Getting social with digital media

“Are you on Twitter?”

“Hashtag, duh!”

“Follow me at HVACpro.”

To some, that conversation would sound like foreign language. But to the social media-savvy, it sounds like networking. As more professionals transition on to social media, businesses are also moving to meet customer demand. 

Phc News wants to help our readers move into the digital world. On a bi-monthly basis, we will share features that include advice from social media experts as well as companies that are experimenting with social media. This month, we are giving you some key strategies for getting your feet wet.

Finding the perfect fit

Choosing social media platforms should feel like a phase of user testing, or a focus group. Take the time to learn about all the social media platforms out there and then decide which one works best for you. The best one for you should be the one where your customers and investors are. Take a month or so to survey your customers on what social media they use. Get creative and add drop boxes in store fronts that ask customers to jot down their favorite social media platform. At the register, have sales clerks ask customers what social media platform is best to reach them at for special promotions. 

One platform that many businesses turn to as their first social media platform is Twitter. With the mention function (@) and ability to hyperlink, this platform is a quick way to get information out to a broad audience. 

“Twitter is sort of like a traffic driver. It drives traffic to your website or your blog,” said Jenn Lee, a business coach. “It also is a great place for companies to give shout outs and recognition to clients or to their projects or their marketing initiatives.”

Twitter is a strategic way to insert your business in industry- or customer-focused conversations through the hashtag (#) function. The CPVC division of Lubrizol created a presence on Twitter as a first step for getting active on social media.

“As leaders in the piping systems industry, we wanted to make sure we were on a widely used channel where we could provide relevant information on building trends, product information and industry news, and also engage with our customers, partners and media outlets in a conversational manner,” explained John Nunnari, general manager of Lubrizol CPVC and The Lubrizol Corporation.

LinkedIn is a social media platform that is gaining momentum in the PVF, HVAC and related industries. On this platform, professionals are able to have conversations that are specific to trends, promotions and news.

“LinkedIn is a really great platform for connecting and engaging in the professional world. A lot of businesses utilize LinkedIn to find providers, contacts, association groups to be associated with, and events,” Lee noted. “It’s also a really great platform for you to be able to post your knowledge as well as to find potential clients or collaborators.” 

The goal is not to dive into social media where you find it easiest or most fun, but instead to enter where you have learned your audience is.

“Our belief is that it’s not the amount of social channels you’re on, it’s the quality of content you share on those channels and making sure you’re talking with the right people,” said Amanda Kleinhenz, the social media strategist at AKHIA, the company that consults Lubrizol CPVC on social media.

Thinking ahead

Once you figure out the social media platform(s) to use for your business, take the time to plan out how the platform(s) will work for you. Some general goals can include increasing awareness of your business’ history, staff, events, content, investors and promotions. 

“You have to have a reason for being on social media. And then you can have a personality or persona which will then help you kind of gather what you post,” Lee explained. “I would ask, what is our personality going to be? Are we wanting to be more informative? Do we want it to be more engaging and emotionally connecting with the audience? Or is it that we’re really just looking for professional connections?”
 
Some helpful documents you can create to help organize your social media include: a social media strategy memorandum, style guide and calendar. When developing your strategy memo, think about who you have or can hire to manage your social media. You will have to figure out if there will be one person in charge of social media or different administrators for numerous platforms. 

“Our social media strategy is developed by Merit Brass Marketing Manager Kimberly Wallingford. Kim publishes a plan that she revises annually,” noted Kevin Lipp, coordinator of Inside Sales and Social Media at Merit Brass. “We meet bi-monthly to discuss our plan, and to discuss other social media books and tools, which we use to strengthen our approach.”

In the memo, include a workflow description. This description can detail everything from time frame for post research and development, to processes for post approval and scheduling. Note that an approval phase is always a good idea for accountability and checks and balances of ethics, grammar, etc. Depending on how in-depth the memo will be, you can also detail how to do post research, format posts for numerous platforms, and post at optimal times. 

Troubleshooting and customer service expectations should also be detailed in the memo. Here, examples of proper responses to unruly customers should be listed. A timeline for these interactions should also be given. In addition, explain when and how to edit a post sent out with errors or offensive content. Finally, a contact list should be included for department heads, etc. that can be referenced when customers respond to posts with niche conversations or questions. 

“Stay away from religion and politics, unless that is the personality of your business,” Lee advised. “Don’t delete any negative posts or feedback. You should always address them.”

Having a style guide is useful, as many businesses have had their brand compromised by the types of posts that were published on their social media. Remember that though social media is about engagement, it is important to keep things business casual, so to speak. It’s easiest to divide the style guide into “do’s” and “don’ts” and address topics such as voice, multimedia, plagiarism and engagement. 

Voice should covers things such as first or second person usage, slang, and jargon. It is helpful to direct employees to a style format, such as AP, APA, MLA, etc., as a reference. Multimedia should cover things such as the types of events to take material at, requesting copyrighted material, attire, alcoholic or tobacco paraphernalia, and public display of affection. Plagiarism is also essential to discuss. Often, social media users forget to credit the original source of borrowed content. Consider listing sources deemed credible by your company and explaining how sources should be credited in posts. 

“I believe there is no issue when credit is given to the original author,” Lipp noted. “Linking the original authors handle to the end of your tweet or post is a sufficient way to give credit to the original author! The original source is typically appreciative of this and will favorite or like your post.”

When addressing engagement in the style guide, explain appropriate ways to thank customers and investors on social media. Also, note how long conversations should go on in public social media forums before being taken to e-mail, direct message, phone, etc. This is important not just to avoid annoying followers with notifications but also to capitalize on business deals and new customers.

While social media is about real-time engagement, it is still important to have a calendar of sorts. This tool helps ensure that the promotions and events that your business has planned are also captured on social media. 

“It’s important to note when starting a social strategy, it’s not new content you need to create,” Nunnari explained. “Likely, you already have your content (videos, brochures, sell sheets, etc.) and you just need to repurpose it for social media.” 

In regards to promotions, numerous companies have started launching social media campaigns. One of those companies is Emerson Climate Technologies. This year, the company launched its Painted Copeland Scroll Compressor Program Facebook Campaign. The campaign was created as a result of Emerson’s shipment of 100 million of its Copeland Scroll compressors. For the campaign, Emerson challenged each of its eight Copeland Scroll manufacturing facilities to turn a compressor into an art design that represented its region of the world. Employees, trade schools, community partners and customers were allowed to vote for their favorite design on Facebook. 

With events, social media is a great way to create original multimedia content. If you are attending an expo or opening a new storefront, take pictures and videos. When the event is over, and the videos and add photo galleries are uploaded on your website, you can share those links on social media. 

“Your content can and should be not just be text but also audio and video,” said Terry Brock, business strategist and columnist for our sister publication, The Wholesaler. “It’s easy to do video today. You can put that together and if you don’t know how, this is why God invented students. They can put it together and show you how to make it happen.”

Content is king

Once you have a strategy for social media, it’s time to get your content out there. Unfortunately, creating original content is a major challenge to small businesses starting out on social media. To start, think of your current or ideal advertising strategy. 

When you are looking to promote your business or something at your business, what do you usually talk about first? Whether it’s products, customer service, sales, employees, awards, or services, that first thing that comes to mind will likely be easy to use as the initial focus of your content. 

“These are topics to use: tips, strategies, trends, misconceptions, new technologies and company updates,” Lee advised. “With content, only include things that are cause marketing and nonprofit generating.”

Aim to create a blog that includes multiple posts about a key aspect of your business. For example, if a new product is what you want to focus on, write a press release, get a sales person to blog about specs, include an FAQ article, create a photo gallery, shoot a how-to video, and post a customer review. 

“Listen to your sales force. They’re out there talking to people. They should be blogging,” Brock said. “If they can’t write, fine, then let them talk it out. If not, have someone else write it. You can get recent graduates from English or Journalism and they can write this for you.”

In my blog post scenario about a new product above, there were six content items to post on social media. That’s at least one post per week, for a month! You want to get in the habit of posting consistently in order to boost your digital popularity.

“The idea behind blogs is not necessarily to sell anybody anything. And it’s really not necessarily to attract these people who want to do business with,” Lee explained. “It’s really to ramp up your analytics. Google looks at how relevant you are. If someone types in, ‘I need a toilet tissue supplier,’ and there’s 10 of them out there, that company who is more active on the web is going to float higher to the top [of Google search results] than the other company.”

To supplement your original content on social media, you can also curate by linking to related content. Continuing with my example of new products, on social media you could link to similar products, trade news about products, and expo or conference websites that feature the product. 

“Curate others’ content. Look at what others are doing and credit them. Because then you become the resource,” Brock noted. “You’re not just saying, ‘here’s all my stuff, I’m really cool.’ But rather you’re going ‘hey, did you hear what so and so said or what they’re doing?’ What you’re doing is over time you’re building up credibility.”

While the idea of blogging may seem overwhelming, having a blog to house your content is something that many digital strategists recommend.

“I 100 percent recommend WordPress blogs. It’s super easy and not really expensive,” Lee said. “The beautiful thing about WordPress is that it can also be used like a website. So it can be embedded into your current website or it can become a website.” 

If you can’t invest in maintaining a blog, also consider creating a monthly newsletter to house your original content. This can be done using software such as SharePoint on Microsoft Windows or Pages on Apple.

“Content is the key out there,” Brock explained. “I like the way that Maury Smith says it. She says content is king and engagement is queen, she rules the house.”

Managing it all

Once you have the content, you have to get your work to the right people. There are numerous social media management tools available, ranging from TweetDeck to Radian 6. Some social media platforms, such as Facebook, have even begun incorporating scheduling and metrics tools of their own. But the management tool that will likely provide the most breadth, in terms of management of numerous platforms, is Hootsuite. 

Hootsuite is a free management platform that supports platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google +, WordPress, Instagram, and YouTube. From Hootsuite, you can schedule posts in advance, send real-time posts, collect analytics, and create monthly reports. 

“Using Hootsuite you can track everything that’s being said about key products that you have or about your particular business,” Brock said. “Anything that is said about it you need to know about it. Just set up a key word and then you see it. And also, do it for your competitors. You want to know before everyone else does.”

Tracking the progress

With many social media management tools, there are options to collect data about your audience. Overall, pay attention to the types of posts your audience is responding to, the times they are responding, and how they are responding. 

“In the business that we’re in, it really doesn’t matter how many followers you have. What you want is the quality of followers,” Brock advised. “Find the key people that you want and that’s where you want to focus your effort. Think in terms of something like Klout. Klout is very important and what you want to do there is find people that have a higher Klout score within those key areas.”

Also, pay attention to what you’re doing on social media. Look at the times you posted and then compare how your audience engaged via likes, shares, etc. 

“We’re constantly measuring our social media program success with day-to-day monitoring and monthly reporting,” Nunnari noted. “While it’s exciting to see that our follower number or amount of retweets increased, we’re also very focused on the quality of each engagement and how it helps support our overall business objectives. Month after month, we look at key findings and emerging trends to make sure we’re being successful connecting with our followers and meeting our goals.”

Finally, be cognizant of which social media platform you are using to post. You don’t have to post everything, everywhere. For businesses, social media should be a nuanced and personal way to reach audiences. 

“We set KPIs [key performance indicators] ahead of any campaign to help measure success,” Kleinhenz said. “These can be anything from follower growth, retweets or shares, but it also includes link clicks and web traffic to ensure we’re driving people to the right place to help with lead generation and conversion. To us, this means new clients, new employees and generally new business.”

Once you have decided on the metrics that are most useful to you, make sure to compile a report of the data so that you have a tangible way to measure progress on social media. 

“I think the No. 1 metric you want to watch is cash in the bank,” Brock noted. “From a business point of view, practical, bottom-line, hard nose looking at it, when you work with social media you can get more business.”
 
Lee expressed sentiments similar to Brock’s, “For me it always has to go back to sales of some sort and growing that bottom line. Increase exposure in a way that it increases your ability to win the bid or be invited to bid or collaborate.”

Understanding trends on social media will be important as your business works to keep up with the fast-paced, real-time engagement that happens on social media. As you continue to learn about social media, take a look at data on digital media from the Pew Research Center’s website (www.pewresearch.org). The center provides regular updates on trends based on demographic research.

Phc News will also be uploading videos of exclusive interviews with social media pros on our website and YouTube channel in an effort to keep our readers educated. This month, a video of the interview with Terry Brock is available at http://ow.ly/kq2ge and http://ow.ly/kq2mF. 

Social Media Channels

  • Twitter (www.twitter.com) - an online social networking service created and microblogging service created in 2006 that enables its users to send and read text-based messages of up to 140 characters.
  • LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com) - a social networking website for people in professional occupations launched in 2003.
  • Facebook (www.facebook.com) - an online social networking service founded in 2004 that allows registered users create a personal profile, add other users as friends, exchange messages, and join common-interest user groups.
  • WordPress (www.wordpress.com) – an open source blogging tool and content management system (CMS) with features including a plug-in architecture and template system.
  • Hootsuite (www.hootsuite.com) - a social media management system for brand management created in 2008 that takes the form of a dashboard, and supports social network integrations for Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Foursquare, MySpace, WordPress, Mixi, Instagram, MailChimp, Reddit, Storify, Tumblr, Vimeo and YouTube.
  • Klout (www.klout.com) – a website and mobile application that uses social media analytics to rank its users according to online social influence via the “Klout Score,” which is a numerical value between 1 and 100. 
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