A Brief Guide to Social Media for Businesses

Much like the job-seeking individuals I discussed last month, businesses have a lot to gain from social media- it's not just for posting pictures of the kids or wasting time online. With millions of people spending hours online perusing the delights of Facebook, Twitter, and Myspace, it would be silly not to tap into that vast resource as a means to brand, advertise, and recruit for your company. Not only can a business interact with customers on a more social level, the can conduct market research, receive product or service feedback, and they can advertise open positions within their company. Here's a look at what your company can do to start implementing a media program:

1) Have a goal. With so many people on social media sites, it's important to not just post and hope something will happen. Keeping a goal in mind, whether it's increasing site traffic, gaining customer feedback, or boosting company rapport, will help drive your online conversation, and keep your content from becoming too disconnected. This isn't to say that you should only work on one thing- just plan something to work towards to keep your conversation more focused and to hopefully bear some results.

2) Use it frequently. Once you've established your Facebook page, Twitter profile, or blog, don't just abandon it with a few posts. The more frequently you update, the higher chance you have of appearing in real-time search on Twitter or in Google results. Similarly, frequent posts shows that you are current, you care, and that you're company is committed to being engaged with the community.

3) Be social, not stodgy. Social media experts- as well as users- agree- no one likes to be spammed. When your posts all read like an advertisement or a promotion, users will be turned off and read it as spam. Make sure to make your content as cordial, friendly, and real as possible- the key word in "social media" is "social" after all.

4) Interact. Facebook pages and blogs are a good place to initiate forums and take polls of your customers, as well as a great place to get feedback for your products or services. Take time to read and interact with customers on the site- engage them in discussion, or respond to any comments they may leave on the site- even the bad ones. This is a good way to boost customer morale and show that your company really does care.

5) Track your progress. It's easy to feel like a social media program is doing you no good if you can't see any of the results it may be yielding. Sites like Google Analytics can track traffic to your website, while Facebook pages for businesses have built-in insights and they can send you weekly updates on your traffic. Twitter Counter is also a great way to track your tweets- it gives you analytics on followers, content, and replies.

For further reading on the topic, Inc.com put together a great list of 30 tips for social media for businesses- there’s some really good tricks to kick start a social media plan. So get out there, connect, be yourself, and have fun. It’s possible to be professional and friendly, and your customer base will be happy for it. And if you do it properly, your business will be better for it.

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