First steps for using social media for business

It’s easy to get started doing social media – maybe a little too easy.

Thanks to the easy sign-up offered by social networking sites Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc., most Canadians now have at least some presence online in the form of a social avatar. It may have started as a personal interest, but there’s no doubt the line has been crossed and social media is blending into our professional lives as well. Businesses are looking to Facebook Pages and Twitter accounts to build customer communities and extend their brand.

But what’s the best way to get started in social media? Throwing employees who have accounts on these services into the fire seems reckless after hearing some of the social media horror stories experienced by some companies. It also seems wrong to overly stifle that bottom-up effort to build buzz about your business online.

Related Resource: Facebook Bible: everything you need to know about Canada’s favourite social network

With a little help from Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc. vice-president Carol Rozell and Ryerson University Digital Media Zone’s social media guru Chris Nguyen (also the CEO of TeamSave), we chart the moves you need to take to get started. The trick is to balance the right questions with some simple actions to start building your online presence.

Ask: What is our social media strategy?

It may seem obvious to have a goal in mind before you engage with social media, but Gartner’s Rozell points out there are many different purposes for social media depending on what department of your company is using it. There’s also varying levels of interaction that your company could commit to with social media – do you want to merely monitor for mentions of your brand, or do you want to have external parties help you create something?

“It is critical that social media leaders determine the purpose of their initiatives before they deploy them,” she writes. “Those responsible for social media initiatives must articulate how the organization’s mission, strategy, values and desired outcomes inform and impact on these initiatives.”

Do: Create Facebook and Twitter pages first

Both these social media platforms are easy to sign-up with and enable you to get started in minutes. Facebook offers potential to connect with most Canadians, while Twitter gives access to highly engaged opinion leaders.

Once you’ve got a place to practice social media, it will become more clear how to best implement your strategic plan. You can use built-in tools to see if you’re on target.

“Measure your impact using Facebook Insight,” writes Nguyen. “It’s a free tool that allows you to track the traffic on your page and break it down by location, gender, age, etc.”

Ask: Who will write and revise the policy?

Once you’ve determined a social media strategy that suits your business, don’t just leave it to all employees to employ it on an ad-hoc basis. Assign a person or team to be in charge of putting pen to paper and maintaining that policy to the letter.

Larger organizations may have the CIO do this, while others appoint an in-house committee to do the job. It’s just important to choose someone to do it, Rozell says.

“It’s useful to gain agreement about who is responsible, accountable, consulted and involved before beginning work on the policy and, where possible, a cross-section of the company’s population should be involved in the policy creation process,” she writes. “It’s important to remember that there is a difference between policy – which states do’s and don’ts at a high level – and operational processes, such as recruitment or customer support – which may use social media.”

Allow each department in your business to decide on the best process to follow the strategy that is written.

Do: Reach out to stakeholders to become followers

Building up your social media following is important if you want your activities online to have any impact. Reach out to your existing customers and ask them to follow your accounts, Nguyen advises.

“Once they’re followers you’re exposed to their social networks and your potential customer base expands exponentially,” he writes. “With your outstanding content, you should be able to reel in these new potential ‘friends’ easily.”

Use the many different Web site integration options offered by Facebook and other social media platforms to make it easy for users to join. While you want to invite a lot of people to follow you, keep in mind that you also don’t want to come off as spamming users. Target those who are relevant to your business and familiar with your brand.

Ask: What’s the best way to inform and monitor employees?

Once your policy has been crafted, make sure that your employees are aware of it. You may also want to offer some social media training to your employees, Rozell says.

This “helps to make the policy come to life so that employees understand not just what the policy says, but how it impacts on them,” she writes. “It also explains what the organization expects to gain from its participation in social media, which should influence employees in their social media interactions.”

Once employees have been trained and start engaging in social media, make sure there’s someone watching what they do. Managers or some designated person has to be responsible for making sure company policy is followed, and step in to react appropriately when it’s not.

Do: Use social media for special promotions

There’s no better way to drum up business than a good, old fashioned coupon. Social media offers a new and interesting way to offer discounts or other incentives to your customers.

“Try group buying sites like TeamSave to offer deep discounts to a vast pool of new customers,” Nguyen says. “Try the

‘specials’ function on FourSquare, as well as special offers and contests on Facebook and Twitter.”

Try creating a social media calendar to plan your promotions and match them up with significant holidays.

Brian Jackson is a Senior Writer at ITBusiness.ca. Follow him on Twitter, read his blog,and check out the IT Business Facebook Page.

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