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Social media accounts for more time spent online than any other activity.  More than half of all American adults have a presence on Twitter, Facebook or another social network. To succeed, you need to be where your audience is. But, just showing up is not enough. Social media done wrong can be a waste of valuable resources at best and at worst can hurt your brand. To get the most out of your time spent engaging with your business prospects online:

1. Listen first.

Before jumping into the conversation, spend some time studying your target market’s behavior online. When Cisco invested in social media listening, they got a 281% return on their investment. The company developed a team dedicated to monitoring mentions and was able to garner a much better understanding of their core audience’s needs. This led to more focused use of their creative services, better customer service and higher profits.

2. Differentiate your approach.

Different approaches work better on each social network. Segment your efforts so that you can interact with each of these audiences in the way that works best. Researchers found that, on Twitter, 100 characters is the sweet spot for optimum engagement. While Facebook allows longer posts, those that are under 80 characters had engagement levels that were 66% higher than other post lengths.  You can also adjust the formality of your approach based on the social network. On Facebook you can take a more casual approach than on LinkedIn.

3. Helpful and entertaining is better than promotional.

Years of ad-supported internet has caused audiences to zone out when they see promotional messages. Keep their attention by interacting instead of pumping out news about your latest products and sales. At most, you should be posting one purely promotional post for every 10 general posts you make.

What should you post instead? Helpful, entertaining and engaging content that is relevant to your audience. A sporting goods store could link to a top ten list of weekend fitness activities. A tech firm on Quora could have a team member take time to answer industry questions. These actions build rapport and make audiences more receptive when it comes time to mention your services or goods.

4. Respond promptly and compassionately to customer service issues.

More and more, people are taking to social media when they have issues with a product or service. By answering them quickly and kindly, you don’t just solve their problem; you publicly demonstrate your company’s commitment to customer satisfaction. One important thing to remember: never respond negatively to a customer in social media. No matter whether the customer is wrong or right, it’s your reputation that will be damaged in the end.

5. Become a trusted advisor.

When you offer authoritative advice on social media, it helps your social sales efforts in two ways: one, it shows your company’s expertise and dependability. And two, it builds trust and rapport between your brand and your prospective customers. By becoming the online authority, you ensure that when your customers think of their needs in your field, your products come to mind first. These associations and relationships allow you to increase your sales socially without ever having to resort to hard selling.

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