As the economy slowly recovers, you need to adapt to the times when marketing your products and services. What worked in 2008 no longer applies in 2013. It’s a new game, and the few businesses doing it right are driving conversation, engagement and loyalty — and winning new business. It is not about abandoning what worked in the past but recognizing that the rules of engagement have changed and developing new strategy.

It is no different than adapting to the marketing challenges and changes that Internet technology brought in the 1990s.

The new social movement is a force to be reckoned with, and in 2013, you need to be ready to tackle this new communication trend. To ignore it will impair survival. It is not too late to get on board, but to do so will take a companywide commitment.

The new marketing paradigm

Sure, businesses are on Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn, and have blogs. But most businesses lack social strategy and an understanding of why they need those things. It’s time to understand how to become a social business, and shift the thinking of leadership and marketing to social conversation instead of the traditional push marketing.

The biggest shift is in pushing away from unwanted messaging filled with sales-centered value propositions to engaging in a way that mimics publishers — creating content that answers questions, adds value toward reaching objectives and encourages referral of your company as a credible reference. We need to feed the intense appetite for information by providing something great to talk about and share.

Creating a foundation

Being a social business takes a village. Engaging the entire organization is a cultural shift, and the directive for this level of change must come from the top. The CEO must lay the foundation for a social culture that encourages transparency and empowerment.

Communication used to be channeled through sales and marketing. Now we need everyone from the CEO to engineers and human resource teams contributing to the social conversation, each creating their personal brands and centers of influence.

The new game is peer-influenced community marketing. The challenge of marketing is to develop a social strategy, identifying social ambassadors within the organization at all levels, orchestrating the creation of great content companywide, educating ambassadors on the importance of their role and monitoring the conversation and results.

Mobility is a factor

According to business2community.com, 2013 will mark the first time online access is greater from mobile devices than desktop or laptop computers. An estimated 90 million consumers in the U.S. will own a tablet by 2014.

Mobility is changing the way we need to market. Communication needs to be mobile-friendly content. Companies need to shift to mobile sites and mobile advertising. Smartphone users expect to be able to do it all from their mobile device. If we cannot provide this experience, they become frustrated and disengaged.

 

It’s time to move forward

A 2012 Forrester survey of executives and IT decision makers indicated 49 percent expected to make investments in social networking solutions in 2012, and of those, 19 percent described their investment as “implemented, not expanding.”

The early adopters are in the game. The rest are asking, “How far behind are we?” That is the question you should be asking yourself.

Kelly Borth is CEO and chief strategy officer for Greencrest, a 22-year-old brand development, strategic marketing and digital media firm that turns market players into market leaders. Borth has received numerous honors for her business and community leadership. She serves on several local advisory boards and is one of 30 certified brand strategists in the United States. Reach her at (614) 885-7921, kborth@greencrest.com, @brandpro or visit www.greencrest.com.

 

Published in Columbus

How often do you go to market without a solid business strategy? Probably never, right?

Wrong.

The reality is that if you’re like most organizations, then you’re doing this right now — and you don’t even know it.

That’s because most organizations do not have a well-thought-out marketing strategy. Instead, most are doing what somebody told them they should do. This includes creating a mobile website, engaging in social media and advertising.

All of these are “smart” marketing initiatives. But if they’re done in a vacuum, there’s no way to measure what results those initiatives are intended to accomplish. Worse, you’re chasing tactics instead of delivering results.

There is a significant difference between marketing tactics and marketing strategy. Marketing tactics are ways to bring channels to life. This could be a new website or a mobile-optimized version of your site. Or it could be creating new sales collateral. Tactics should be used to bring your brand message and value proposition to life.

Unfortunately, if they’re not tied to a cohesive strategy, you will not achieve the results you desire.

A marketing strategy, however, allows you to understand the results you should achieve. It also keeps everyone aligned with what you’re trying to accomplish and where you are in the process.

As an example, there are three main reasons for a website: to verify your organization’s brand message to potential customers, to deliver your value proposition and conversion.

Conversion can mean different things for different industries. In retail, it might mean picking out a product, putting it in your shopping cart and making the purchase. In business-to-business, conversion might mean picking up the phone to contact the company, providing a name, email and phone number, or signing up to receive a newsletter.

Without understanding how consumers behave, you may be selling your marketing efforts short. You might not be providing enough information to clearly articulate your brand message or value proposition or you might not be offering users an easy experience that allows for conversion. So how do you ensure that a consistent brand message, value proposition and the ability to target customers converts across all marketing channels?

First, understand who the target consumer is and their needs, attitudes and behaviors. This can be discovered through research, including focus groups or through industry-based segmentation.

Then, conduct a deep dive to understand your business goals and objectives. In retail, this might be the number of sales you want to drive. In B2B, it could be increasing the numbers of prospects in your pipeline.

Finally, evaluate your company’s existing marketing tactics — your website, marketing collateral and overall brand message.

Only then will you be well-equipped to evaluate your overall tactics and compare them to marketing best practices and the competitive landscape. This results in recommendations that include expected business results and return on investment.

Prioritize these by measuring the highest impact against investment levels, and then create a timeline to implement them over a one- to two-year period. Share this strategy throughout the entire organization so everyone understands what will be accomplished and what the expected results are.

Without strategy, and an understanding of everything that goes into it, any money you pour into tactics tends to be money poorly spent. Done correctly, your marketing strategy suddenly becomes your organization’s key driver and leads to tangible and measurable business results.

Dave Fazekas is director of digital marketing for Smart Business Network. Reach him at dfazekas@sbnonline.com or (440) 250-7056.

Published in Akron/Canton

Social media has pervaded the workplace. With more than 1 billion people on Facebook and 140 million Twitter users generating 340 million tweets a day, companies see the potential of social networking and often rush to get on board without formulating a comprehensive policy.

“Take a step back and consider the implications of posting — whether officially in your business, unofficially by employees, or about your business by disgruntled customers or competitors. Develop a plan for protecting your interests on all those fronts,” says Karen C. Lefton, a partner at Brouse McDowell. “That means drafting, implementing and, where appropriate, disseminating your policy before you are the target of a nasty post.”

Smart Business spoke with Lefton about what companies should consider now with social media.

What can companies do to protect themselves against disparaging statements made by customers or competitors? 

Anyone who posts defamatory statements about your business may be subject to a defamation action. There must be a false statement of fact, published to at least one other person, with the requisite degree of fault — negligence or actual malice — resulting in damages. It is important to recognize that ‘opinion’ is protected. This is especially significant in the social media context, where reviews are pervasive and even encouraged on companies’ websites. When you do this, you invite potentially negative comments, but not ones that would be actionable in defamation.

Does that mean reviews are exempt from defamation lawsuits?

Reviews are usually excluded because opinions are protected speech. A false statement of fact is essential to a successful defamation claim. However, if someone says, ‘There was a cockroach in my oatmeal,’ that is demonstrably a statement of fact. If it is false, the restaurant where the oatmeal was served would have a potential defamation claim.

Whom would you sue? 

The poster. Internet Service Providers generally have immunity for the posts on their sites, but the poster does not. Historically, defamed entities were reluctant to take action against an individual poster because the cost far exceeded the payoff. However, many homeowners’ insurance policies cover individuals for actions in defamation, which may provide some recompense for defamatory posts.

What if the harmful statements are made by your own employees? Can you fire them? 

Be very cautious. Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act protects employees who engage in concerted activity, so employees who post disparaging comments about wages and working conditions — including bad things about the boss or the business — are usually protected. This applies as much to employees in nonunion settings as to those in unionized workplaces.

An employer may be found to have violated the act not only by disciplining a worker for what he posts but for merely having a policy that could be interpreted as chilling an employee’s Section 7 rights. Your policy governing employees’ use of social media must be very carefully drafted.

Are there pitfalls if employees post as part of their job, sanctioned by the company? 

Absolutely. According to the Society of Human Resource Management, 68 percent of businesses require employees to use social media as part of their job. Of those, 73 percent give no training in how to use it appropriately.

Every company with a social media presence should have a policy governing its official website and social media accounts, including identifying those employees authorized to speak on behalf of the company and training them to ensure that private information — whether about employees, business plans or anything else — does not leak out. This is a growing problem because communication on social media is so quick and casual that it often does not get the same attention as a printed marketing piece. It should get more, as it will last virtually forever.

How can you avoid social media pitfalls?

Get expert help drafting your policies. Implement them. Follow them.

Karen C. Lefton is a partner at Brouse McDowell. Reach her at (330) 535-5711, ext. 341 or klefton@brouse.com.

For information on Brouse McDowell’s Labor and Employment Group, visit http://www.brouse.com/OurPracticeAreas/tabid/55/MainAreaId/5/Default.aspx.

For a complete bio of Karen C. Lefton, visit http://www.brouse.com/OurAttorneys/AttorneyProfile/tabid/90/aid/252/Default.aspx.

Insights Legal Affairs is brought to you by Brouse McDowell

Published in Akron/Canton

Currently, more than half of employers in the U.S. are blocking workplace social media access. They give a number of reasons for blocking access to social media sites.

Most prevalent, those employers believe time spent on social networks is lost productivity that the company will never regain, so when you block social media, you know your employees are spending time doing their work.

But the reality is employees who were time wasters before social media are still going to have productivity issues. A recent survey by OfficeTeam showed that 22 percent of respondents working for companies that blocked social networking, shopping and entertainment sites admitted to frequently using their personal mobile devices as a workaround.

Any employee with a smartphone can access social media sites and the Internet, even if access is restricted via workplace computers. When access is blocked, employees are prone to take more work breaks or spend time finding a way to access restricted sites.

If you block social media access for your employees, it might be time to take a look at your company’s policy. Social media access might not be the problem. Here are some other things to consider.

Increased productivity

According to a study conducted by the University of Melbourne, employees with access to social networks were actually more productive than employees in companies that block access. The study went on to explain that employees who rewarded themselves by visiting their social media pages between the completion of work tasks accomplished 9 percent more than their blocked counterparts.

Increased productivity doesn’t stop in the physical workplace. Employers who embrace social platforms also enable workers to be able to work virtually from nearly any location. From home or on the go, networked employees are completing tasks.

Attracting and retaining workers

According to a survey of 870 employers and employees by recruitment company Hays, almost 20 percent of job applicants say they will turn down a job if they do not have reasonable access to social networking sites.

About half of those surveyed already accessed social media at work, with 13.3 percent accessing it daily and 36.4 percent checking occasionally.

As for employers surveyed, 44.3 percent believed that allowing employees access to social media at work will improve retention levels, and a third already gave their staff access to it.

Only 23.7 percent of employers allowed no access to social media sites.

So how should you define your social media policy? Here are some questions to ask.

  • How do you expect social media to be used during work hours? Define proper and improper use of work equipment.
  • Will you offer full or limited access?
  • What restrictions or parameters will be placed on workplace usage?
  • How will you monitor employee social network activity for any excessive use? Employees will need to understand that they have no right to privacy with regard to social media in the workplace, and as the employer, you have the right to monitor or retrieve data pertaining to their social media usage at work.
  • How will you deal with any employee misuse?
  • Are you going to encourage employees to leverage social media as a business tool or will you restrict its use as a business tool? If you have concerns about the sharing of the company’s confidential information, you will need to outline confidentiality guidelines.

Don’t issue a blanket policy banning all social media speech about the business; it could get you in trouble. Instead, craft a policy limiting use during work hours and banning false statements, circulation of proprietary information and profanity related to management or co-workers. Have your lawyer review all social media policies prior to introducing them to your employees.

Adrienne Lenhoff is president and CEO of Buzzphoria, Shazaaam PR and Promo Marketing Team. Reach her at alenhoff@shazaaam.com.

Published in Detroit
Wednesday, 31 October 2012 20:00

Krista Neher: Ask yourself the right questions

You’ve probably heard the expression that when you have a hammer everything looks like a nail. That is where we are in social media.

Most social networks have given us hammers or tools to use to grow our business with social media. Facebook has given us pages to use to promote our brand, Twitter has given us accounts and hashtags to theme conversations, and LinkedIn has given us company profiles.

As social networks give us the tools, we jump in and bang away. We use the tools they have given us and try to pound out results. The problem with this approach is that you don’t only have a hammer and everything isn’t a nail.

You don’t only have a Facebook page, and getting interactions on your page isn’t the only way to use Facebook to grow your business.

We are at a point in social media where we’ve been programed to use the tools that the social networks have given us, and we’ve missed the point of what we were doing to begin with.

Every year, I train companies on how to use social media to grow their business, and the most common questions I get are, “How do I get more Twitter followers?” and “How can I drive more interactions on my Facebook page?”

These are the wrong questions.

The questions should be, “How can I use Twitter or Facebook to achieve my objectives?” It may be to drive more sales, get more leads, generate awareness or build brand equity. The problem is that we are asking the wrong questions about our social media marketing and we’ve forgotten why we were there to begin with.

For example, I was working with an organization that runs an event in my neighborhood.  They asked me how to get more followers on Twitter. Their problem isn’t getting more followers — it is getting more people to attend the event. The best way to get more people to the event using Twitter isn’t to painstakingly attempt to get more followers. It is to get other people, who already have an audience to talk about the event and encourage their friends and followers to attend.

The point is that it isn’t about getting followers or fans; it is about using the medium to grow your business. Not everyone wants to like you or follow you on social networks. Not even your biggest fans.

Let’s face it, now that everyone is on social media, consumers don’t have an interest in liking or following every single business that they interact with.

For example, I love the Swiffer SweeperVac (and not just because I used to work at P&G). I love recommending it to people because I think it is amazing. I don’t “like” Swiffer on Facebook, and I don’t want to see cleaning tips and random cleaning status updates. Despite not wanting to “like” the Swiffer on Facebook, I talk about it periodically and recommend it to my friends and family.

The reality is that my recommendations and conversations on Facebook with my friends probably lead to more awareness and sales for Swiffer than a passive “like” of its page. Driving word-of-mouth and encouraging conversations can be a better way to achieve Swiffer’s objectives than asking people to “like” its page.

I’m not saying that pages, followers, likes and interactions aren’t important — the point is that these tools are not the only way to grow your business on social networks.

Stop missing the point of social media marketing. Stop asking how to get fans and followers, and start with a blank slate. Once you have knowledge of the social media tools and you have defined your marketing objectives, ask yourself how each social network can be used to achieve your goals.

Don’t worry about the tools that social networks give you. Think first about how each social network could actually drive your business. In most cases, the answer is more about inspiring conversations, activating enthusiasts and driving word-of-mouth than it is about getting people to like your status updates.

Krista Neher is the CEO of Boot Camp Digital, author of the bestselling “Social Media Field Guide,” a social media instructor at ClickZ Academy and an international speaker.

Published in Cincinnati

On November 28, the 2012 Midwest Social Media Summit will be held at Executive Caterers at Landerhaven in Cleveland, OH. This one-day-conference will offer tips and insights from social media experts and top business leaders who will help you reconsider your strategy or validate your approach.

For more information and to register, click here.

And as a special bonus to our Smart Business readers, we're giving away five FREE tickets to the event! To enter the contest, simply do one of two things:

  • Visit the Smart Business Twitter page and follow us. Then just send out a tweet that says, "I don't want to be anti-social. I want to attend the 2012 @Smart_Business Midwest Social Media Summit!"
  • Visit the Smart Business Facebook page and like us. Then post to the page, "I don't want to be anti-social. I want to attend the 2012 Smart Business Midwest Social Media Summit!"

We'll draw the winners on Monday, Nov. 19.

For additional information, please contact Anne Hydock at ahydock@sbnonline.com or (440) 250-7041.

Published in Akron/Canton

A few weeks ago, I met with a member of our new business development team who had been on the job for a week or so. A few days before the meeting, I started jotting down notes about the message I wanted to convey and the points I wanted to make. These notes are the basis for my column this month.

There were seven points I wanted to stress to help the new team member be successful in our organization. Since my notes were a little cryptic, I will not only list them but expand on what they mean.

1. 900. My belief is that everyone has 15 minutes, or 900 seconds, of extra time during the day. Nine-hundred seconds where they have nothing to do; 900 seconds of basically free time.

For me, you need to take advantage of those 900 seconds and get better at something every day. It doesn’t matter if it’s gaining better computer skills or becoming a better presenter, just as long as you get better at something every day.

2. A new best friend. This was not only easy for me, but it’s essential. You need to make LinkedIn your new best friend. Since LinkedIn will be your new best friend, you need to spend time with it and get to know it. You need to understand the value of the tool and the power it has.

I truly believe if you aren’t using LinkedIn every day as a business tool, you are not as successful, efficient or smart as you could be.

3. Uncover hidden jewels. No, this isn’t about “Storage Wars.” (Even though I love that show, it isn’t what I’m referring to.) Every company has hidden jewels.

The question is: Where are they located? Where is that great proposal hiding? Who can fill you in on the company history, and who has the best value proposition that will help me sell our products and services and turn prospects into clients?

4. Get off to a quick start. I truly believe that if you get off to a quick start in the morning, you’ll accomplish more during the day. If you get off to a quick start prior to 8:30 a.m., this will be a springboard for a successful day.

People tend to feel good about themselves if they make things happen as soon as their day starts.

5. Each “no” gets you closer to a “yes.” Sales is a numbers game. Every time you get a no, even though it might hurt or upset you, it will get you that much closer to a yes and a new client.

6. Be a creature of habit. Without question, I am a creature of habit. I get in to the office and leave at the same time almost every day. I eat oatmeal at the same time, and I check the revenue of the company as soon as I arrive. The quicker you get into a routine, the better off you will be.

If you are in new business development, set aside the same time in the morning and afternoon to call prospects. Call your friends back at lunchtime when it might not be the most productive time.

7. You’re only alone if you want to be. This point is very important — especially if, like our new team member, you work at home. It’s very easy to bury yourself in your job and try to figure everything out yourself. Don’t do that. Stay connected to your office.

When your technology isn’t working perfectly, don’t try to fix it yourself. Call your IT department. When you’re responding to a proposal, if you have writer’s block, call a team member. Don’t struggle for hours. Remember, time is money.

Incidentally, the reason I had seven points was not that I couldn’t think of another few. My belief is that there are too many top 10 lists, and a top seven list would have a better chance to resonate with our new team member.

Merrill Dubrow is president and CEO of M/A/R/C Research, located in Dallas. The company is one of the top 25 market research companies in the U.S. Dubrow is a sought-after speaker and has been writing a blog for more than four years. He can be reached at merrill.dubrow@marcresearch.com or at (972) 983-0416.

Published in Dallas
Sunday, 30 September 2012 20:01

Adrienne Lenhoff: To blog or not to blog?

Thinking about blogging? Below are the major topics I discuss with CEOs who are considering setting up a blog.

To blog or not to blog

Do you have the time to commit to blogging? A successful blog, whether CEO- or company-driven, takes a time commitment, not only to allocate to the writing of compelling and interesting topics but to also map out an ongoing strategy of what you want the blog to accomplish.

Consider whether or not you are going to actually enjoy blogging. If you end up considering the blog a chore or burden, you will ultimately abandon the blog.

Before beginning to blog, check out what other CEOs are writing about. There are a ton of lists of CEO blogs that can be accessed by doing a quick Google search, along with reviews of who’s doing it right or wrong — and why.

Done right, CEO blogs help establish a voice for the company, create dialogues with internal and external stakeholders, build awareness and educate about your industry and its trends and challenges and establish you as an intelligent and strategic thought leader.

Blogging frequency

Newspapers are typically published anywhere from daily to weekly. TV news is typically broadcast a minimum of three times daily. To attract readers and grow and retain repeat visitors, determine how fast you want to grow a meaningful readership base.

For maximum growth, many experts say you need to post multiple times daily. The reality is that as a CEO, if you or a ghostwriter is blogging more than one to three days per week, it is a stretch of your time and content commitment.

To ensure your blog doesn’t become an afterthought, map out your blogging topics and posting dates four to eight weeks in advance.

Blogging candor

Social media — whether in the form of a blog, discussion groups or pages on popular social platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest and others — is based on the premise of transparency and authenticity. Be timely and candid with your posts.

People might not always agree with what you have to say, so be ready to accept differing opinions. Remember that anything you post is out there for life. Even if later you decide to take the blog down, chances are that posts may have been archived and reposted somewhere else.

What to blog

Your blog shouldn’t be about what you sell. If you do the blog right, it will end up translating to new business. Write about what you know and the platforms and podiums for which you want to be known. Do you have compelling or thought-provoking insights on leadership, lessons learned, industry trends or other topics attractive to your target readership? Get to the point in your blog posts and save fluff and selling for your advertising and annual reports.

Blog posts don’t have to be novels or dissertations. As long as you are publishing content of interest to your readers, they can be short and sweet.

Consider posting some video entries and posting photos to go along with your written word to add variety.

Private or public blog

Are you planning an internal employee-focused blog, or are you planning a blog to be viewed by the world at large, which includes existing and prospective customers, your competitors and the media?

If your focus is to motivate and educate your employees, a private company blog would be most appropriate. Remember that anything you blog whether on a private, public or invitation-only blog has the potential to be republished and shared with others.

Adrienne Lenhoff is president and CEO of Buzzphoria Social Media Marketing and Online Reputation Management, Shazaaam PR and Marketing Communications, and Promo Marketing Team, which conducts product sampling, mobile tours and events. She can be reached at alenhoff@shazaaam.com.

Published in Detroit

A frenzy arose recently when the Associated Press reported some hiring companies were asking potential job candidates for their Facebook passwords. While the practice is not nearly as widespread as the news story originally suggested, the idea of such an invasion of privacy hit a strong nerve and sparked a national discussion. Maryland was quick to pass legislation prohibiting employers from asking to access an applicant’s social media profiles, and other states have proposed similar legislation.

So where should the line be drawn? If asking job applicants for Facebook passwords is taboo, can you Google them? If sending friend requests is too forward, can you connect with applicants via LinkedIn?

There are no correct answers because there are no concrete rules, but before you take to the Net to investigate your next new hire, ask yourself a few questions.

What’s to gain?

What do you want to learn by investigating a job applicant online? Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission laws dictate that companies make hiring decisions based on job-related information only. While a basic Google search is unlikely to provide much job-related data, it could easily divulge information that puts an applicant in a protected class — their race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability or genetics. Certainly, some of the same information would be disclosed during an interview, but what if after reviewing one candidate’s lackluster resume, you decide interviewing him or her would be a waste of time?

However, out of curiosity, you Google the applicant anyway and learn she’s an African-American woman in her late 50s. Now there is the potential taint of discrimination attached to your decision not to interview her.

Can you handle the truth?

What will you do with the information you discover? Remember the famous courtroom scene in the movie “A Few Good Men” in which Jack Nicholson’s character screams, “You can’t handle the truth!” Can you handle the truth? Are you ready for what you might learn about a job applicant online?

What if through connecting with your top candidate on a social networking site, you come across a fundraising campaign for his child with muscular dystrophy? You might assume if you hire him, your company’s health insurance premiums would increase or that he would be unable to fully commit to the job with a special needs child at home.

What if you discover the young go-getter you are about to hire as an executive assistant has been moonlighting at a questionable nightclub? You can’t unlearn facts once you’ve learned them, so can you trust yourself to make a completely unbiased hiring decision?

Can you be certain that what you find is a current and accurate representation of the candidate?

Protection concerns

If your parents were right and you’re judged by the company you keep, for better or worse a company is also judged by the people it employs. In this age of rampant online recklessness, it’s understandable that employers would want to protect their company’s reputation from the damage even just one employee’s careless indiscretion could cause.

Remember the Domino’s Pizza incident when two employees posted a video of themselves sabotaging a submarine sandwich? Personal posts could be a red flag that the candidate you are about to hire doesn’t always display the best judgment.

But how can you be sure those party pics you found tagging your star candidate were posted with her knowledge or are not from 10 years ago when she was still a college coed?

Social media offers companies an alluring platform to connect with their audiences, whether that’s customers, employees or even prospective employees. But company representatives need to use discretion if they intend to access social media or any online tools in the hiring process. Some well-intended prying could be deemed discriminatory or lead you to pass up a potential star.

Poor judgment, whether it is on the part of an individual or part of a company practice, will always carry negative consequences.

John Allen is president and COO of G&A Partners, a Texas-based human resources and administrative services company that manages human resources, benefits, payroll, accounting and risk management for growing businesses. For more information about the company, visit www.gnapartners.com.

Published in Houston

For many CEOs, it’s still a little mysterious how social media can benefit their business. But best practices do exist that can greatly improve brand awareness and profits. Social media can be a powerful marketing tool — if it’s used the right way. It opens doors for companies to create personal relationships with their current and potential customers online. And with the proliferation of mobile devices, more people are using the Internet to search and buy new products and services.

Your social media marketing plan should align with your company’s marketing goals. If your focus is to increase brand awareness and expose your company to a larger audience of potential customers, you should use targeted online advertising (such as Google AdWords, LinkedIn or Facebook advertisements), online-centered promotions and interactive tools such as YouTube, Flickr and Slideshare.

If you want to increase return on investment, focus on customer service and conversions. A conversion is a desired action that can mean potential new business for you. It can be an actual sale, a lead capture or even an email newsletter sign-up.

To capitalize on this marketing tool, start small and stay focused. Find a few social media sites where your potential customers interact the most and create a company page. Organize a small social media marketing team in your company and establish a brand-focused voice and participation guidelines.

With social media, you and/or whoever is representing your company are the face and personality of your brand. Remember to be friendly. Helpful expert advice is preferred to a sales pitch. Top off your social media marketing by monitoring conversations about your brand. There are free and paid services that can help you do this, but it’s very important for metrics and reputation management.

Imagine if you missed the opportunity to respond to a brand advocate promoting your company. Or what if you missed the chance to put out the fire of a negative comment?

At its core, social media is about participating in a dialogue and adding contributions to a community. Make sure your audience appreciates your company’s contributions.

Here are eight critical steps to developing a social media platform for your company.

Step 1: Observe. Before jumping in headfirst, take time to listen to the conversation already occurring to identify the best way you can add value to the dialogue.

Step 2: Define your metrics. What are you looking to achieve? Increased sales? Brand awareness? Traffic to your website? Credibility as a resource?

Step 3: Define your strategy. Develop a strategy that integrates well with your overall marketing strategy. Choose one or two social media outlets that make the most sense based on your goals and defined metrics.

Step 4: Develop your identity. It is imperative you have control of your identity in the online marketplace. Establish your company username and consistently use it in every social media outlet. Make sure your online persona mirrors the personality of your company.

Step 5: Create the rules for engagement. Remember this rule of thumb: For every 10 to 15 messages where you help someone else, you get to include one message that promotes your company.

Step 6: Monitor your success. Update your metrics monthly. Give the campaign at least two to three months to stabilize. Free measurement tools include Google Analytics, Google Blog Search, Twitter search, TweetDeck by Twitter, etc.

Step 7: Measure and tweak. Analyze each strategy to determine where you hit or missed the mark.

Step 8: Promote your

campaign. Add all widgets and URLs to employee business cards, email signatures, company website, press releases and advertising. Build relationships with others in your niche.

Kelly Borth is CEO and chief strategy officer for Greencrest, a 21-year-old brand development, strategic marketing and digital media firm that turns market players into market leaders. Borth has received numerous honors for her business and community leadership. She serves on several local advisory boards and is one of 30 certified brand strategists in the United States. Reach her at (614) 885-7921, kborth@greencrest.com or @brandpro, or for more information, visit www.greencrest.com.

Published in Columbus