How “social” do you need to be?

Kevin Hourigan, President and CEO, Bayshore Solutions

If you have heard any of the buzz on the street lately, you are aware that social media is here to stay, and the businesses that leverage this channel and participate strategically can reap rewards. “While it is true of social media marketing today that, ‘if you’re not in, you’re out’,” says Kevin Hourigan, President and CEO of Web design, Web development and online marketing agency, Bayshore Solutions, “A very valid question is; how ’in’ do I need to be?”

Smart Business spoke with Hourigan about how to get the most out of social media, and what the right social moves are to achieve it.

What business results should I expect from social media?

The key to realizing a specific business’s ‘reward’ from social media, is defining and understanding your realistic expectations, finding your strategic fit, implementing the tactics that align, and taking a disciplined approach to daily social media activity.

Businesses need to understand that only in specific situations will social media tactics deliver straight-line results of leads and sales.  It is possible, but the circumstances required are not a viable reality for many businesses.  Indirect influence on leads and sales is where social media can be a key contributor to business growth.

Business results that social media is best poised to deliver include:

  • Brand reputation management – you can listen and act to guard your businesses.
  • Target market intelligence – trends in needs, uses and attitudes about your brand and can be learned by simply listening.  Participating in response can earn you customers.
  • SEO performance improvements for your website – Search engine algorithms now include social media engagement.  Linking, keyword and search results benefits are also outcomes of properly optimized social media.
  • Brand and expertise positioning – through many avenues to present your brand and offer expertise that feeds top of mind awareness and brand preference.
  • Influencer marketing – social media allows you to identify and align with key people online whose word of mouth (or word of keyboard) can exponentially motivate your target customers.
  • Crisis Management – An opportunity to quickly and broadly distribute messaging.
  • Public Relations – Social Media can be considered the Public Relations of the 21st Century.
  • Encouraging visits to your website – and eventual conversions.

The right social media strategy will be unique to every business. Developing this strategy involves the Marketing 101 exercise of knowing your target customers, discovering where they are online as well as who and what motivates them.  Once you have defined this, the right expectations, tactics, metrics, measurement tools, and workflows triggered from those metrics can be determined and selected for your social media strategic plan.

What are the must-do tactics in Social Media?

A 2011 Marketing Sherpa study cited the top three ‘most effective’ social media tactics as:

  • Optimizing social media sites to improve search engine rankings
  • Building one to one relationships with bloggers, and other social influencers
  • Moderating company branded social networks

Content marketing through social media (distribution, sharing, and commenting) were the other most effective tactics cited.  The lowest ranking ‘most effective’ tactic was outright advertising on social networks.

The best place to start is by establishing business profiles in the social networks relevant to your audience and strategy. These will most often include, Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, and content distribution and bookmarking sites like YouTube, StumbleUpon, SlideShare and Google Plus.

This is just the start.  You must commit to keeping these profiles updated, fresh and relevant.  The right timing of updates varies among businesses and social media, but not updating guarantees failure.  Relevant participation includes offering advice, insights, tips, expertise, response to comments and questions, special promotions, and exclusive values related to your business and your target customer.  Relevant, successful participation is rarely a continual barrage of outright or veiled sales pitches.

How much do I really need to put in to social media?

Just a few years ago, a big selling point for social media was, ‘It’s essentially free!’ This is a dangerous and false statement.  Social media is a marketing channel with unique but real ‘costs’ of participation.  You may not be paying for your profile or message space, but to be effective, social media requires resources of time and talent in developing, delivering, tracking, monitoring, responding appropriately and adjusting campaigns.

eMarketer’s 2011 study of forecasted investment in social media in the next three years showed: 87 percent of businesses plan to spend more than 5 percent of their digital marketing budget on social tactics, 55 percent of businesses plan to spend over 10 percent of their budget, and 28 percent will spend over 20 percent of their budget on social media tactics.  This reflects the investments in resources that are a reality of effective involvement in today’s social media arena.

Because the nature of social media is an open two way communication, just ‘broadcasting’ messages cannot be your entire strategy.  The ability to offer competent, prompt response and engagement is critical to social media success.  It can also affect the bottom-line success of a business, so you can’t entrust this to an intern.

A recent statistic by Conversocial illustrates this point by revealing that 88 percent of social media users interpreted a business’s action or inaction in responding to social media comments and inquiries as a reflection of their ‘true colors’ in customer service.  They further said that inaction would make them ‘somewhat less’ or ‘far less‘ likely to do business with that company.

Effective social media marketing requires strategy, expertise and dedication. Enlisting expert assistance to help develop and even implement your social media marketing strategy (either in-house or partnering for this expertise) can streamline the process and place you competently into the right social circles to help grow your business.

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Kevin Hourigan is the president and CEO of Bayshore Solutions. Reach him at (877) 535-4578 or