Small Business Marketing

Social Networking Marketing Programs

Written by Amy Bax for Gaebler Ventures

So you've decided to use social networking to help promote your business. What's the next step? Find out things to consider and include when writing up your communications plan.

Promoting a business with social networking is a great way to get the word out about why folks should do business with you.

Once you have decided to use social networking in your marketing and communications strategy, it is time to plan and establish what goals you want to achieve based on what you are doing.

When integrating social networking into your overall strategy, these are a few things you will want to consider when writing out your action plan.

Background on Your Social Networking Marketing Program

For this section, include a reason for why you decided to expand into the social networking realm and a little background on the particular outlet you decide to take. Explain what has happened before that has made you decide to choose this outlet -- whether it is a business in your industry that has had success, statistics on how your target audience responds to online marketing/advertising, etc.

What is going on where the business is located and how is it affecting you? Is the outlet you are choosing a popular trend in social media/networking? Is it a lasting trend? This may be something to consider if you are putting an extensive amount of time and/or money into the project.

Look at what competitors are doing with social networking and what people are saying about it.

Environment for Your Social Networking Marketing Program

Consider social and economic factors that affect the location where your business is. How are people in your area reacting to social networking? Are they jumping in to social network or holding off on trying it out? How is it affecting your and competitor's business?

If you are, for example, a ceramics studio looking to start an online following through a social networking site, is this a good move considering social factors? Some groups have been slow moving to join in on connecting online, including artists and other groups that do not incorporate a lot of computer/internet usage in their work day.

So, if you are looking to target this audience with social networking marketing programs, understand what outside factors you need to consider and overcome.

Key Stakeholders

It's important to look at the role that various stakeholders will play as you start marketing with social networking programs.

First, look at how your employees will be affected by the addition of social networking in your plan. Will they be involved in the project? How heavily will their help be needed? How will it affect their lives in the workplace on a daily/weekly basis? An example is if they will be contributors to a blog or in charge of monitoring a blog or networking site account.

Also note what objectives they will have so that you may respond or take them into consideration and find a way to fix any issues. A key factor here is motivation and communicating the possible benefits and overall value to all involved of what you hope to accomplish by taking on a social communications campaign.

Another important stakeholder is the target audience. First, define who it is. Who do you want to be mainly affected by going online with your communications strategy? Will they or are they buying in to what your company is doing?

Many never have experienced social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace, only heard about them through their kids or other colleagues and do not understand their full value of implementing them. Know what makes them passionate about what your product is or the industry that it is in and think of ways that will get them involved in your social networking presence.

Get a sample of their feedback and what they think about your project concept through conversations or informal focus groups. Just because it may work well for a similar company, does not mean it will work as well for yours unless you are prepared. Or, if they recognize what problems your initial plan has, this gives you a chance to fix and better satisfy their wants/needs.

Objectives of the Social Networking Marketing Programs

What is your main goal in becoming a part of a social networking site or starting a blog? Do you want it to be a personal experience, information about the company or a discussion about the industry? For example, if you want your blog to communicate that your company is as an industry expert, consider what information you want to be providing to your audience, what conversations you would like to have with them, and what services you want to advertise on the topic.

Will the plan achieve your goal of establishing your company as an industry thought leader? If not, it's time to go back to the drawing board.

Social Networking Strategy

It would be a good idea to start out with one simple platform that can later be expanded on. Either starting a blog or participating in a social networking site would be a good place to start. Doing both at the same time could be overwhelming if you have not had much of an online presence before.

Decide how regularly you will be working on this. A loose schedule of how often you plan to update or post information, appearance, time schedule for promotions that you offer on the site, etc should be created and followed. Also, make a final decision of who is going to be directly involved in the campaign. Consider if any members of the company who are involved in the campaign will need training or extensive briefing about the subject before they start. This could be a good idea if not many people in your company are tech savvy.

Think about setting a trial period, or recording how you are doing at various benchmarks. This will help keep the project on track and focused.

Budget for Social Networking Initiatives

In this case, include training costs/time for employees who will be working on the project and need updating on technical processes (such as how to use a site, blogging instruction, etc.). Because many social networking options are low-cost, time will be a main concern here.

Evaluation of the Program

Have a list of questions that will help you to benchmark the success of your campaign. Go to customers to see what they have learned about your company. Did you successfully implement a two-way communication through the platform you used?

What issues/problems did you encounter? By evaluating the effectiveness of your site, you can figure out what the next step is (e.g. expand on the site, drop the site, try a new platform).

Amy Bax is interested in providing innovative informational resources to entrepreneurs. She is currently an MBA student at the University of Missouri - Columbia.

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