Tips on using social media for business

Twitter, Facebook, and other social media can help generate sales and build brand. But they're confusing. Here are some fast tips to help sort things out.

Social media marketing is necessary. If you want to reach your market, you need to be using social media. Three-quarters of Americans now use social media. Social media is growing three times faster than the Internet overall, said Shayne Huston, Director of Innovation, CDS Global, which provides marketing, technology, customer service and fulfillment solutions to parent company Hearst as well as other business clients.

Huston spoke in Second Life, part of a Smarter Technology series of educational talks. (Disclaimer).

Keep your eyes on the overall goal. "The overall goal is to generate sales, increase interest in product and services, increase brand recognition, and create fanatics about your company," Huston said.

Go where your customers are. People have different preferences where they want to receive messages: Some prefer e-mail, some Facebook, some Twitter, some prefer other channels. You need to send your message where different people in your market want it, not insist they come to you.

Even within a particular channel, you have to be on-target. For example, most adults have three primary e-mails: One for work, one from home, and one where they direct bulk mail as a means of avoiding spam. Marketers need to be sure they're sending to the right address, Huston said.

"It's something that people can be irritated by, if for example you're sending work information to their personal e-mail rather than where they want to see it," he said.

Select your focus. Figure out which channel makes the most sense to use as your primary channel. Use all channels, so you can get to everyone, but use secondary channels to redirect people in your market to your primary channel. "As the saying goes, all roads lead to Rome. That's where your main communication will be, that's here the calls to action and information for building your brand will be," Huston said. At CDS Global, the primary channel is the CDS Global Blog.

Companies can disseminate blog content, and links back to the blog, through other channels, including Twitter and even Skype. That's what CDS Global did. "We saw that we were tripling traffic to the blogs. Then we did a little experiment -- we stopped Twittering, Facebook, and LinkedIn pointing to our system. Within three days, we saw traffic dropping 50%," Huston said.

Applications like Digsby can send individual updates out to multiple channels.

How do you figure out what your primary channel should be? Often, it's just a case of watching what you're already doing, and picking the channels that have already proven most successful for you, Huston said.

Offer deals. For example, you might give Twitter followers a 5% discount for visiting the site on a particular day. Do the offers regularly -- for example every Monday or Wednesday -- so people in the market know to watch your Twitter stream those days. Make unique offers for each channel. Layer offers: For example, you might offer a 5% discount on Twitter, followed by a 10% discount to visit your Web site and provide information.

Train your people in using social media. People can get in trouble with the most seemingly innocuous statements. For example, one company sent out a message supporting a local sports team. But the city where the company is based has two sports teams. Fans of the other team were alienated, Huston said.

Have people ready to field customer-service complaints. This is important during special events, such as a Twitter interview with the CEO. You'll inevitably get customer-service complaints. Have staff ready to intercept and deal with those complaints, so they don't divert the main conversation.

Learn from negative feedback. Critics will help you improve your company.

Measure ROI. Services like bit.ly, Digsby, and Google Analytics can measure traffic, and serve as tools to tell you how well you're doing.

Disclaimer: World2Worlds, which hosts the Smarter Technology event, also provides hosting for Copper Robot, a series of interview programs I host in Second Life. And Smarter Technology is published by Ziff Davis Enterprise, which competes with Computerworld's parent company, International Data Group.

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