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Social Media Should Tell Your Business Story

Social Media/social networking, word-of-mouth marketing, Web 2.0/Web 3.0 — call it what you want, communication today is a whole new ballgame. Thanks to the exploding use of the Internet and associated technologies, public relations, marketing and even advertising is increasingly transparent, collaborative and community-centric — and electronic.

There is no doubt that social media is impacting the way we communicate and market to customers, prospects, employees, partners and all of our audiences. Traditional communication channels — newspapers, radio, television, etc. — are being forced to evolve or give way to new forms and tools. As public relations and marketing professionals, this challenges us to constantly evaluate our methods, and research new tools and practices offering a potential "better way" to get our messages to intended audiences with measurable ROI.

Podcasting, blogging, vlogging, Internet forums, Webinars, online and email marketing, wikis, social bookmarking, and social networking sites, such as MySpace, Facebook and YouTube, are a few examples of social media available to business marketers today. Search engine marketing, search engine optimization, mobile marketing, web analytics are also increasingly popular methods used to reach and engage target audiences. And while social media tools have been used most successfully in business-to-consumer communication, they are rapidly catching on in the business-to-business space.

Ultimately, the tools and practices of social media are just that — tools and practices; updated versions of current media channels and methodologies. As with any new technology or methodology, we must evaluate the viability of adding social media tactics to your marketing mix. We also must respect the capabilities and limitations of these new tools, leveraging them to our advantage.

Foresight Communications Group starts at the beginning by focusing on your objectives and target audiences.
All communications strategy, regardless of method or tools, starts with your business objectives. What do you want to accomplish? How can marketing and public relations help you get there? Next, we identify, in detail, your target audiences — their attributes, demographics, behaviors, needs, wants, pain points, strengths, challenges, opportunities, threats, etc. How are they using the Web? By carefully analyzing this, we can more effectively chose the marketing methods and practices to bring the best ROI.

We don't skip fundamental blocking and tackling.
We will explore social media opportunities for your organization, but will not forget what we know about effective communication. Your brand messages must still communicate what makes your company, product or service unique; they also must resonate directly and meaningfully with your target audiences. This means segmenting and focusing your messages and marketing efforts, and tapping the most appropriate media channel to reach each audience.

It is vital to fix or update your most obvious social media tool first — your Website.
Website usability and basic functionality is a must today. Your brand should be front and center. Keep it simple and effortless. Your Website must be easy to navigate so prospects and customer can quickly find what they need. Web content should be brief and to the point. There's no excuse not to have a great Website today.

A Website is also a great place to "test the social media waters." We often encourage our clients to consider offering streaming video or a podcast of a presentation or speech, from their Websites. Then, drive prospects and customers to your website via a direct mail campaign or an email announcement. The next step may include creating a user community on a protected section of your site where customers and employees can discuss updated products, tips and training, or current needs and requests online. We can also help you use your Website to help build and retain strong relationships with key customers and prospects.

We guide the process of merging traditional media and Social Media.
We can monitor blogs that comment on your industry, your company and/or your competitors. In addition, we can pitch stories to top-tier bloggers and reporter-bloggers that are covering your space, including vertical markets you are targeting. Understand that markets and audience segments are getting smaller. Consumers can now access your news releases at the same time journalists do. At Foresight Communications Group, we leverage this new opportunity by developing and distributing social media news releases on behalf of our clients.

Email marketing, done right, continues to be an online staple that delivers.
Despite the avalanche of spam that floods our inboxes, email content that educates or informs can be effective if distributed to subscribers and targeted prospects, and integrated with other marketing activities. One key to success is to ensure your company has a good in-house database contact list of customers, prospects and friends. To make this tool work for you and your company:

  • Keep the content simple.
  • Encourage feedback from recipients via online surveys or focus groups.
  • Make subscribing (and unsubscribing) easy.
  • Partner with an email service provider to avoid pitfalls and purge email lists regularly.
  • Get extra mileage from your email newsletter by posting it on your Website, printing it and handing it out at trade shows or with other marketing collateral.
  • When determining frequency, ask your subscribers when they opt-in how often they want to receive email content.

At Foresight Communications Group, we do our homework and ask the right questions.
Here are some areas we consider in developing a social media campaign for our clients: Are your competitors using this technology? What are the costs involved? What about ROI? What and how should you measure your success? Which tactics would work best for your company to get the attention and engagement of your target audiences?

We use the tools and approaches of Social Media.
We are involved directly in social media, "experiencing" it ourselves. It aids us in determining if and how our clients should use it this technology to market products and services to prospects, or communicate regularly with customers and partners.

Online meetings, demos and conferences offer viable options.
If your Website is strong, and you have appropriate information to communicate, consider hosting online events or Webcasts. This tool may best be used to build relationships, generate prospects and shorten the BtoB sales cycle. Webcasts may also be effective in surveying or polling prospects. Some guidelines here include:

  • Keep presentations brief and to the point, and closely targeted to audience need.
  • Select qualified and respected speakers or panelists as presenters.
  • Aim to educate and entertain attendees.
  • Promote and integrate this activity with your other marketing functions such as email newsletter, podcasts, online video.
  • Offer incentives for attendees to browse other areas of your Website.

Blog, blog, blog.
Blogs can be great tools for disseminating information, but may involve a significant time commitment to write the blog and engage in discussions with responders. Some companies are experimenting with group blogs where several staffers take turns writing and posting content. Another option is to create a weekly blog where you post one entry each week. Measuring the return on these activities can be tricky, but your Website hosting company is the first place to start. Some Web analytic tools go beyond impressions and conversions, and measure customer behavior, both online and off. Your goal here is to find the most effective approach to reach customers and prospects with product information and offers that meet their needs.

Know the risks, weigh the costs.
Companies venturing into social media must understand the playing field and respect it. We strive to be sensitive to client customers and don't fill their inboxes with offers they have not requested. It is also vital to be strategic with email newsletters and only communicate when you have something significant to say. Understand that the online world worships transparency and authenticity; if we present your product or service in full view, prepare to hear all the negative opinions. Your goal here is to be informal, humble and responsive. In this environment, the "sell" is subtle. Just as great reviews about your product or service can spread like wild fire via the Web, so too can bad product reviews or missteps using social media tools.

"Technology may rearrange the furniture, but the same people live there."1
Communication between humans has always ebbed and flowed around methodologies, institutions and technologies. Access to information has virtually defined the story of civilization. Good public relations and marketing, no matter the medium or model, tells a compelling story about a product, a service, a company or organization, a leader, or a brand. In business, as one expert notes, "whoever tells the best story wins."

1 Waiting for Your Cat to Bark by Byran & Jeffrey Eisenberg

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