For many small businesses and business professionals, social media is something you just fit into the working week. Social media success is something you aspire to, but without any real roadmap of how you're going to get that outcome. In this post I'd like to share the six key steps you need to follow to achieve social media success for you or your business.
At this point you may think I'm about to bombard you with the secrets to gaming the LinkedIn algorithm, or the strategies that will help you run Facebook adverts that convert. Whilst this know-how can certainly contribute to your social media success, it's not the foundation on which success is built.
Rather, success comes from thinking about the higher level strategic approach you need to be taking with your social media to ensure your success. The foundations for success give you the strength to ride out changes in how the social media sites function, the ways their algorithms promote or penalise you - indeed you could even survive the total collapse of one of the social sites you've been putting effort into (remember Google+ anyone?!)
So let's dive in.
Here are the 6 steps you need to follow to achieve success on social media:
1. Map out your success
2. Communicate the plan internally
3. Experiment (or hire in expertise)
4. Know your numbers
5. Test and refine
6. Foster a culture of engagement
Let's look at each in turn.
Whether we're talking about business people's social media presence or that of the companies they represent, social media strategy can most often be described as believing that "you make your own luck".
Put another way, the belief is that if you do enough of the right things on social media then at some point that activity will pay off and bring you unexpected business wins.
In one sense that approach isn't entirely flawed. A business that is active and interacting with its market on social media clearly stands to be noticed and start conversations that an inactive business would have no prospect of doing. At some point business wins are indeed likely to flow from all that activity.
However this is rather leaving things to chance - and scaling your investment in social media is rarely going to be done on the basis of sporadically "getting lucky".
The flaw in the "making your own luck" approach is that we haven't mapped out our success. We can't explain to others in the business how our activities are going to translate into business wins. We can't explain how doing twice as much of these activities will result in doubling the business wins.
Here's what I would advocate instead. When thinking about your social media plans, map out your success. Investigate what outcomes it is realistic for social media to achieve in your industry and then build your plans around achieving those outcomes.
An example will help you to think about this in terms of your own business.
Let's take a consulting business by way of example. Their success in winning new business comes down to several things - market reputation, client referrals, hiring success and lead flow. One key thing impacting success is how many new potential clients the consulting firm can get "face time" with each year. That's often achieved by running business breakfasts, networking events, workshops, initial free consultations and the like.
I doubt a consulting project has ever been won purely through social media. It's not realistic for an executive to sign off on a major expenditure based purely on some messaging exchanges on LinkedIn. So social media is never going to bring in actual sales for this type of business.
But what social media can become is a major generator of attendees to the consulting firm's events. If twice as many business decision makers attend those events then in time that will result in the consultancy winning twice as much business. If social media can be the means by which twice as many decision makers attend those events then it's a major contributor to the consultancy doubling its new project wins.
Starting with the end goal in mind, we can now build our plan for social media success around the framework of reaching more business decision makers in our niche markets - and then using social media channels (messaging, interactions and advertising) to invite those people to our events. Our two focal areas are then to do things on social media that increase our visibility and reach with those decision makers... and to experiment with how we then encourage more of those people to sign up for one of our events.
Do this in your own business - map out your path to success - and you will be well placed to have social media contribute significantly to your business. But it all starts with determining an end outcome that is both realistic and measurable.
Once this overall approach has been agreed, it's absolutely key to communicate this plan to everyone on the team.
If people in the business don't know what the company is trying to achieve on social media then they'll be active on social media in all sorts of random ways. They'll become active in groups, write and share blog posts, participate in tweet chats, record and post videos. Some of these activities may produce positive outcomes for the business, but many will not - and most will not contribute to the more narrowly defined success path we have laid out for the business.
However, if everyone in the business knows that eg. we are trying to reach as many of this type of business decision maker as possible... and then we will be looking to invite them along to one of our next business breakfasts.... then that means everyone is well placed to contribute to the overall success of the company's social media plans. If everyone in the business gets some more connections and has more conversations with that profile of decision maker, then cumulatively the business is going to be in a position to invite far more of the right people along to its next few business breakfasts.
This is why communicating the plan to all team members is so important. If everyone is pulling in the same direction then the odds of generating predictable and scaleable outcomes from social media are greatly enhanced.
There are clearly many different ways you could go about trying to implement your plan once it's been devised. There are many social media sites you could try to be active on. You could try to grow your audience organically or through paid advertising. You might invest time in influencer marketing or running competitions or creating videos.
This is one reason why overnight success on social media is rare. Ultimately your business is going to get to a point where it knows the most effective ways to grow its audience are through doing A, B and C. So those are the things you'll focus on doing. You'll also get to the point that you know the best ways to convert those people into doing what you want them to do (eg. register for a business breakfast) are X, Y and Z.
But there's a significant amount of experimenting needed to get you to this nirvana of knowing what works best for your business.
As a business you either need to give your team the time required to gradually discover what works, or you need to hire in the expertise of someone who's already got these kinds of results in a market similar to your own (that could be through hiring an employee with this specialist expertise, or by engaging a social media agency like ours). Bringing in this external expertise is often easily justified if it means you'll start to see significant wins from your social media efforts within 90 days rather than within 1-2 years. Which, incidentally, is just one of the reasons why "hiring an intern" or "asking your office manager to take on social media" are destined to produce underwhelming results. Regardless of their enthusiasm or willingness to learn, they simply don't have the knowledge of what works and what should be tested to realistically bring in the results you're aspiring to achieve.
As you try out the various approaches you could use to grow and convert your audience, it's essential that you track your results. For each means of growing your prospect pool, we need to know what investment of time or money is needed for each extra prospect we win as a connection, fan, follower or website visitor. Over time you'll come to learn which activities are producing the most favourable results and so can focus on doing more of the things that are working.
The same is true when it comes to converting your audience into end results. Maybe you use 1-2-1 messaging to get the desired end result. Maybe you advertise to your audience to get results. Maybe you interact with people on discussion threads or in private groups. We need to know how many people converted from each of the approaches we used. Plus we need to know how much time and / or money was invested in making those conversions happen. Only then do we know which approaches are most effective for our business to then continue with longer term.
By this point we should be in a good place in terms of achieving social media success. That may be 3 months from now or 2 years from now, depending on your effectiveness at testing out approaches and depending on how much external expertise you're able to bring to bear.
The goal at this stage is to be in a position that we know if we invest this much time or money into social media, doing the things we know work, then over the next months that will add this many more prospects to our social media audience... and over the next year that's expected to result in this many more people eg. registering for our business breakfasts.
At that point we know we can strongly advocate further investment in social media, because the return is pretty much known.
That doesn't mean our job is done though. We still need to continuously test and refine to eek out even better results. In part this means tweaking the things we're already having success with, to see if small changes to eg. our targeting or our copywriting can ratchet results up to be better still.
It also means being alert to changes on the different social platforms and testing out new functionality and the impact this has on our ability to reach more of the right people or to convert the people we are reaching. Think of the likes of LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter and I'm sure you can think of various new features they've launched and algorithm changes they've implemented that have opened up new possibilities of things for you to try out - and maybe also impacted the effectiveness of the things you have been doing.
That's why your approaches need to be constantly evolving and why you therefore have to continuously test and refine what you're doing on social media. It's a landscape that is constantly evolving.
The fact that engagement is the last thing on my list is by no means a reflection of its importance. Engagement is the oil that makes your social media engine run as it should!
Accounts that get more engagement on their posts are seen far more on social media. That builds trust in your brand, whether that's your personal brand or your company brand.
Greater engagement also means your posts will reach far more people, meaning more clicks and conversations will be generated from everything else you do on social media.
People are also far more likely to trust people or companies they've seen engaging with lots of other people in the market, so when you do look to convert your audience into taking an action (eg. registering for a business breakfast), the chances of people responding favourably are much greater.
But the most important thing to know about engagement is that it's reciprocal. That's to say that only a small part of whether you get engagement on social media is down to what you post. It's mostly driven by whether you have an army of people out there who want to engage with your posts - because you yourself have previously engaged with theirs, or they've seen you engaging with the posts of others in their feed.
Consequently, we not only want everyone in the business to understand our social media plan and the outcomes we want this to drive. We also want everyone to buy into the need to engage on posts - our own and other people's - so that the collective power of our whole team is brought to bear on the success of what we're seeking to achieve on social.
Of course, if everyone has had the social media plan communicated to them and understands how the activities being undertaken will contribute to business succes, then the chances of getting everyone fired up to proactively engage will be far greater and their enthusiasm far easier to sustain.
I hope I've given you some renewed belief in what could be achieved with the right approach to social media success in your business? If you'd like to tap into our expertise and get an understanding of how we could work with you to implement such a strategy, please feel free to book in for a call with our team.
Tony Restell is the Founder of social media agency Social-Hire.com and a guest speaker on social media strategies at MBA schools across Europe. He helps small businesses achieve game-changing results from their investment in social media, usually in 90 days or less. Book a call with the Social-Hire team or message Tony on LinkedIn if you would like to brainstorm what social media success for your business might look like.
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