Social media for Business: Nine tips to get it right

Last week, I was invited by the Rotary Cochin Knights to speak on social media for business. Putting up my speech here; it’s practically a transcript, so do excuse colloquial usage and the like.
Image courtesy: 

It’s good to be on this platform talking to you about something I am passionate about. When I set up DropCap with social media outreach as part of our portfolio of services, I was happy with the initial reaction I got from friends, family and existing clients. But then came the barrage of questions: Are you sure about this social media thing? Is it sustainable? How will you do it? How will you track it?
My answer was simple: You can run from social media but you can’t hide from it. Sure you can choose to ignore it, you can refuse to be part of it but you know what… your clients, your channel partners, your critics, your competition, they are all on it. And if you are out of the picture, you have no control or awareness about what is being said about your brand online or how your company is being perceived in one of its most visible branding avenues.
And when we say big, we are talking big, waiting to explode…. Facebook crossed the 500-million user mark in June, of which more than 8 million are from India. Then there’s the micro-blogging platform, Twitter, where India ranks no. 2 after Japan in Asia, with 6.48 million users. And these are numbers that are growing by leaps and bounds.
So what do you do if you are a company or a startup and want to do social media? You want some part of those numbers, right, all translating into sales figures, right? People say getting on social media is easy; you don’t need an expert for the job. Sure, it’s easy; it’s as easy as signing up on FB, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Digg, Tumblr or wherever. But what do you do next?
It’s not being on social media that’s important; it’s actually being a presence there. What matters is what you actually do out there. And if you don’t have a plan for this, you will be like the guy dressed in an Armani suit at a rock concert. Sure, he can afford it but does he feel like a fish out of water!
So let’s talk a bit about how companies can do social media:
  • Most companies jump onto social media because everybody else is doing it. The first thing about social media is to stop treating it like an impulse buy. And start thinking of it as an investment. You can buy a Levis jeans on an impulse… perhaps you like the way it looks on the model or just because bootcut is back in vogue. But you wouldn’t buy a house just because you like the brochure, would you?
    Especially if you are in Cochin you will look at the builder’s history, his track record, maybe speak to a couple of the company’s customers, a few experts… social media for corporates is a long-term investment. It’s an investment in relationship-building. And you have to treat it just as carefully as you would a special relationship, maybe even extra carefully because this is one of your most visible relationships. It’s like being on reality TV 24/7. 
  • The next thing you need before you jump into the fray is a social media strategy. You need to define strategic goals clearly and definitely. Gauge what you want your social media presence to do for you and plan your strategy accordingly.
    Are you going to use social media for lead generation? Or for strengthening existing customer relationships? Or troubleshooting? Maybe you just want to create a buzz. Or perhaps you have loftier ideals… you want to be a thought leader in your space. Or maybe even all of the above? Whatever your goal, define it… otherwise you won’t know how to get there and worse, you won’t even know if you have arrived! This is a simple thing of course, perhaps even a management mantra but we so easily tend to overlook the obvious when it comes to social media. 
  • Your strategy should define your social media presence. There is no need to be all over the place. You don’t have to sign up at every social media website or application that has ever been invented. Choose the platforms that work best for your company’s goals.
    And here’s a tip: start small if you are unsure. It’s way better than starting with a bang and then fizzling out. 
  • Give. It’s always Christmas in the social media sphere. I don’t know any other medium that responds so beautifully to the Biblical commandment: ‘Do unto others as you would have done unto you.” Social media is not just about creating a Facebook page or a Twitter profile and then sitting back and waiting for your follower count to rise. Nope, doesn’t work that way! You have to connect with people. You have to put out relevant content that interests and engages people. You have to do the ‘giving’ bit first before you can start receiving.
  • Be consistent. You cannot afford to ignore your social media commitments and then expect it to work for you. Consistent, interactive and meaningful activity is the no.1  element that keeps your followers attracted to your profiles. Whether you are blogging, tweeting or posting updates, you have to stick with it. It would be best to draw up a schedule for all your social media platforms, with desired frequency of activity and just do it!
    It’d be ideal to put a person in-charge of your social media platform, either in-house or a consultant, because it takes time, effort and coordination to get it right.
  • Engage, engage, engage! All social media gurus will tell you that this is the cardinal rule of the game. There is just no way you can afford to ignore your online community. Are people commenting on your blog posts? Add a meaningful reply or just say thank you. Are people re-tweeting you? Thank them. Are they asking you for help? Go on, help them and let your community know with a follow-up comment. It’s all about making people feel included and important.
    See, there’s no magic to social media. Ultimately it boils down to keeping people happy. It’s just that we often forget that there are people associated with those icons we see on screen. 
  • Now when it comes to comments and reactions, you have to take the good with the bad. How you handle negativity online is as important as important as how you deal with all the praise and good stuff.  There’s a cardinal rule to dealing with negative comments: unless there’s actual use of abusive language or something, do not delete negative comments. Get in touch with the user and try to solve his issue. And most importantly put up follow-up comments on what is happening so the rest of your community is in the loop.
    Two quick tips here: content on the Internet is rarely ever truly deleted. Even if you delete a comment it might turn up in a weekly email digest that the social media service sends out or may be present in some archive.
    Secondly, always ensure that comments appear on blogs only after moderation. This helps prevent spam, abuse and other little irritations. 
  • Social media is not all about me-me-me. Don’t talk only about your company and your fabulous products and services. The client has probably got all that from your website. You need to also put up content that helps the reader or is useful to them. For instance, I always find that whenever I blog about practical writing, editing or social media tips, I get the most number of visitors.
  • Of course, that said, don’t forget the power of ‘social media specials.’ You are building special communities online so you can occasionally offer your followers discount coupons or freebies that are exclusive to those communities. As it turns out, the whole world loves a discount. On Twitter, there’s even a user profile @theearlybird, which offers special discounts through tie-ups with various retailers.
I guess you must have got some ideas about the whole process now. I would encourage each of you to look at social media as an enhancing experience rather than just as a frivolous outing.

Read More