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November 3, 2008

5 Steps for Successful Social Media Marketing

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Let's say you've gotten the approval to get your company involved in social media marketing and are ready to launch your efforts. How will you define success?

This is an important question, because a large number of companies have jumped into social media without any clear business strategy. Before the financial meltdown of the last few weeks, some companies had the resources to experiment with social media without worrying about financial accountability. But now, most businesses must demonstrate an ROI on any new effort. 

In fact, the lack of good metrics is cited as the biggest barrier to marketers' adoption of social media. Particularly in this shaky financial climate, measuring impact is one of the definitive measures of a marketing strategy's value. If you want to skip the blind experimentation, particularly in view of our current global financial crisis, we've assembled a list of 5 tips to help you start leveraging social media with minimal investment and with strong systems in place to measure success.

Step #1: Identify Your Target Market and Listen to Them

The first step to measuring success in social media marketing is proper scope. There are new social networks popping up each week. It's a waste of resources to join every new social network only to find you have no time to manage them. Find out where your most active customers & influencers spend time online - then listen and take notes.

Here's some tools you can use to tune into the conversation: Technorati , Google Blog Search , Ice Rocket , Bloglines , Twitter Search , AideRSS and  HubSpot's HubFeed . More advanced social media monitoring tools include Radian6 and Techrigy .

Step #2: Get Involved in Conversations

The second step towards success is consistently utilizing social media to engage prospective customers. When you start listening to conversations, you might hear some things about your company that aren't very complimentary. That's ok. Your job now is to engage these customers and find a way to help. Be willing to acknowledge mistakes when they happen. Customers are surprisingly forgiving if a company engages in an honest and egoless manner. 

If you're one of the lucky companies who only has enthusiastic and happy customers, recognize their desire to interact with you and be generous with your time. Be open to engaging with them on their turf. They'll reward your brand with greater enthusiasm - which is a message that spreads through social networks like wildfire, and solidifies your brand.

For instance, on Twitter both Starbucks and Whole Foods share customer comments, local specials, and ask customers what their favorite items are. It's casual and open, yet subtly appeals to the attractiveness of the brand. Check out some of the brands on Twitter , and implement some of their conversation techniques.

Step #3: Give! Give! Give! 

How involved is your team in communicating with prospective customers, influencers and current customers on social networking sites? How often are you publishing great content that helps your prospects do their jobs? How often do you blog, Tweet, post photos on Flickr, comment on other blogs, Podcast, upload videos, etc? The more content that you produce and publish on social media sites, the more traffic you can attract back to your website. If your site is designed well to convert visitors into leads , these activities will help you increase sales.

Step #4: Master the Tools of the Trade

"Social media strategy should tie to business and communication strategy, rather than being based on the available tools. But it is not possible to develop a social media strategy without at least having an understanding of the various tools that are available, their functionality and purposes, and the kinds of audiences and conversations for which they might be best suited." - Joel Postman, Principal Socialized PR

It's critical to tie your business strategy to your social media strategy. However, without a knowledge of what social media and social networking sites enable you to do, it's hard to know how to do that. It's important to establish a blog as your home base. Then, learn the capabilities of each site to help you interact. For example, Twitter provides an almost unfettered ability to connect with your prospective clients. But, it only allows you to type 140 characters at a time. So, maybe a video posted to youtube would be a better way to publish a "how-to". Linkedin & Facebook let you see who your contacts know. But, facebook makes it much easier to connect with them. LinkedIn Answers is a much better place to answer business focussed questions than any other social network.

It's important to learn how to use these sites in order to get business value out of your social media activity. Talk to an expert to determine where to spend your time to get the best return. 

Step #5: Use Website Analytics Software to Measure Leads and Sales.

Many experts agree that social media will affect the next generation of search engine optimization techniques as search engines start to use the signals we collectively leave as we network and share media online. Even today, social media activity affects the success of many other inbound marketing techniques: 

- Search engine ranking

- Social bookmarking activity

- Social networking connections

- Video/podcast views/listens

- Inbound links

- RSS subscriptions

- Comments on your blog

- Mentions of your brand

- Number of times people search for your brand

- Visitors (first-time and repeat)

- Leads & Customers!

The end goals is lead generation and sales. But, there are plenty of leading indicators as you ramp up your efforts. 

Use tracking codes, a solid analytics package and closed loop marketing in order to track the visits, leads and sales that occurr as a result of your social media activities.

This article was co-authored by Peter Caputa IV from HubSpot & Ghennipher , a 10 year veteran of the Internet Marketing world. Ghennipher is an independent Social Media Marketing consultant and writes on Social Media's effect on business. Subscribe to her blog here

Photo by 4_EveR_YounG.

 

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