also make soft introductions to people you’d like to know by asking to connect with them, knowing that it’s going to be contextually based on business rather than, ‘Hey, I just want to follow you on Twitter,’ which is just kind of a cold follow.”

Smith advocates companies go where their audience already exists and start by answering questions that they’re posing to build a relationship.

For example, a plumbing company may be struggling to find the right way to reach potential customers on social media. Do customers ask the plumber every week for advice about water heaters or whether installing PEX or PVC piping is better? If so, address those concerns that you already know are on the minds of your customers.

“It almost transcends platform because people are going to be looking for that thing, and if it’s not out there by the time they’re looking for it, it’s too late to create it,” Smith says.

Amanda Broderick, a PR and social media account manager for Hiebing in Madison, says social media strategy starts and ends with the target audience. “When you are evaluating the different platforms you just have to evaluate them with the lens of when and where your brand or your company’s stories will be welcomed by that audience.”

Not every channel is going to connect with every person, Broderick notes, so it’s a matter of determining which channels are most relevant and important to your customer base and making sure your message is heard there.

That means media companies and news organizations that are in the business of communicating information in real time are probably best served by focusing efforts on Twitter, where tweets have a lifespan of about 20 minutes.

If you’re more interested in looking at what’s happening in the course of a day versus what’s happening in an hour, then Facebook would be a better form of communication, says Noll.

And if providing information that’s “evergreen,” or not timely, is more up your alley, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and YouTube offer value in the staying power of content on their platforms, Smith adds.



Beyond the basics

In addition to focusing social media efforts on a limited number of channels, experts agree on the merits of sticking with what works rather than jumping right onto the social media flavor of the day.

“What’s the next latest and greatest thing?” asks Noll. “The reality is every single day hundreds of apps get released to the world and probably 99% of them are not going to survive six months. I generally say if you really want to know what you should be looking at in the future, look into the past. It’s 2016 right now, so go back and look at the list of what was hot in 2014 to see what has survived.”

That’s not to say, however, that there are no new social media platforms and apps that businesses shouldn’t consider, just that you want to make sure whatever you’re planning to adopt has some staying power.

“The smartest thing you can do is focus on one platform and make sure you’re doing it right.” — Steve Noll, Madison College

Noll says two very similar apps he first heard about 18 months ago and was initially leery about are Periscope and Meerkat, live-streaming video apps that he now compares to Twitter. Rather than attending a concert and tweeting your followers that, “Oh my god, I’m at this concert and the singer is giving this amazing performance,” you could live stream video of the performance so all your friends can experience it with you.

When he first heard about Periscope and Meerkat, Noll thought the concept was interesting he but was concerned about bandwidth and network connections which might have made the apps difficult to use. “There were a million apps dealing with live streaming video, but those two kind of rose above the others and figured out a lot of the problems,” he notes. “Now they’re something I’d recommend to a news organization, for example. If I was a reporter that would be something I would want to look into.”

Broderick says messaging apps such as WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger are hugely popular, especially among millennials, and could be utilized for instant feedback with that coveted target audience.

Smith actually notes a service that’s not new but one he believes will become more prominent as businesses see its advantages. “I’ve heard so many times from people that they share a post on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter and there’s no engagement whatsoever,” Smith explains. “There are two ways to go about publishing things on social media. The first is to be physically pushing that button yourself to submit or post or tweet or whatever. Then there are those whole suites of software available to you that will push those buttons on your behalf based on a schedule, and that’s where I see more and more people going.”

Smith advises businesses to concentrate on making great content and then let services like Hootsuite or Buffer automate the publishing cycle to ensure that it’s constantly represented on preferred social platforms.

“For the vast majority of audiences, even though what they see is repetitive to you, it will unequivocally be new to them,” Smith says. “So it’s that suite of automation tools that’s going to allow you to tailor when your posts are sent so it reaches your audience when they’re actually online.”

Click here to sign up for the free IB ezine – your twice-weekly resource for local business news, analysis, voices, and the names you need to know. If you are not already a subscriber to In Business magazine, be sure to sign up for our monthly print edition here.