While going viral may be the Holy Grail of social media marketing, it's also elusive and unpredictable. This is a race that's won by more tortoises than hares-slow, steady, persistent progress.
Your technology firm needs to be in the social media race for the long run. That requires a game plan that's achievable and, above all, avoids social media burnout.
A Race Worth Winning
Social media marketing is not just a campaign - it's a commitment. It serves as a critical yardstick for your prospects and clients to compare you and your firm with the competition. After all, research shows 60% of buyers check out service providers on social media to get a sense of their expertise, online presence, and culture.
The power of social media marketing continues to rise among marketers in the technology space, and in professional services as an industry. According to Social Media Examiner's 2014 Social Media Marketing Industry Report, 92% of marketers acknowledge its value (up from 86% in 2013). They're also putting in the time to get the job done:
- 64% of marketers spend 6 or more hours a week
- 37% spend 11 or more hours
- 19% spend 20 or more hours
To win, you need to leverage your efforts for maximum return without burning out. You need a game plan that focuses on objectives, content and management.
Set Objectives to Direct Your Planning
Professional services marketing is becoming more and more scientific as digital marketing becomes the norm. Marketers are relying on technology and data analysis - but they're also thinking strategically. And that begins with knowing what you want to accomplish.
It helps to start by identifying your social media marketing goals. Are you aiming to increase social referral traffic by 50%? To gain 100 new LinkedIn followers? The key is to be realistic (you can always revise up) and specific. With clear objectives, you can build a plan and measure results.
Use Content as the Social Media Hook
Good content is more than a well-written article or a timely post. It speaks to your market, connects emotionally and shares the information buyers need to make a purchasing decision. Good content starts with a thorough understanding of your audience.
- Identify Target Audiences: You can begin by analyzing your current client base and determining preferences. What do your buyers need to know to make a decision? What are their core challenges? Which social media channels do they frequent? Why are they looking to you as a resource and thought leader?
- Test your Assumptions: To improve your results you need to select your key performance indicators (KPIs) carefully and measure your results.
Counting the number of friends and followers may indicate initial interest. But are you getting conversions? For the best results, track the correlation between your content and visits to your website, requests for more information, sharing of your posts and new business.
To understand whether you are on target with your audience, you need to know how successfully friends, followers, prospects and clients are being influenced by your marketing...and adjust accordingly.
- Target the Right Social Media Channels: You want to build a presence where your market goes for information. For technology services firms, we recommend LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+ and even YouTube.
It helps to prioritize networks to keep the effort manageable. If you post on LinkedIn, for example, to reach the largest market audience, you can also:
- Post a blurb on Google+ with a link to your content
- Tweet a series of brief teasers to send readers to LinkedIn
- Consider Your Strengths: You may not like writing but have a good interviewing style or enjoy giving webinars. Look for ways to build on your strengths. Along with webinars, YouTube videos or podcasts may be a good way to reach out. It's easier to stay the course when you enjoy what you're doing.
Best Practices to Managing Social Media
The best-laid plans are only as good as your ability to deliver. You need to manage your social media to build a strong relationship with your audience. As prospects check your firm out on social media, they are learning more about your firm's expertise, credibility, and ability to solve their challenges.
Follow these steps to manage your social networks effectively:
- Allocate Your Resources: When you consider that social media marketing can take up as much as a quarter of your workweek, you probably need to assign a dedicated person or team to the task. Social media requires a commitment of time and money-just like any other form of marketing. Budget for it.
- Set a Realistic Schedule: Set a schedule for posting-whether it's hourly, daily, weekly or monthly-that you and your team can achieve and commit to it. As you build a following, people start looking for you. If you're not meeting their expectations, you'll lose ground.
While timely subjects work extremely well on social media, you can stay ahead of the last-minute rush by building a bank of reserve content-evergreen topics that you can post any time. These may help you keep on schedule.
Most major social channels have built-in resources to help you schedule posts in advance. Or you can use third-party social media management tools, such as HootSuite, Sprout Social or Buffer. Just remember that social is about interaction. You don't want to appear robotic. You can't simply set it and forget it.
- Be Responsive: Engagement is a critical element of social media marketing. As you build a following, you can expect questions and comments. Even if you post only once a week, you need to be monitoring throughout the day so you can respond quickly.
Clients and prospects have their own expectations. Edison Research and The Social Habit report that 45% of consumers expect a response within 60 minutes to their questions and complaints. While this is a consumer statistic, business people are still people.
Social media is "earned" media for a reason. You deserve the respect and following of prospects and clients alike when you are generous with your knowledge and insight. Your ability to commit to a schedule and deliver consistently tells your audience a lot about your culture and business values. It's essential, therefore, that you get it right.
While social media is not rocket science, the commitment can be extremely time consuming. It's worth the effort. Engagement with prospects often times starts with a social connection. But if you cannot find the time or personnel in house, it may be time to consider outsourcing all or part of your social media marketing.
Remember that nearly 60% of professional services buyers check firms out on social media. They're evaluating you more than your offering. Make sure you are on top of it.
For more information about social media marketing and developing a successful campaign, download our Social Media Guide.