There's a lot to learn about being online!
Today a friend on Twitter posed the question "How can businesses be online marketing without spamming?"
Really for me it goes back to the fundamental question:
What are your activities online meant to achieve?
And remembering some good manners.
Let me unpack that a little.
My guess is that most people go online with a hope that doing so will result in benefits for their business and not to put too fine a point on it - they will profit from it somehow.
That's a fine sentiment but profiting from online activity is something that few know how to analyse and many don't understand how the process works.
"I Can See You"
The first and most obvious avenue for benefit to a business is more sales. But there are others too, and chief among them in local business, is to be visible to those who have the need to use your products and services and the money and inclination to do so. Being thought of when someone is wanting to buy happens long before a sale is made, but without it the chances are zero.
You want to make more sales - so you need to be visible to the people who can buy from you.
There is a school of thought that some people ascribe to that "any publicity is good publicity" and you like me might conclude that spamming a network is an example of that in action. I think many business owners in their excitement lose track of what would be obvious if it was happening on the street. For example, can you imagine if you went to a networking event and walked up to people and started yelling at them with your business pitch?
Likewise online, nobody online follows you so you can just send them spam.
So what is spam really? In the world of social marketing it is anything that is sent unsolicited to people who have not expressed a request for your products or information.
So what does this look like in play?
- Automated DMs in Twitter with links to your products when you have never been asked.
- Posting your link to your products, uninvited, on the walls of people friends or other business Pages you follow.
- Sending advertisements to your contacts on Twitter.
- Posting self promotional pieces to the discussion threads on Linkedin
- Commenting on people's blog posts and ignoring the post and just adding your information and links.
- And let's not forget this one which is more and more common and extremely annoying ...
- Adding people you just met to your mailing list without permission.
Anything that resembles this, that is self serving and providing nothing of value is, by extention, spam.
If you think it might be considered spam. It probably is.
Online Content Is Where You Create Value
So what do you post instead?
First and foremost it is essential to understand that social marketing is not like pushing out ads as you would in traditional advertising. It is not a broadcast medium it is a social medium and while you can post topics that demonstrate your expertise in certain areas, this is a two way enviroment and for people be interested in you they need to see that you have more to say than just posting ads.
Think before you post - how does this fit with what I want people to think about my business? Post in alignment with your values.
Connect with people who are in the location your business serves. So if you have a local business, connect with local people. If your business serves customers across the world then focus on the demographics of the sector to whom your offering appeals. It may be work at home mothers, or people who like to travel, or whatever.
That's really an important element to consider.
What are the characteristics of your existing customers - and where do people like them spend time online?
When you know that, then you can connect and you have a key to your next element to consider...
What are these people interested in and how can I add value through posting content that will be useful/entertaining/of value to them?
Understanding what your business offers - what people want from it - and what gains their interest is a foundation to what will become a framework for your social marketing.
Social marketing is about being visible to potential customers, expanding your chances to make new sales and to build on existing relationships but it is not for amateurs. Get trained, get help to understand the landscape online, the etiquette of online communications and understand where your risk points are. Your reputation is valuable and the better you understand how to use the online tools and platforms - and what to never do online - the greater your chance of success.
Where Is Your Content Located?
Do you have a blog?
Is your website being updated regularly?
Do you have coupons for special offers?
These are the obvious places to be adding quality content on your special topic. Showcasing your knowledge of your industry and building a presence online where people can find your bank of articles. These will be the content that sets your business apart and is unique. You can use this to post links to your networks, use in your email marketing (permssion based, of course) and to repackage into other forms for use as appropriate.
You can post these links in moderation between other posts of a general nature and discussions that you may engage in on your networks. How often? Well that depends on so much but since you are going to be creating quality content to post, this will limit how much you can post of your own promotions. Get started on building that bank of good content from which you can draw.
Customers Are Online ... But Not All Of Them!
Not all customer groups spend a lot of time online. Some may never use social networks and yet even for these industries, having a full and engaging social presence online has a value. It makes finding you on search easier but also it builds a picture in the the client's mind that they can feel reassured about you. Suddenly you are not some faceless business, you have roots in the community, people they know are connected with you and this brings with it great peace of mind and credibility for you and your business, so guard it well.
Building a good reputation online takes time just as it does anywhere. And just like offline, it can be ruined with lightning speed.
Research your market.
Build a model of your best customers so you can find more like them.
Devise your strategy to build your online presence.
Write your social marketing plan and schedule.
Create a bank of content to start.
Add value to your networkby sharing general items of interest to them that they are unlikely to have seen.
Above all, respect the people in your network and never take the people who follow you for granted.
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