You know you should be adding social media to your marketing mix. But where to begin continues to elude you. Do you need Facebook? What about Twitter? How about a YouTube channel? And of course, there’s the biggest question of all: Where do you find the time to do it?

Businesses of all sizes can use social media to stay connected to their customers, extend the lines of communication with prospects, and place their brand at the center of the conversation, even if you don’t have a dedicated social media staff.

The trick to getting it done without giving up sleep lies in choosing the right properties and using them at the right times. Like any other marketing tactic, social media must be planned in advance and executed on a schedule.

1.     Do your Research

Research the Internet to see how your brand is being perceived.  Check blogs, forums, Facebook & Twitter to see what people are saying about you.  Who are the positive influencers?  Who are the negative ones?  Not a whole lot of information on your brand out there? Well that’s red flag number one. Check out some competitors and see what’s working for them – and what’s not. You may identify a niche you can own.

2.     Plot your Strategy

How will you use social media?  Is it for promotion, to generate leads, to tell a story, talk about upcoming events, or become a resource for your customer?  Think about who your target market is, and learn where they “hangout” online (there are many free resources available that track who goes where and when). Are they Facebook users? Do they Twitter? Could you give them a reason to come directly to your website and chat on an open forum?

Selecting the right property for your target audience is the key to getting the most from your efforts and avoiding time wasted updating a property your client never sees. Remember it is important to set out specific goals and objectives so you can measure your progress.

3.      Execute your Game Plan

Now you need to get your message out there.  Depending on your product or service, you might consider:

– Posting updates of live events (Twitter is a great tool for this).

– Shooting video (a medium that users love to share on social networking sights such as YouTube). Check out Will It Blend for a great campaign that used YouTube to increase sales by leaps and bounds.

–  Create stories to help personalize your brand (for example how a product came to life). Think of Tim Horton’s “Every cup tells a story” promotion.

– Post photos on your Facebook fanpage to engage your customers.

– Give something back. Customers expect to be rewarded in some way for engaging with your brand. Whether that’s through entertaining them, educating them, or prize giveaways is up to you.

Once you’ve monitored, planned and implemented your social media strategies, make sure you measure your success and failures and adjust as necessary. If you’ve been sinking an hour a day into your business blog and haven’t traced a single sale or spike in interest to it, then perhaps that’s the wrong form of social media for you.

The biggest thing to keep in mind is that social marketing is not interruption marketing. You are not there to push your marketing message onto consumers. The true value of social media is to create a dialogue where companies can build trust, credibility, and loyalty with their consumers. So go ahead. Lose your social media virginity. You might just like it.

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