Business professionals are using the professional social networks like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and FastPitchNetworking to meet and collaborate with colleagues worldwide. These professionals fall into two distinct groups:
- Those for who emphasis the word “network”
- Those for who emphasis the word “social”
Those who emphasize the word ”network” seek to promote and expand their business. Those who emphasize the word “social” seek to promote and expand their contact list. Social Media Marketing is the systematic approach to using social networks and other “Web 2.0” and “Web 3.0” technologies as a part of an all inclusive marketing plan to accomplish expanding both.
“Begin with the End in Mind”
Steven Covey’s 5th habit (7 Habits of Highly Effective People) is one of the truisms of planning regardless of the purpose of the plan. The rapidity with which the field of Social Media Marketing is changing, new sites debuting, new functions and innovations make any treatise listing specific services obsolete before it can even be printed. However, when the social networks are viewed as tools the emphasis shifts from recommending specific sites to defining goals.
Step One: Define the goals then matching the tool to the purpose.
Goals vary from business to business and professional to professional, but the identification of goals is key to determining what characteristics are needed in a social network. Further, once a social media marketing program begins to meet with success, a deluge of invitations to other networks will begin to arrive. A prioritized list of goals will ensure that the social media marketing plan does not suffer “mission creep” by pursuing unrelated social networking opportunities.
Boundaries, Budgets & Bull’s-Eyes
The rule of cellular operations is that leadership sets the boundaries and budgets and allows the team charged with achieving the goal to “hit the Bull’s-Eye” on their own by any means that respects the boundaries and budgets sets. This form of leadership is used in all manner of situations that require high achievement in a rapidly changing environment. Special Forces teams, SWAT teams, corporate crisis teams, even medical resuscitation teams and Emergency Medical Services operate in this micromanagement-free manner.
Step Two: Set boundaries and budgets that govern the efforts
expended in social networking while allowing the
social networker “hit the Bull’s-Eye.”
Most professional social networks offer a free and one or more “premium” memberships. In most or all of those with “premium” memberships, it is possible to “earn” free premium upgrades by recruiting new members to the network platform. With all these incentives, it is only necessary to spend money on professional social network membership if a specific paid premium membership function or service is needed to achieve the goals set in step 1. This does not however mean that social networking is free. Most successful business social networkers agree that success requires a minimum of 40 hours per month spent building the network and communicating with network members and online contacts. The biggest area of budget bloat is time spent networking online.
Be very critical of the time spent on social media marketing. Time has a definite value in real dollars and time spent on social media marketing must provide a real and measurable return on investment. It is all too easy to spend endless hours enjoying the many “features” of social networking sites. Whether answering posted questions and earning the tag “Expert” or racking up endorsements and testimonials, every minute spent online must have a purpose, must contribute to achieving the goals and must provide a return.
Create a Cult of Personality
Once the goals, budgets and boundaries are set, it is time to begin networking. Whether online or in person, the most important tool of the social networker is dialogue. Online networking must include direct and individual communications with every member of the network.
Every time a new member joins the network, that new contact must receive a personalized email welcoming them to the network. This mandates that the new contact’s network profile be read and the contact’s interests made the focus of the email. The process of customizing the welcome to the new contact has a side benefit to the business because it forces the business to define its relevance to an ever expanding and ever deepening market demographic described by the social network developed online.
Step Three: Communicate and connect, don’t just collect.
The object of the entire social media marketing effort is to build a network with a personal bond and the ability to refer paying customers or become paying customers themselves. This means the network members must become raving fans even before they make a buy or refer decision. Those who have been networking in real life for years know this is much harder than turning a satisfied customer into a raving fan. Unlike in person networking, online networking limits the level of interpersonal exchange and thus “likability.” A social network makes the transition to raving fans because of the personality of the network leader. Use the regular communication with network members as a “personality conduit.”
It’s Called the “Web” for a Reason
The highest accolade for a business person using social networks as a professional tool is to become a “meta-leader.” Based on concepts taken from disaster healthcare and emergency management, the “meta-leader” is a bridge for communications across industries and a role modeling leader within their own business. In social networks, whether professional or personal, this is a truly pivotal role because as a “network node” the meta-leader is the point at which multiple individual networks begin to overlap. The meta-leader is the connection and the conduit for all these networks and even across social networking websites.
Step Four: Attract Like Minded People, Then Lead Them
The key to becoming a meta-leader in a market niche is to become a gathering point for other online professionals and their respective networks. All the professional social networking websites have the ability to create clubs, or groups, or collectives. By volunteering to create and manage such a group the meta-leader becomes the point of convergence for everyone interested in the topic.
Time to Get Real
Once the goals are set, the network built and the like minds have gathered, it is time to expand into the non-virtual world. The popular term for a social networking group meeting outside of cyberspace is “In Real Life” or simply “Live.”
Step Five: Make it Real in Real Life
Depending on the local culture and networking traditions as well as the subculture of the online network, a traditional “dinner and drinks” networking event may be in order, but a “picnic in the park” or a “burgers and baseball” format may be more appropriate. The key is not the surroundings, but the opportunity for people who have built an online, but nonetheless real relationship to put a handshake, or a hug, to the profile and prose.
Online professional social networks and social media marketing are the newest tool in the entrepreneur’s business success kit. Properly used, it promises business expansion and profit growth.
Whether you are new to social networking or a long time Facebooker, following the five steps of social media marketing will lead you to 21st century business success.