If your business operations are anything like mine, hiring an outside firm to manage social media isn’t an option; the budget simply isn’t there. But that doesn’t negate the need to have a smart social media strategy.
Two weeks ago I used this column to outline the strengths and weaknesses of some of the biggest social media platforms. I return this week with the same two Charlotte-area experts – Anne Marie Holder of Spark Strategic Ideas and Brandon Uttley of Sales Performance International – to offer practical advice for business owners looking to manage their social media campaigns.
Holder, who is founder and CEO of Spark, said the first thing business owners should do is commit to taking social media seriously. That means taking time to learn the ins and outs of the various platforms and the best practices for each.
“It takes a concerted effort and a strategy if you want to do it right,” she said. “It’s not something you can only do sporadically. It has to be an ongoing effort; you have to put the time in.”
Here is some other advice from Holder and Uttley:
Develop an overall strategy: Social media works best when it is part of a larger effort to build your brand. Too many business owners confuse social media with traditional marketing, Uttley said, adding that companies should not abandon tried-and-true methods such as trade shows, printed material, email marketing and advertising.
Make someone responsible: If at all possible, find an individual within your organization who understands social media and is willing to take ownership of your social media pages. This person should be socially engaging, someone who can give your business the voice and personality you want it to have. At the same time, this person also should possess enough business savvy to handle delicate situations. As Holder noted, social media is not a one-way conversation, and customers will sometimes use your pages to post unflattering comments about your company.
Engage your audience: Social media is not meant to be a one-way push. In other words, don’t view your social media pages as a way to simply push your products and services out to consumers. “Put yourself in the shoes of your consumer and speak to the topics the audience is interested in,” Holder said. “Talk to their lifestyle, and try to integrate your brand into their daily lives.” She noted a successful restaurant in Charlotte that frequently engages Facebook users about the weather or events around town.
Stick with it: Don’t expect quick results. Holder and Uttley said that one of the most common mistakes companies make is inconsistent use of social media. It takes time to build a loyal following, so businesses should view social media in terms of years, not months, Uttley said.
Keep track of results: Set goals and monitor how well you are doing. Although having a large number of friends and followers is good, the experts said, effective social media is not all about those raw numbers. For example, are your followers interacting with your page? Are they sharing your posts with others? And finally, Holder and Uttley said, find ways to track whether your social media campaigns are actually adding to your bottom-line business.
Do your homework before going outside: If all of this sounds like too much work and you decide to hire some outside help, do your homework. Charlotte has lots of companies and individuals willing to manage your social media, but not all are equally qualified. Start by checking references to see what results a prospective firm has delivered for others.
In fact, Uttley suggests going one step further to check the social media pages of the companies you are considering, to see how well they engage their own audiences. As for price, Holder and Uttley said small and mid-size businesses can expect to pay anywhere from several hundred dollars a month to several thousand, depending on individual needs.
Glenn Burkins is editor and publisher of Qcitymetro.com, a news site for Charlotte’s African-American community. He is a former Wall Street Journal reporter and Observer business editor.
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