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Today will be a busy day for the internet. Cyber Monday deals 2012 will keep people in front of the computer like a lab rat pressing the button for another pellet. We’ve seen Black Friday morph into “Gray Thursday Night” as retailers attempt to capture a share of whatever sales are out there. The competition for your time, attention, and money is fierce. And with so much information coming at consumers in all directions, it’s hard to connect with your prospects in a way they will receive it. This is where Social Media has the upper hand over traditional outbound marketing techniques.

Social Media has grown up a lot over the last couple years and most companies are involved through Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube or one of hundreds of other sites. Theres a reason why 79% of respondents say they are currently using or plan to use Social Media. You can click the photo above to read a nice overview that the Harvard Business Review did on social media – after you read this blog first of course.

Unfortunately, many companies have lost site of the idea that social media is here to create a digital conversation with your market. Consumers do not want to be “talked-to”, or worse yet, “sold to” on these platforms. Your followers want to know they have a place to come learn, to ask the questions THEY care about, and to know they are being heard. Here are some things you should keep in mind when using social media as a way to connect to your market.

Listen MORE than you TALK

Your social media sites should be a place to listen. Getting followers to your social media site is the start – not the end. You can learn so much more about your market if you are careful to read what your followers are posting on your sites, and even their own. See what other things they “like” and look for trends that can direct your future postings.

You can create surveys, contests, or just make a statement and ask your followers what they think. You may not get a ton responses at first, but find topics people respond to and use more of these to encourage others to join in. Getting people to comment on your posts is a great way to build the community in your social media sites and gives you the insights you need to connect with your market.

Engage your Followers in Conversation

The goal is to get your followers to engage in the conversation. (Facebook won’t even show your analytics unless you have 30 conversations in one week.) Jim David of Leap Frawg has mastered the process of engagement. He has always found intriguing items to post that connect with his audience and engage them to talk. Once you get people trained to communicate with you, you can learn about what matters to them, and then provide more of this type of content to build loyal fans and Brand Advocates.

A great example of a Facebook page where people are engaged in the discussion is Steve Martin’s page. Not only does he have lots of fans, the has amazing share and comments rates. In October, he had 8,834 “Likes” and 26,507 people talking about the things he posted. Now THAT’S engagement.

However, you don’t have to be Steve Martin to have engaged fans.  You have to listen to what they are talking about, and join the conversation, and your followers will share their opinions and become interested in who you are.

Know your Market

You should know your market BEFORE you start posting things. Listening well will accomplish this. However, once you DO post something, look to see how it’s received and use this to direct future marketing efforts. Use the Analytics reporting functions or your own metrics to track how your communication is being received.

Track the results to see what social media source is sending the most visitors to your sites and the demographics of these visitors. If you see that most of your visitors come from LinkedIn, you should make sure you focus your postings in that platform to capture even more visitors. If most of your visitors are women, consider adjusting your communications with this demographic in mind. The response you get from people in each social media platform can tell you things about your customers that you can use to direct your future communications.

If one blog generates a very high number of visitors, you might consider writing more on this topic. My blog on October 25 entitled the Real Value of Networking, had the most readers in one day of all the blogs I’ve written so far so I know I connected with a lot of people’s needs.  HOWEVER, although many were interested in this topic, they are not prospective clients for me. I can use their support to get my name out to others, but I still need to write content that will connect best with potential prospects and customers.

Don’t be Pushy

It’s easy to crank out a bunch of promotions about your company, products and services and think you are doing a great job in your social media efforts. However, you need to take a low-key approach and offer 90% of insights and education to your market, with only 10% of things that would be seen as a sales pitch. Of course, ALL your social media contact is “selling” you in one way or another, but your market will be turned off if it comes across as a hard sell.

Position yourself as a subject matter expert and a source of real help to your followers, by sharing valuable information your market cares about. Listen to what your customers are talking about and then provide information, links, stories, and examples that connect them to what they care about. This makes you a trusted advocate and will keep in the front of their minds so when you DO post a low-key ad for yourself, they will be willing to accept it because they like and trust you.

Move Toward the Next Step

Make sure to ask questions or lead them to an activity with your postings. Direct people to visit your blog, website or other social media platform by providing links that take them there. This builds a connection between all your social media sites and allows your fans to follow you and engage in the platform that they like the best. This also helps with your ranking on Google. By the way, have you seen our Facebook page?

Here’s an example. I recently posted the Dallas Business Journal article about Hostess laying off 15,000 employees and I asked the question “How are you prepared for the challenges of 2013,” then listed a link to Trey Finley’s Business Planning event in Garland on December 4th. I want my followers to think and comment about their business plans to encourage others to think about what they should be doing, and then I want to lead them to go see information about this event link and sign up to attend.

(Here’s the 10% sales effort I spoke about above) By the way, I will be presenting at this event on December 4th here in the DFW area.  My part of this powerful day of planning will be “Marketing – what you can do regardless of your size or budget.”  I hope you will join me that day and if you need more information on this event, you can go to  http://wp.me/p2ugKa-fM.

Answer EVERYTHING

You need to own and monitor your presence on all your social media sites. In addition,  you need to be aware and work to control your information on hundreds of sites you didn’t create; Consumer Review sites like Yelp & Manta, as well as Google directories and the hundreds of places you get talked about on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and so many others.

This is one reason I really like what Transgility Review Engine Services and Pocketstop offer their clients.  These companies have created unique ways to find, understand, and respond to information on the internet, in order to help you control your message and online reputation, and then use it to your benefit.

Customers evaluate you based on the how responsive you are to comments, so you need to have a plan to find and respond to these postings in a timely and professional manner. Statistics show that people make buying decisions based on what others have said about you, so you need to control your message, or the market will. Your company and brands are on these social media platforms, whether you put them there or not, and you need to commit to keeping up with them each day or suffer the consequences in the court of customer opinions.

I recommend finding the top three platforms that your customers use and then focus on doing these well before you consider any others. Don’t overload yourself or you will fall behind and not be able to truly engage your market each week.

* Here’s a reminder to take all the bad comments off-line as fast as you can.  Don’t air your dirty laundry out in front of others who may only see part of the conversation and get a bad opinion of you. Click on the photo here to see a horrible example of someone responding negatively to the comments their market is making.

If you need help understanding how to do this, ask an expert like Jim David of Leap Frawg so he will help you.

Social Media Marketing efforts DO work and they need to be a part of your marketing plans. Do your homework and chose your platforms wisely. Listen to your market and engage them in order to build brand advocates who help you generate more leads and retain more customers. Move your followers to become part of your social media community and you will find they stay around longer, tell others about you more often, and become loyal customers.

Make sure you take the time to write out how your social media marketing efforts fit into your overall marketing plan so you have clear guidelines that everyone will follow, and to get the results you expected for all your hard work.  If you need help, let me know.

by Robert Hunt of Hunt Consulting DFW

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