Why do people want to express themselves so much, and how can brands tap into that !

Most people do not have a validation that they themselves have real worth. And I know that sounds dramatic, but 90 percent of the population doesn’t have that confirmation that they’re being heard. I think that what drives people to express themselves online is a confirmation of their own self-worth. It’s very much life-affirming. The reason why people write on walls is to say, hey listen, I’m here. I’m a person.

What brands need to do is to recognize that need, and to help fulfill that need. The brands that get closest to their customers are the ones that celebrate the creativity, the presence of the audience. I’m constantly looking at new ways of doing that.

Example : In the film space, most marketing campaigns are very one-way. Here’s our stars, here’s our marketing message and we open on Friday. And they just keep pumping you with that same message. The new way to market digitally is to take the audience and make the fans the center of the campaign. To show that you’re there because of them, and put a mirror on who is going and loving your movies.

The focus is not to use social media as a distribution channel, but to use it as a true community of people that are involved and vested in the product’s success. While some of this might look like it’s obvious, it’s not the norm yet.

Advertisements

For small businesses that can’t afford to do traditional advertising, could they do all of their marketing solely through social channels?

More and more, the answer is yes. I think you need a good product and you need commitment and passion. Money cannot buy passion, and that’s the most powerful marketing tool. As a marketer, I want to create the environment for passion to happen, and then amplify that passion. Small businesses are more committed to their product and their customers than any, and I think that the more they reflect their core values and their culture, the more people will respond and become part of that.

We need to tell stories, as marketers. If we document our journey and people come along for that journey, the commitment that they make is huge. The key is to create a narrative and let people be part of it. Let them actually affect the narrative. And that is what social media marketing is. Creating a narrative that somebody can join. Like any great narrative, there are twists and turns and unexpected things, and if you do that well, your audience will come along for the ride and become extremely vested in your success.

Top 10 Tips for Better Content Marketing

As the old saying goes, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” Don’t let the same thing happen to your new product. This is where a solid content marketing plan comes to the rescue.

Content Marketing for Dummies, defines content marketing as “the practice of developing awareness, recall, purchases and loyalty through the use of content published online or offline.” It is a cost-effective and easy strategy, although it can be extremely time-consuming. But trust me, it’s worth the effort!

Here are 10 steps you can take to improve your content marketing and drive awareness around your products.

1. Determine Organizational Goals

Ask yourself: What is my goal, and how is my content marketing plan going to help me accomplish it? These are things that need to be thought out before determining your content. By doing so, you can tailor your content marketing plan accordingly.

Each goal should be measurable and have a deadline by which you perform this measurement. For example, increase website traffic 25% by Jan. 1, 2012.

2. Identify Target Audiences

The next step is to figure out exactly whom you are targeting. This means researching everything about the audience to whom you will be delivering your content. Ask them questions, research website traffic data and determine their demographic information, including age, gender, education, location, etc.

From there, you need to figure out what your audience is interested in, both online and offline. What are they reading? What are they talking about? What are their likes and dislikes?

In this step, it is helpful to think like one of your clients or customers. Envision that you’re writing for one specific person, and then tune in to his thought process in order to succeed. Above all, listen to what that person wants, which is not necessarily the same as what you want. After all, you want him to be receptive to your content.

3. Develop Key Messages

What exactly does your audience want/need to hear? In general, determine what will differentiate you and your product, as well as what will help you to achieve the goals you have set. The end result should be one to three main messages, each with one to five sub-messages that offer a bit more detail.

4. Decide on Overall Content Marketing Strategies

There are three different types of content marketing strategies: long-form, short-form and conversations (e.g. sharing).

Long-form includes blog posts, articles and press releases — basically, anything longer than a couple of sentences. Short-form includes tweets, Facebook and LinkedIn status updates and graphics. Conversations and sharing includes participating in and driving conversations through blog commenting, link sharing and comments on videos. This type helps to encourage discussions between other thought leaders within your industry.

You can stick to one of these forms of content marketing, or you can use all three. They are each effective on their own, but they are also powerful when used together.

5. Draft an Editorial Calendar

Developing a plan is one of the most important steps to content marketing. However, it should be flexible. After all, things can always change.

This is where an editorial calendar comes in. It should include strategies, specific tactics, suggested headlines, content deadlines and allocated responsibilities. This is a fairly major undertaking, but you’ll be thankful for your hard work once it’s complete — and you’ll save time in the long-run.

Not sure where to begin? Check out The Content Grid V2 by Eloqua and JESS3.

6. Develop Content

In order to even begin the marketing aspect of a content marketing plan, you need to develop the content you are going to use. It needs to be unique and different. Go back to your key messages and subtly incorporate them into the content without overtly selling your product. Content marketing is about creating trust through education and information, not using traditional sales tactics.

The infographic Is Your Content King? is a great visual of how important content is, especially for your marketing plan.

7. Establish Relationships

It’s time to start building a relationship with your target audience. This means tapping into existing communities by sharing and commenting on their content, as well as establishing your own communities across various social networking platforms.

Remember, content marketing isn’t just about you. Like all relationships, you should aim to give more than you receive. Be sure to use the 80/20 principle: 80% of the content you share should be curated (in other words, not your own) and 20% should be your original content.

Find brands that have successfully made a name for themselves, and mimic the steps they’ve taken — but make sure to add your own unique flare. For ideas, check out how these three companies took content marketing to the next level.

8. Spread the Word

Determine industry keywords that are not only relevant to your product, but also are going to generate enough buzz. Search engine optimization (SEO) can play a huge role if you research thoroughly. For example, make sure the tags you’re adding to your blog posts are going to generate traffic, since this can help you get found in the first place. I’m a huge fan of both Scribe SEO and InboundWriter to help you accomplish this.

Also, spread the word through Twitter, Facebook, e-newsletters, etc. But be careful not to force your content where it doesn’t belong. It may seem like you’re trying too hard, and in turn, people may not be interested in what you have to say.

Eloque came out with a free ebook, The Grande Guide to B2B Content Marketing, a helpful read when it comes to content marketing. Plus, it’s useful for deciding which platforms you should employ and how to effectively use them.

9. Measure Effectiveness

Although this is one of the last steps, it’s one of the most important. By measuring the effectiveness of your content, you can determine whether or not your plan needs to be altered, or whether it’s working in the first place.

Keep an eye on pageviews, retweets, Likes, +1’s, shares and so on. Anything your audience can take action on is something, you need to pay attention to. Figure out how well everything is working — or why it’s not working at all.

10. Change the Plan As Needed

If something isn’t working, change it up. Be sure to pay attention to results, and then use them to your advantage.

The most important thing to remember about content marketing: It’s all about building connections and improving your audience’s product loyalty. One of your goals should be for people to recognize your product based off of the content you’ve been placing both online and off. For a more in-depth look into how to create your content marketing plan, check out: Content Marketing For Dummies – Cheat Sheet.

Have you used content marketing in order to launch a product before? What were the steps that you took in order to do this successfully?

Haven’t used content marketing before and don’t know where to start ….Click here.

 

 

What’s Your Social Media Plan ?

I have always felt that some marketing rules mirror life’s rules to live by. For example, I believe any business using social media or thinking about integrating social media into their current marketing plan must consider the six P’s: Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Poor Performance. All too often a business owner goes to the youngest member of the staff, or an intern, and says, “We need to start doing that social media stuff. Everyone else is.” When the staff person or intern inquires about the details, the answer is, “How would I know, just get us out there and fast.” All too often there is no plan or there is a skeleton plan that doesn’t include any goal or a roadmap to achieve them.

You wouldn’t go the bank for a loan without a Business Plan. You wouldn’t suggest a stock to a client without looking at their entire portfolio and having a plan in place. The same is true for suggesting the type and amount of life insurance your client’s needs. Why then would you venture into the treacherous waters of social media without a plan? What do you want to do in the social media world? Are you marketing? Recruiting? Providing customer service? Having completed these plans for clients and prospects in the past , I’d like to share 6 pieces of the plan you should not leave out. These items should be in every plan regardless of the type of business you are in, your size, or the structure you chose for tax purposes.

Include A Current Assessment
You need to have a baseline to work from. Even if no one is leaving comments on your Facebook page and your friends are the only ones re-tweeting your Tweets, it’s important to establish a baseline. Sometimes the best reason to establish a baseline to set yourself up for a celebration when things improve.

Look At The Competition
Establish some benchmarks for your competitors. Do this so you know where you stand. Maybe things aren’t as bad as I would assume. Maybe after some time, you’ll have another reason to celebrate. Maybe you can learn something and integrate it into your plan. Don’t panic when you see the numbers. Follower numbers and engagement may result from a good plan but likely result from the fact your competition has been in the social space longer than you.

Specific Goals And Objectives
Identifying and listing your goals and objectives are critical to identifying your success. This may be difficult, but should really be done before you do anything else. You can’t build a plan without knowing what you want the plan to accomplish. Keep in mind that all your goals don’t have to revolve around revenue i.e. the number of new customers, clients or sales. Include “soft” and “hard” goals in your plan. It’s okay to have customer, client and sales goals, but include other “soft” goals too. In the beginning keep your goals simple and seemingly attainable. Have realistic expectations and acknowledge that success in the social media realm is based on trust and credibility. These two thing take time to establish, so have realistic expectations. For example, you could include goals for increased brand awareness, increased engagement from your Twitter stream and Facebook friends, follower and following goals, website visitors, and the number of new prospects and sales.

Who Will Make This All Happen?
Include plans for the staff required to implement the plan. This may be something you save for after the rest of the plan is completed. You are going to need more than one person to execute the plan you put in place. Until you know what the plan consists of, you may not be able to determine the number of people you need to use for implementation. You may need to hire additional staff to make your plan work. Even if you are a small business just testing the social media water, it will take a person or people to execute the plan. I strongly believe the success of any social media plan begins at the top. The CEO has to be involved in the planning of the plan as well as the execution. The CEO has to be involved in ongoing brainstorming sessions and, along with the rest of the organization, must constantly be contributing to the social content required by the plan. The CEO is generally familiar with the marketing plan and it’s budget. Your social media plan will only succeed if it is integrated into your overall marketing plan. This is another tool to add to your marketing shed and your CEO must be intimately involved.

Content
The success of your plan lies in the content you produce on the social media networks you have a presence on. Content has to be a part of the plan. Maybe you include a weekly brainstorming session in the plan, or appoint one person to be the recipient of email ideas. No one person should be made entirely responsible for all content produced. This would be a good part of the plan to include goals and metrics around content production. How often will you Tweet? What will be the tone of those Tweets? What will you Tweet about? You can see how the intended content depends on several other parts of the plan. Be sure not to leave this section out.
Whatever you do, don’t let the social media tail wag the content marketing dog.

Reporting and Analysis
Finally, you have to determine, in advance of implementation of the plan, how and what you are going to track and analyze. This list can change over time, but you need something to start with. There is no point doing everything else I’ve discussed and not track the results of your efforts. How are you going to track your progress and determine your ROI? Based on your goals and objectives, what are you going to track or measure? How often are you going to analyze the data and tweak the plan if necessary? What tools are you going to use to track and analyze. Do the free tools do what you need them to do, or must you invest capital to make this plan succeed?

Certainly there are more things to include in your social media plan. These are some of the more important things. This may not be easy. There may be some education that needs to take place before the plan can be created. Agreeing on goals and objectives is often challenging. Determining who is going to implement the plan can be a challenge, especially if the consensus is that another person needs to be hired to perform these tasks. Regardless the challenge, you won’t be sorry you went through the process and created the plan. It’s critical to your success.

So what’s your social media plan ? Don’t have a plan ?….Don’t panic… Click Here.

Online Marketing: Facebook Works Best

If you want to reach customers, you have to do it where they spend their time. And these days that means social networks like Facebook and Twitter. Small businesses are quickly coming to appreciate this fact and rushing to use social media in their marketing efforts.

The Fall 2011 Attitudes and Outlook Survey by small-business marketing consultant Constant Contact found that 81 percent of small businesses are now using social media to do marketing, up from 73 percent last the year.

Facebook is the go-to medium, used by 96 percent of small businesses, but Twitter is taking flight as well. It’s now used by 76 percent of small firms, up from 60 percent last year. Eighty-six percent of survey respondents said they’ve found Facebook to be an effective marketing tool; 60 percent said the same of Twitter and 55 percent of LinkedIn.

By comparison, 95 percent of survey respondents said they do email marketing, 98 percent use websites, 66 percent run online ads, 71 percent do print advertising, and 55 percent hold events.

Use of social networks is rising because small-business owners are figuring out how to leverage them better — and quicker. Forty-five percent of small businesses said social media marketing does not absorb too much of their time, up from 31 percent last year.

What are small businesses doing with social media? A lot of them are using the platforms to interact directly with customers. The Constant Contact survey says almost two-thirds of small businesses answer all comments on social networks, both positive and negative. Those who don’t say they can’t find the time, think it’s not necessary, or just don’t know what to say.

(I know what we’d say to a negative comment. But that’s why we don’t run a successful small business.)

What part of Facebook gets best results? So you know Facebook is the most effective way to market your small business online. But what section works best for ad campaigns? Digital marketing firm ComScore just released a research report, “The Power of Like,” that supplies an answer.

The report analyzed brand messages that appear on the newsfeed and profile pages of Facebook users to find out how many fans of a brand — and friends of those fans — see the messages and how they react to them. It discovered that brands get tons more exposure from messages on the newsfeed page than on their brand fan pages.

That’s because messages on newsfeed pages capture the eyeballs of not only fans but fans’ friends, which can add up to millions of extra impressions. Better still, that translates to a lot more visits to your website, as ComScore found that not only do your Facebook fans go to your website more often, their friends do also.

Yes, all fine and good, you say. But show you the money. OK. Turns out, according to ComScore, that your Facebook fans do buy from your business more often than other consumers. It tracked fans of Starbucks and found they visit Starbucks 11 percent more often and spend 8 percent more than the average Joe for a cup of same.

(Click here to get started)

Follow me on Twitter @vikrambhardwaj

Social Media Strategy 101


Entrepreneur, Digital Marketer, Into Everything Apple, Music Lover,Traveller, Post Grad, Truth Seeker, Social Media Consultant & Strategist.

Hi!

I’m Vikram Bhardwaj, a social media enthusiast – its in my blood. In no other field do I get to combine my love of people and new media technology so well as that of social media! and social media marketing, my specialty, is simply marketing that takes advantage of the emerging social awareness online.

I’m passionate about helping companies and people understand how social media can help them position their brand and not only get more customers, but increase the loyalty of those who already exist. Social media marketing is soft – it’s about building relationships and and leveraging them for the benefit of both consumers and producers alike.

Having been in the industry for close to a decade, i have honed my expertise in providing consultancy, technology, content and design services that are critical to your online success. I bring with me strong leadership, an enthusiastic team, sound processes and a keen eye for quality and timeliness.

“You’re afraid of social media, aren’t you? Its ok to admit it. Its a little terrifying for me too and i do this for a living…”

A lot of businesspeople, especially C-level executives, VPs, and directors, are afraid of it because they’ve never used it. That lack of understanding breeds more contempt than familiarity because they don’t understand that it can be used for business and certainly not how it can be used for business. And then there are the common fears that creep in.

“People might say something bad about the company” is a popular one. (Hint: It’s not that they might. If your product or service is such that people might say something bad about it, they already are. But by not participating in social media, you’re not aware of it.) But social media is not-so-slowly creeping into the business world. Despite some business leaders’ attempts to hide from it, and lots of business owners and managers shying away from it, social media has arrived. Forward thinking companies are not only starting to use Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and blogging as a way to reach customers, those companies are surging past the competition to do so.

The ones who aren’t using social media? They’re choosing from myriad reasons why they’re afraid of it. Australian social media professional Jeff Bullas identified 28 of those reasons, and wrote about them on his blog:

  • It is detrimental to employee productivity.
  • It could damage the company’s reputation.
  • Security risk.
  • Fear of the unknown.
  • We already have information overload.
  • Don’t know enough about it.
  • So much of what’s discussed online is shallow and we have real work to do.
  • We don’t have the time or resources to contribute and moderate.
  • Our customers don’t use it.
  • Traditional media is still bigger, we will use Social Media when it is more mainstream.
  • It doesn’t fit into current structures.
  • No guaranteed results.
  • The tools to measure and analyze Social Media aren’t mature enough yet.
  • We are in B2B and who wants to hear about our boring product on a blog or Twitter.
  • We will lose control of our brand and image.
  • Upper management won’t provide support.
  • Waiting on ROI (return on investment) with facts and figures.
  • We are afraid of making a mistake.
  • Lack of experience.
  • Ignorance.
  • Unwilling to be transparent.
  • Confusion.
  • No money.
  • No expertise.
  • Lack of leadership.
  • Terrified of feedback and truth.
  • The “newness” of it, going to wait.
  • High degree of skepticism.

If you’re not using social media, how many of those reasons did you find yourself nodding at? If your company is using it, how many of these objections did you have to overcome to convince your boss to let you use it?

I’m not going to feed you a line or try to teach you how to use something you’re not yet convinced will entirely work.

I’m going to give you information about why social media marketing is important to your business.

You need to understand four things:

1. Social media is the wave of the future. It’s not going away.

2. The companies that will succeed over the next 10 years are the ones that embrace social media marketing.

3. The companies that will fail over the next 10 years probably won’t embrace social media marketing—most likely because of the fear I hope to eliminate.

4. Social media marketing can be real. It can be actionable. And it can be measured.

Social Media and the Hype Cycle

No single subject has exploded into society and the business world the way social media marketing has.

In 2004, there were no books in your favorite bookstore that even used the term social media. Only James Surowiecki’s The Wisdom of Crowds even considered this soon-to-be-emerging niche of marketing.

Fast forward to 2008: You couldn’t swing a dead laptop without hitting a handful of “social media consultants.” Few people in the mid- to late-2000s could accurately describe social media properly, much less prescribe marketing strategies and tactics for it. It was a newborn environment, full of experimentation and exploration. There were no rules or best practices. Businesses were curious, but only a little bit. Small businesses were willing to try it because they needed any advantage they could get. But the larger businesses were unwilling to try it, usually for one of the previous 28 reasons.

With information explosions comes the inevitable hype cycle, first described by Jackie Fenn of Gartner Research in January of 1995. After the market is set on fire, with talk about this hot new thing, the “trough of disillusionment” hits: People remember the “dot bomb” era, and wonder if the “next big thing” is just a fad. (Hint: Facebook, the world’s biggest social network, is valued at over $50 billion; it’s not going away anytime soon.)

But the companies that embraced it in the 2007–2009 time frame learned how to use the tools, and reached a plateau of productivity. These companies learned how to actually process the information (or product, style, methodology, etc.) and use it in a practical, sensible manner. These companies discovered it was real, actionable, and measurable.

Social media reached its peak of expectations in 2009 and early 2010. Facebook exploded into the hundreds of millions of members and early corporate social media adopters such as Dell began sharing sales data from social programs. Companies and their marketing managers worked themselves into a frenzy, trying to grab social media’s reins and hang on for the ride.

Many of those marketers who were frothing at the bit dove into Facebook to sell their wares, blasted links to their websites on Twitter many times a day, and set their unwitting PR teams on blog comments to promote, promote, promote. They did it old school, with old school results: They got spanked.

Their return on investment was either nothing—or a public relations nightmare when bloggers called them out for spamming their comments with one-way, blast marketing messages.

Unfortunately, reality and the trough of disillusionment hit those marketers hard.

The marketplace has changed. Customers are in control, not the marketers.

“You can’t treat social media like TV, newspapers, or billboards. More is not better.”

Maybe you see the trough of disillusionment not as the next step in the hype cycle of social media, but rather as the first indication that the fad is over.

You would be wrong.

Businesses that will succeed in their marketing efforts in the coming years have turned the corner—not their heads—toward the slope of enlightenment and are moving toward the plateau of productivity. While the “hype” is quieting, it is not because social media is a fad that is going away. It is because people using it are starting to see it for what it really is and can do and are using it that way. People who ignore social media because they think the fad is over are just treading water while their competition swims by them.

The businesses that will succeed are no longer saying, “I want a blog!” or “We need a Facebook page!” Instead, they’re saying, “I want to engage my customers using social media strategically.”

“What Is the ROI for Social Media?”

So measuring social media and its value to a business has been—and is being—done. But this notion of a return on investment (ROI) is bothersome. I don’t want you to think of social media marketing in terms of ROI. And no, I’m not contradicting myself. I want you to think in terms of what social media marketing can do for your business. Those are two distinct ideas.

Asking “what’s the ROI of social media” is pretty foolish. You should actually ignore the question…at first.

“What’s the ROI?” is a cop-out question asked by people who don’t understand all of what social media marketing can do for their business. It is also a financial metric, so asking that question implies that all you can get out of social media is money.

Social media consultant and author Scott Stratten once said during a speech, “The next time someone asks you about the ROI of Twitter, substitute Twitter with the word ‘talking.'”

“What’s the ROI of ‘talking?'” he asked. “How much money do you make with this new ‘talking’ business? I don’t understand why you’re ‘talking’ to customers all the time.”

Another social media author and public relations expert, David Meerman Scott, once shouted during a podcast interview, “What’s the ROI of your secretary?!” His point was that you don’t measure the ROI of the person who answers the phones at the front desk.

Although the three true business metrics—revenue, cost savings, and customer satisfaction—can certainly be affected by strong social media marketing, so can other areas of your business and marketing efforts. What if you want to enhance the awareness of your product? Do you measure that in dollars? No. Thus, ROI is often the wrong measure to apply.

Even if you are going to use social media marketing for a money-driven purpose, asking the ROI question first is out of order. You’re asking what the ROI of your social media marketing efforts is before you ever get started.

The smart approach to gauging your potential success in social media is first knowing what social media can do for your business. You then set goals within those expectations for your efforts. You can gauge an ROI, but only if your goal is financial success and you’ve implemented some activity toward those goals.

Now, this is not to say that social media should not be measured. It absolutely should. That’s how you’ll know it’s working. You should be measuring all of your marketing efforts, whether it’s a print ad, a TV commercial, a trade show, or a direct mail piece. But I’m willing to bet no one asked about the ROI of those things before you bought them. (I’m also willing to bet that a lot of people aren’t measuring them afterward either.)

If you ask the ROI of social media question before you ever get started, you’re setting yourself up for failure because you don’t know what you’re trying to measure.

The honest answer to the ROI question for your business before you start a social media marketing effort is, “I’m not sure. I can’t make any predictions or promises. I know what I’ve done for other companies, but every situation is different, and we won’t know how you’ll do until we try it.”

This brings us back to why you might ask the ROI question in the first place. People who do ask typically ask out of fear. If they can be assured that they’ll succeed, they’ll try it. Otherwise, it’s “What’s the ROI? How much money will we make? Can you guarantee our success?”

Those who ask these questions don’t understand social media marketing isn’t just about sales; it can also be about customer service and satisfaction, reputation protection, loyalty and advocacy building, research and development, and more.

And I’m not going to play along with the social media hippies and tree huggers and say ROI should stand for something warm and fuzzy, like “return on interaction” or “return on innovation” or “return on conversation because i’m really bad with acronyms.” ROI is ROI and always will be.

What you might get out of social media marketing is specific results. Just like other areas of marketing and communications, they might be good…or they might be bad. But asking what they’re going to be at the beginning of your journey is like asking the final score before the game starts.

Knowing what you can get out of social media marketing makes it much easier to determine your goals, set expected levels of accomplishment, and ultimately measure what you’re getting out of it all. Again, i’m not talking exclusively about measuring your return on investment (ROI). Yes, you will invest money in your social media marketing efforts, just like you would public relations, letterhead, or even the graphic design of your company brochures. Yes, you should expect to see a return on the money you spend, but you should focus the ROI metric on your whole marketing efforts. Trying to drill down an ROI on one piece is, as i’ve illustrated, sometimes illogical. (That letterhead ROI is tricky, isn’t it?)

But, to paraphrase a common theme from social media measurement expert Katie Paine, “You’re not always investing in a financial transaction, so you’re not always going to get a financial result.” There are times when your results will be intangible but still important and useful.

If you’re using social media to drive sales, facilitate research and development, or even enhance customer service, you can track financial results that come from audience members you’ve cultivated through social activities, or even retention rates among the same crowd. These measures can certainly produce dollar figures on a spreadsheet that will make the “dollars-first” executives take note.

Seven Things Social Media Marketing Can Do for Your Business

It’s vacation time. You load your family in a taxi, pull out of the driveway, and say, “Okay! Where are we going on vacation?” As you pull away from the house, you realize you didn’t book plane tickets, pack, make reservations at a hotel, or arrange for someone to feed the dog. Worst of all, you left without even knowing what your destination was.

That’s what happens when you don’t create goals for a business venture. Even something as simple as signing up for a single social network to do a few tests shouldn’t be left to chance.

To understand what you’re going to get out of anything, you first have to have goals just to measure whether your efforts are successful. If you don’t, you’re racing down the highway toward your unknown destination: You’re lost, but you’re making great time.

“Make Some Noise: Social Media Marketing Aids in Branding and Awareness,” Here are the seven things social media marketing does for your business:

1.Enhance branding and awareness

2.Protect brand reputation

3.Enhance public relations

4.Build community

5.Enhance customer service

6.Facilitate research and development

7.Drive leads and sales

In my experience, these seven areas cover just about everything you can expect your business to accomplish using social media marketing. And the three core business metrics—increasing sales, decreasing costs, and improving customer satisfaction —  are built in to many of them, implicitly and sometimes explicitly.

The strategic approach to social media marketing is to review these seven areas, identify which are a good fit for your organizational goals, then map your goals, objectives, and, eventually, measures of success from there.

1. Enhance Branding and Awareness

“The image of your product in the market. Its perception to others (and not you).”

It is important to look at your brand from the eyes of your customers, partners, and vendors (your stakeholders), not your own. Because you eat, sleep, and breathe your brand, you’re going to have an extreme, one-sided perception of it. Negatives will be excused away; positives may be lauded louder than they should.

The marketplace’s perception of your brand is far more accurate and indicative of your company’s value. Social media marketing can build a more positive brand and increase the public’s awareness of you.

Social media marketing can:

  • Increase awareness of your brand.
  • Increase the reach of your brand messaging.
  • Increase online conversations about your brand.
  • Increase consumer preference for your brand over competitors.
  • Increase your brand’s Q-Score, or online appeal and familiarity.
  • Increase your brand’s online conversational market share—the percentage of industry conversations mentioning you versus your competitors.

2. Protect Brand Reputation

“Upholding a positive perception of the brand.”

Though considered a subset of branding and awareness, protecting brand reputation is important enough to set aside as its own topic. Sometimes, you need to respond to a crisis, and no amount of marketing speak is going to save you. It is important for a company to listen to online conversations to mitigate any negative (and amplify any positive) claims or conversations. But doing so also protects the reputation of the brand in the eyes of the search engines.

Google doesn’t rank your company first in keyword searches because you deserve it—or because you do good and wonderful things. It prioritizes search results it considers the most relevant based on the keywords entered in the search box and what kind of information is being discussed lately. That means, if a lot of people are angry about your company, their complaints are what will be found on Google. If you want to be the top result for certain keywords, you have to earn it by optimizing your site and its content for search.

Social media marketing can

  • Increase positive online mentions and sentiment of the brand
  • Decrease negative online mentions and sentiment of the brand
  • Mitigate all negative online mentions of the brand
  • Rank in the top-five search results on Google, Yahoo!, and Bing for targeted keywords

3. Enhance Public Relations

“Building and maintaining relationships with various audiences, or publics, which reflect positively upon the company, organization, or person.”

Social media is closely aligned with public relations because the platforms that make up its world are populated by the public. As companies develop strategies and tactics to communicate with their audiences, they look for mediums the audiences watch, read, or listen to. Social media platforms have become one of those mediums.

As a result, social media marketing has evolved as a convenient extension of public relations, incorporating elements of media relations, crisis communications, event planning, community relations, internal communications, and more. In fact, almost every facet of a traditional public relations program has some sort of translation into the online and social media world.

Social media marketing can

  • Build and maintain relationships directly with customers and stakeholder groups
  • Improve the communications success of community or internal initiatives
  • Facilitate critical crisis communications in often a more expedient fashion than traditional media
  • Empower greater public participation than traditional approaches by removing a media filter between a company and its public

4. Build Community

“Growing an audience of consumers (of product or content) to serve as an advocacy or word-of-mouth marketing channel.”

This is sometimes considered the golden cow of the social media world. Building community ultimately makes a social media marketer’s job easy. Community means loyal customers, raving fans, and product evangelists.

With loyal fans and advocates rushing to defend your company when it is criticized, or amplifying your new ideas and messages to the market, strong brand communities and their advocates move a brand into gold-standard territory. Think of Apple iPhone users, Close up, Meri Maggi, Flipkart.com, or the Tata Docomo.

Whether cultivating that community through a robust, branded social network or just informally connecting enthusiasts with your company in loosely tied conversations, brands are doing it.

Social media marketing can

  • Increase your number of fans, followers, friends, or readers
  • Grow your opt-in email marketing list
  • Increase fan-generated advocacy and promotion of your brand initiatives

5. Enhance Customer Service

“Facilitating customer needs through proactive and reactive communications (on- and offline).”

Enhancing customer service is the most popular way of using social media marketing, perhaps because it is the easiest of the seven functions to fulfill. When all you have to do is ask “how can I help” to someone complaining on Facebook & Twitter, customer service through social media can not only reduce the call center costs, but can also even boost word-of-mouth marketing.

Social media marketing can drive customer service in a few ways. Note the overlap with reputation protection. This is important because a lot of customer complaints can produce similar reputation results as a product crisis.

Social media marketing can

  • Increase your customers’ satisfaction levels
  • Reduce your call/call-center costs
  • Increase positive online mentions and sentiment of your brand
  • Decrease negative mentions and sentiment of your brand

6. Facilitate Research and Development

“Idea generation, improvement creation, and market research.”

Some companies have benefited greatly by getting ideas, complaints, and suggestions from their customers. This collaboration, sometimes called “open source” collaboration, enables the you to get new ideas and the marketing department to see what their customers need. Dell’s IdeaStorm, a product and feature suggestion and voting site, is the most popular example of social media marketing as research and development (R&D).

If building community is the golden cow of social media marketing, facilitating research and development within that community is nirvana. By tapping into the vested interest and intelligence of your customers, fans, and even detractors, you can harvest ideas that lead to new products, product features, and even profits.

Social media marketing can

  • Generate new product ideas for your company
  • Improve your product/service features
  • Improve your service lines
  • Generate market research for your company
  • Generate sales for your company from R&D activities

7. Drive Leads and Sales

“Sales of products or services or leads which produce them.”

Yes, social media marketing can drive leads and even sales. And no, it’s not just some mystical, magical by-product of “joining the conversation.” You can prescribe goals and objectives around sales using social media. And you can measure them accordingly.

Social media marketing can

  • Generate leads and sales from page/ website visitors
  • Generate leads and sales from social channel interactions (Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
  • Increase conversion rates
  • Increase repeat and referral business

When You Add “Marketing,” It’s About Business

Social Media “Marketing”

The formative years of social media marketing are behind us. This is not an exploratory time anymore. Social media professionals are helping businesses grow through emerging technologies. When you add the word marketing to social media, it’s about business. Draw that line to the bottom line, or go home.

A few years ago, the social media purists got the marketplace all hyped up about just that: hype. Let’s gather in a circle and sing, “Kumbaya,” with our beloved customers. Let’s “join the conversation” and “talk with, not at” them. Let’s “engage” and become a “social business.”

It sounds nice, in a very holding-hands-in-a-circle kind of way, but that can’t be all we do. We have to make money, or else we cease to have a profitable business.

Still, the tree huggers and hippies of the online world got half of the equation right. We do have to join the conversation. The new consumer requires us to engage and talk with, not at them. We can probably forego the “Kumbaya” circle, but turning traditional marketing around to focus on the consumer and not the brand is imperative for successful online marketing today.

So let us take that direction and make social media about business.

Social media marketing becomes realistic, actionable, and measurable when you approach it strategically. That is, implement one or more of the seven things social media marketing can do for your business and do the following:

  1. Set goals your company wants to focus on.
  2. Create measurable objectives within each that accomplish your goals.
  3. Produce strategies or concepts to execute that accomplish your objectives.
  4. Create tactics or tasks that accomplish your strategies or concepts.
  5. Build measurement systems to evaluate the implementation of your plan.

None of these five items are new to anyone who has taken a business or marketing course where strategic communication planning was covered.

“This ain’t rocket surgery.”

What seems to be difficult for most businesses is not thinking strategically, but rather remembering to do so. Today’s pace of business is frenetic at best. We’ve forgotten to focus, to ignore the shiny, new object and get stuff done. With the ever-changing world of technology and social media tools, it’s easy to—LOOK! A SQUIRREL!—be distracted by the new tool or strategy.

It’s hard to plan, launch a course of action, and stay the course while integrating market changes as they arise.

By grounding your social media marketing in a strategic approach—setting goals, measurable objectives, producing strategies, creating tactics or tasks, and measuring it all —you have a plan.

What happens when you approach social media marketing strategically?

You see past the hype and understand that social media marketing can be real. It can be actionable. It can be measured. You acknowledge and even embrace the Kumbaya philosophies of joining the conversation, building relationships, and talking with, not at, customers.

But you don’t stop there.

You view social media marketing through the eyes of your business and your customers. You see where you can provide value and where value can then return to your business.

And when all that happens, you lose your fear.

Again, it’s not hard to plan. It’s hard to remember, or make time, to plan. And execution is sometimes challenging, but it shouldn’t be hard when i’m helping you do it…

Best,

Vikram Bhardwaj 

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How Hotels and Travel Companies Are Nailing Social Media

Apart from restaurants, there are few businesses whose fates are linked as closely to online reviews as hotels. That’s why Accorhotels’ move in late 2010 is considered so bold.

Last September, the hotel chain began featuring reviews from TripAdvisor on some of its sites. Since Accorhotels has no control of the TripAdvisor content, it’s a bit like posting every review of your restaurant — not just the favorable ones — in your window. “There’s no question TripAdvisor plays hugely in this space,” says Melissa Parrish, an interactive marketing analyst at Forrester Research who covers the travel industry. “They make or break certain kinds of hotels.”

But the hotel chain, which runs Motel 6 and Sofitel among others, was merely acknowledging the obvious: Consumers no longer get all their information about your establishment from your marketing materials. In addition to TripAdvisor, there are blogs and sites like Kayak that aggregate reviews. People thinking of trying out a hotel can also canvas their friends on Facebook or the multitudes on Twitter.

Parrish says the savviest players in the segment have figured out a way to control some of that social media chatter by using social media as a sounding board for positive experiences. A few of the noteworthy approaches are outlined below.

Harnessing Social Media Comments

Carnival benefits from a curious phenomenon specific to the travel industry — “social media bragging.” Jordan Corredera, director and general manager of Carnival Online, says that even people who never go on social media will do so when they’re on vacation, if only to rub their friends’ noses in it. That’s not the only time they go on, though. Many consumers like to hit the site before their trip to psyche themselves up for it. Typical of this sort of interaction is this comment from Carnival fan Jessica Ayala: “I cannot wait until October 29 on the Carnival Dreams.”

Carnival’s primary hub for this kind of social media activity is its Facebook Page, which at present has about 1.2 million fans. (For comparison’s sake, Disney Cruise Lines has about 600,000 fans.) Like other brands that run successful Facebook Pages, Carnival asks a lot of open-ended questions about pleasant topics. For instance, a recent status update that asked, “Carnival sails all over the place, but there must be a destination that’s your favorite. Which port would you recommend to a friend? Why?” got 479 likes and more than 700 comments. “We’re a very social brand,” says Corredera. “Given the experiential nature of a carnival cruise, the best way to deliver that is through the comments of Carnival customers.”

Carnival uses other social media channels, like Twitter and YouTube, of course, but everything goes back to Facebook. The company’s ads are tagged with a plea to visit its Facebook Page and videos that show up on the company’s YouTube channel premiere on Facebook first.

An International Approach

Not surprisingly, many brands in the travel category have footprints all over the world. Since many areas around the world lag in social media adoption, global travel brands can circumvent that challenge. Four Seasons’ approach has been to establish a social media presence for all its far-flung locales.

For instance, there is a primary Twitter feed for Four Seasons’ global brand, but the brand’s Twitter page includes a URL that lays out dozens of feeds from around the world. Creating that kind of presence isn’t easy, says Felicia Yukich, manager of social media marketing. “It means training people in Cairo how to tweet and teaching people in Bangkok how to post something on Facebook,” she says.

All that work pays off in the sense that it provides armchair travelers with a quick portal into exotic Four Seasons outposts. For example, are you curious what the Four Seasons in Beirut is like? The Twitter feed for that hotel includes a stream of photos, including the one above.

Embracing Users’ Comments

Customer reviews are a cornerstone of online retail sites like Amazon, but travel brands have been more hesitant to embrace online reviews. There’s nothing nefarious about this — who hasn’t been dissuaded from staying at a hotel or B&B because of one stinging review that, for all you know, could have been written by the proprietor’s chief competitor? Why do bad reviews carry more weight for a travel brand? Think about it: If you order a product and it doesn’t live up to the hype, you can always send it back. But book the weekend at the wrong hotel and you’ve ruined a one-time experience. Why take the chance on a place that’s been reviewed badly, even if most of the reviews are good?

Nevertheless, Dennis Schaal, North America editor for travel news publication Tnooz, says many hotels have accepted the reality that users are going to check out TripAdvisor, and seeing a TripAdvisor widget on a hotel website is no longer unusual. Schaal says the inclusion of the widget demonstrates confidence. “If you’re a lousy hotel, chances are you wouldn’t want to put your reviews on there,” he says. Seasoned travelers know that reviews on the site should be taken with a grain of salt anyway, he says. “Some of the reviews are fake, but if you disregard the over-the-top favorable ones and the really bad ones and look in the middle, you should get a good idea.”

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