We write a lot about social media best practices -- monitoring, measurement, content sharing -- but for a lot of companies just getting started with social media, this can be overwhelming. Where do you actually start ? Especially if you're a startup with very limited time and budget, what are the top four things you should do with social media in those early stages?
1. Learn about your market's problems.
You don't need to set up expensive focus groups anymore to hear what your potential customers think. They're already talking on public social media sites! Monitoring your potential customers' questions is a great way to understand what's on their mind, what their problems are, and how you could potentially help.
- Do a Google search and Twitter search for key industry terms.
- Subscribe to the RSS feed for each search.
- Check your RSS Reader each day to skim and look for patterns in customer problems.
2. Answer questions to grow your reputation.
When you don't yet have a product and the market doesn't yet know you, that is the most important time to build up a reputation as a thought leader. You're likely already going to networking events and talking to people face-to-face. Now social media allows you to do even more networking at any time from any place. In #1 above, you started finding customer questions; now it's time to start answering them!
- Check your saved searches in your RSS Reader each day for 30 minutes and choose a few questions to answer.
- Or, use a social media monitoring tool like HubSpot's to monitor relevant conversations across more social media sites, including LinkedIn Answers and blog comments.
3. Create content.
Not only do you want to respond to potential customers one-to-one, you also want to share your answers and thoughts with more people. Chances are, if one person has a question, there are dozens more with the same question who are turning to search engines to find an answer. Write up your answers in the form of a blog post to get the most out of your expertise. Monitoring social media is a great way to get ideas for what to write about -- based on the questions you'll find -- and having published content is great for getting people to follow and interact with you in social media.
- Pick out the top questions from your social media monitoring efforts.
- Write a blog post for each question, answering it and sharing your expertise.
- Publish one blog article per week, to start.
- Share those articles in social media, both in mass messages and in response to the specific users who asked those questions.
4. Connect with influencers.
If you're building yourself up as a thought leader, you should know other thought leaders in your space. This will help you with expanding the reach of your content (if those influencers read, enjoy, and share your content), with getting media coverage (if those influencers write about you or other reporters reach out to industry influencers for interviews/stories), and with giving you a greater understanding of what's going on in your industry.
- Search for influencers in social media using tools like Twitter Grader , and in the blogosphere using Google Blog Search or Technorati .
- Start following key influencers in your industry and reading what they publish.
- Respond to your influencers' posts in a way that adds value to the conversation (rather than simply saying, "great post!")
Inbound marketing -- including strategies leveraging social media -- disproportionately favors small businesses because all you need is something smart to say and the ability to listen and respond to what your market is saying. You don't need a big budget to compete with the big competitors. Rather, you need a big brain and to leverage the tools available to you.
Flickr photo by jakeandlindsay