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Get Ahead Online

Social media

As the use of social media continues to grow at an alarming rate, Laurence Knopf explains how you can use this medium to contact and deal with clients in a more effective and natural way

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Using social media to benefit your business

If you own a business website, social media management (SMM) can help your search engine optimisation (SEO) and strategically place your business in front of more customers. Recent studies show it can outperform traditional advertising mediums. Visitors to popular ‘conversational’ SM sites like Twitter have increased some 136 percent since 2007, representing some 6.2bn users.

However, many businesses are unsure how to harness this potential—for example, it is not enough to simply open a Twitter account, hoping it will somehow drive traffic to your site. This article gives you pointers for managing your online presence, including how to attract the right kind of visitors and convert them into new business.

One of the first steps is to ask yourself what you are trying to achieve by using social media management. Clearly, you want to raise brand awareness and generate more sales, but the more explicit you are about these goals in your activity the less affective the activity can be. Unlike traditional advertising, with this medium you are essentially asking permission to talk to your potential customers. Once they have given you permission, you need to ensure your response is always 100 percent on message.

Start by defining your target audience and what you are offering them—core products, services and your expertise. Your golden rule is to generate user trust in these, rather than push a ‘hard-line’ sales agenda. You want users to be interested in every single one of your new posts, rather than feel yet another advert is coming their way—making them ‘drop’ your account via the ‘unfollow’ button.

The think about managing your campaign on a day-to-day basis. It does take consistent time and a considerable amount of skill—daily posts build trust, while ‘online absences’ can actively diminish it. For this reason, many businesses chose to appoint an SEO company for their SMM. You could have them design a program that lets you do some in-house work with guidance, tracking your engagement using online tools. Alternatively, you may find it cost effective to have them manage the entire campaign. 

Platform choice

Next, consider where you want to be; you can easily create accounts with networks like Facebook, Twitter, Google+, You Tube and LinkedIn. However, they may not be the most efficient platforms for your business. Think more creatively; are there any niche social or business platforms that suit your business, or are there any forums, online discussion groups, community groups or charities? If appropriate and if they allow you to communicate online or offline, they could be valuable spaces for your business to raise its profile. Once established it can then be easier to harness the relationship built to power the more difficult job you may face on platforms like Facebook and Twitter.Whoever manages your campaign should put aside time to understand the terms and conditions for businesses on each of these platforms. 

Make sure your output is always correctly spelt, with clear meanings and avoid any content that could cause offence

It is important to stress that SM is about nothing more than being social. Whether you post yourself or use an SEO company, all posts need to be carefully considered. Imagine you are a potential customer—are your posts engaging, would you want to read them at work or in your spare time? Always make sure you have posted plenty of content before looking for people to follow or become an online ‘friend’. If they see something that looks ‘half-built’, chances are they probably will not be quite so interested. 

Make sure your output is always correctly spelt, with clear meanings and avoid any content that could cause offence. Provide genuinely useful information, for example, tips on best practice, how to do something, how to find out information that is more relevant. Video can be a great way to highlight your business, providing content is designed with social media in mind and shot with suitable production standards. 

It also helps if you regularly post content carrying a link to relevant pages inside your website which follows up on the post’s key theme. This means going back to your core business website to develop suitable content there—which can in turn support your SEO strategy. This also works to keep your sales content in an appropriate place. By clicking through to your website, you have gained permission from users to show them your business activities. This means a better reception and a greater chance of them sharing content with their own online contacts.

A vital aspect that is often over-looked is ‘sharing’. Do not view your social profiles as silos that should only include information about your business. Share other industry news, retweets other people posts and people will feel your activity is more valuable. If you talk about someone else in the industry, contact them and let them know—they will probably do you the same favour. Do not be too shy, if you think something is wrong in the industry, talk about it—be careful not to libel anyone, but be bold.

Gaining traffic

You may find it wise to begin by adding just a few friends or followers at a time, to allow for organic development. You can use keywords to search for suitable users, perhaps starting with important decision makers within your industry and local geographic area. News outlets and bloggers can also help spread the word, so give them story ideas according to the golden rule—no hard selling. Do find items of interest in your area of expertise but do not give them a straight sales pitch.

Existing personal contacts are also important, providing you always treat them well online. One crucial step that is often overlooked is the act of adding ‘follow’ buttons on your existing website. If contacts and customers like what you do, they may only share your site on their social media networks if it is easy and immediate for them to do so. This can also have the welcome side effect of enhancing your existing SEO strategy by helping keep your content fresh and relevant.

When it comes to tracking how much traffic you are gaining, a variety of tools can help. Be aware  there are many ways for spammers to use online social media accounts, so meaningful user estimates can be more difficult. Therefore, instead of only considering numbers to gauge success, think in terms of engagement. Even a smaller number of engaged users who visit your website can clearly generate a higher conversion rate than a larger number who never go there.

A well managed, search engine-friendly, user-friendly social media presence can deliver a wealth of benefits with relatively low costs. Each account should be accompanied by a carefully crafted online profile. Include a link back to your business website or blog, and make sure your profile page is concise. Check all text, images, videos and links function in various browsers and mobile devices. Using brand names in posts can help SEO, and it is fine to experiment with ‘free give-aways’, providing none of it reads like a straightforward advert.

You can use keywords in your social media output, but do not overuse them to avoid being classed as spam by search engines. Consistently posting content that looks and feels genuinely social means  you are more likely to gain more online users, more Twitter followers and re-tweets, Facebook friends, likes and  shares and, ultimately, more real-life customers.

Laurence Knopf runs Search Engine Rescue, an SEO company specialising in cost effective search engine optimisation and social media management for UK businesses.

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