We are by no means social media experts, but one question we are frequently asked when building a new website is: do I need to set up a Facebook page or Twitter account as well? Our answer is usually: "Yes - but only if you can do it right".
Even if you don't use them, nearly everyone knows about social networks such as Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Google+ and YouTube which allow users to interact with friends, relatives and colleagues, as well as complete strangers and organisations.
From a business point of view, you can reach a large number of people for a low (financial) cost and you can form relationships with clients or potential clients. Most business websites are a one-way interaction, but social media allows your customers to ask questions, give feedback and recommend you to others.
But is social media the right fit for business? Do we want to be "friends" with our clients - or with the products and services we use?
It can depend on the nature of the business, but mostly it depends on the time, resources and creativity you put into your posts. There are no rules about what works, and what doesn't. Companies run successful, engaging social media for everything from manufacturing to training courses to engineering. The key is not how exciting, interesting or photogenic what you're selling is, it's about what you make of it and the way you communicate.
Here are our ingredients for a good social media strategy:
- Allow enough time and resources to manage your accounts, and do not underestimate the time it can take. For those already using e.g. Facebook or Instagram it can be quick and easy, for anyone who is not familiar it can be daunting and a steep learning curve.
- Plan which social networks to use, and use the same or similar profile picture and name across all networks so people can easily identify you.
- You don't have to set up accounts in all social networks – be realistic about the work involved and what you can manage. Play to the strengths of the people updating the accounts and which networks they are familiar with. Each social network has a different audience demographic so if you are targeting a particular group, considering using the social network they are most likely to use.
- An account on any channel is expected to be updated regularly, and an account that hasn't been updated for some time looks bad. Plan how often you want/ can commit to posting updates and make sure all accounts are updated. It doesn't need to be constant, but most social network users are checking daily, so at least once a week or so.
- Always aim to include a photo or video, never just text. You will get a better response.
- Social media is more immediate and informal, so take advantage by sharing unexpected events or (interesting) everyday moments that your clients wouldn't normally see.
- Like and share other relevant posts by other companies - it is *social* media after all. However be careful: check what you're sharing and stay away from contentious or controversial subjects.
- People can contact you through social media channels, so set up notifications and check them regularly otherwise people will become frustrated and you'll miss business opportunities. People tend to expect a quicker response to a tweet or Facebook message than a website contact form.
- Monitor comments as well as direct messages – people like to know their input is noticed and appreciated, whether good or bad. If there are complaints it's better to show how you deal with these by responding in public. You can turn off comments and visitor posts on a Facebook page.
- Get any old social media accounts deactivated wherever possible to avoid confusion.
- In an ideal world, use different content for each channel, although this is not practical for most. Use a variety of images and change wording where possible. Try tailoring the posts to your audience as it develops - more fun for one network, more informational for another.
- Accounts can be managed by more than one person which can help spread the workload, but they should have a similar "voice" and convey the same information. Make sure you establish ground rules and how you want your organisation to be represented with anyone posting to social media on your behalf.
- Employees should not be expected to run business social media accounts outside work, unless they want to of course. Make sure login details are available to others, and plan to schedule posts and forward notifications during absence.
- If you change key business information like your phone number, website address, opening hours or logo, make sure you update these across all your accounts.