Effective social media

Social media may seem a simple concept. But the question, “What is social media?” has become increasingly difficult to answer.

“On the most basic level, social media relies on interactions between people via technology, for example, using Web-based technologies to disseminate media to an audience through social interaction,” says Courtney Stoll, director, operations and administration at Arke Systems. “Oftentimes, when someone hears the term ‘social media,’ they think of Facebook or Twitter. But not only does social media include social networking sites like Facebook and microblogging applications like Twitter, it also includes wikis, social bookmarking, news, photo and video sharing, instant messaging, blogs and forums.”

Smart Business spoke with Stoll about what to consider before your company jumps into social media and how to develop a strategy.

What do you need to consider before jumping into social media?

First, you need to determine your intended audience. Knowing whom you want to reach will help you decide which social media outlets will work best for your company.

After you establish whom you are targeting, determine where they seek information online. If your target audience is not on Facebook or YouTube, then those outlets are not right for your company.

Then you need to investigate what your competition is doing. What outlets are working for those companies? If they are having social media success via a particular application and you are nowhere to be seen, that poses a competitive threat. You also need to look at whether there are social media outlets that your competition is not engaging in but that you believe could be a competitive opportunity for you.

Finally, you have to have something relevant to say. Before you put information out there, make sure your message has value and that it’s useful to your audience without being overly self-promotional. In addition, depending on your application of choice, you may need to update your message frequently.

How do you develop a social media strategy?

After you consider the above factors, determine what you hope to achieve. Too many companies give a lot of thought to what they are going to say but not to where that message takes them.

Sometimes this can be as simple as brand awareness. Having a Web site is a great first step, but tying your brand or message across multiple and appropriate social media outlets can bring a lot of eyes to you that traditional marketing might have missed.

Other times, your goal may be to collect feedback about your product or service or to establish yourself as a thought leader in your industry. Or your goal may simply be to drive traffic to your Web site to acquire leads and, as a result, ultimately make sales. You need to start with the desired end in mind and work backward to determine the best steps to take to achieve your desired result.