Last week, Alex and I spoke on a McGill Alumni Panel 'Maximize Social Media in Business', organized by the McGill Young Alumni. Our co-panelists were Amanda Garbutt and April Engelberg from The Hot Plate, an online cooking show for students and young professionals. Both our companies grew out of our efforts while we were students at McGill, and have taken off since our graduation. The Hot Plate is a great example of a start-up that uses Facebook and Twitter to the utmost to increase their fan-base. Our use of social media is more targeted at the open source web development community, and the local Montreal tech community.
Based on the panel's discussion, I've put together a list of advice for small businesses that are just getting started with their social media strategy.
Figure Our Your Target Audience
As with any marketing effort, figuring out your target audience is an important first step. Trying to appeal to too large an audience or participating in too many conversations will not be as effective as choosing a smaller market.
Targeting individuals: If you're looking to connect with individual consumers, and turn them into a loyal audience or potential clients, you'll need to have a fairly broad reach. Facebook and Twitter are likely the most useful social networking platforms for your needs. Consumers are likely to make decisions about what to watch and consume while browsing through Facebook in their down time. While everyone is on Facebook these days, it's still important to choose a segment of the population to target. For example, The Hot Plate's target market is students and young professionals.
Targeting businesses: If you're marketing to other businesses, your reach will be much smaller. Your social media efforts will be tied more to your face-to-face networking efforts. The two should complement each other. Connect with other local business owners and those in your industry on LinkedIn. If other businesses in your field have a presence on Twitter, look at how they use it and figure out if you can create value this way. Remember that Twitter is a great way to promote content from your website, promote events you're attending, and create short updates that remind others of your presence. You Twitter feed can be embedded in your LinkedIn account and your website to keep these looking refreshed.
Secondary target audience: You can also use social media to target other groups such as potential employees, organizations you could partner with, and individuals that would find your content useful and spread the word about your business. If your main audience is made of individual consumers, you might benefit from attracting the attention of potential advertisers, investors, or sponsors.
Find Your Niche
No matter what your target audience, it's important to be active in your niche. If there's a popular blog or social networking site where people in your niche are active, be active there too. If there's an active LinkedIn group in your industry, this is also a great opportunity to get involved. You can take part by commenting, writing blog posts, or even organizing a meet-up. See if there's an online group or website that is specific to your locale. For example, we are active on Drupal.org, the online community for the Drupal CMS, and we are particularly active in the Montreal group for Drupal users.
Now that you have a target audience in mind, make sure that you bring value to that audience. This means providing useful information, whether it's a timely observation, a link to your well-written blog post, a link to someone else's blog post, or an invite to an upcoming event. Remember to focus on your target audience and ask yourself whether they would benefit from your contributions.
Creating value means different things in different contexts. You can help others with their technical challenges point them in the right direction, or just make them smile. Creating value also means interacting with your connections. On LinkedIn, this means sending personalized messages, writing recommendations, and inviting other users to join a group. On Twitter, this means replying to tweets, retweeting, and creating lists.
Integrate Your Website with Your Social Media Strategy
Adding 'like' and 'share' links to your blog can be a great way to increase your readership. Adding your Twitter feed to the homepage of your website will keep your website content fresh, even if you're not adding new content regularly.
Social Networking Tools We Discussed
- Google Places for Business: This tool will help users find your business if they're looking locally (i.e. searching for Montreal Wedding Photography).
- Google Analytics: Your website or blog should have Google Analytics enabled so that you can track how many users are driven to your website based on your social media strategy.
- Use a Twitter client like TweetDeck, if you have a smart phone, be sure to download the TweetDeck app.
- Google Alerts: This tool will help you stay on top of what's going on in your industry. It picks up Google search results based on your choice of query or topic and emails them to you regularly.
- Bit.ly: Using a URL shortener like bit.ly will ensure that you can analyze clicks from Twitter or Facebook to content that you recommend. It will also help you keep your Twitter updates to 140 characters.
Learning More About Social Media
- PodCamp Montreal: This is a camp or 'unconference' about using social media and podcasting.
- WordCamp Montreal: WordCamp is a great place to learn about blogging and the WordPress platform. There are also usually sessions about social media.
- Social Media Breakfast Montreal: Learn about social media techniques over breakfast.
- Follow others in your industry on Twitter to see how they're interacting online.