Social networks have been one of the key drivers of online interaction since the advent MySpace in 2003. No doubt they’re great from a personal perspective, but the question for small business formulating an online marketing plan is, ‘How can sites like Twitter, Flickr and Facebook help my business?’ It’s a great question. Chances are good that a sizable chunk of your potential customers are participating in one social networking site or another, and you want to capture their attention. This is where social networking search engines come into play. There are a ton of networking sites on the web and most have a way of searching the content within the network, or ‘vertical.’
Now here is where the rubber meets the road. Did you know that on average over 25 percent of searches conducted on social media sites are used to research a future purchase of a product or service? Social networks are where you can create relationships with potential customers that are in the research stage of the purchase process and to make you their trusted provider. Sounds great, right? Now the question becomes, ‘How do I get in front of them to create this relationship?’ Here’s an overview:
Step 1: Define the type of networks that suit your business
The first step is to always find the ones that apply to your business. If you are a wedding photographer, Flickr and Photobucket would be great, relevant search verticals to explore, but for an IT business these would offer substantially less value. The IT business might be best suited to start a blog with posts with tips about how to optimize or troubleshoot your technology. Another option would be to create a Twitter account and offer quick bits of advice to those who “tweet” you with questions.
The ultimate goal is to ensure that people searching for your product/service in these verticals will discover the content you have created, find it useful and approach your business.
Step 2: Prioritize
Remember: In the world of internet marketing, it is about maximizing your existing marketing channels. So prioritize your efforts toward the channels that are most likely to perform the best for you and execute one or two at a time. A scattershot approach to all social networks will only leave you with a ton of un-optimized listings that will probably not ever drive any value.
Always keep blended search in mind: The major search engines now incorporate a greater blend of media in their results. For example, Bing and Google now display blog posts, videos, images and even single Twitter entries (tweets) in their search results. The more social media you can optimize (photos in Flickr, videos in YouTube, tweets in Twitter, posts on your blog, etc.), the better off you’ll be in both vertical search engines and ‘horizontal’ search engines (i.e., Google and Bing).
Step 3: Be Deliberate
Do your keyword research! Before engaging in any search optimization task, always identify the keywords you would like to attack upfront. This helps you sculpt what your need to include in your presence as you are creating it. Completeness is one of the key items to calculate when utilizing internet marketing tactics in social media. If you’re an average user of social networking sites, chances are your profile is not very complete. In addition to filling out your profile, be sure to add relevant data (e.g., tags, descriptions) whenever possible. The more keyword-rich content you provide, the more visible you’ll become.
Step 4: Optimize and Engage!
Let’s face it, a social marketing strategy is only as good as your interaction within each network. So make sure that you stay regularly engaged. It doesn’t need to be all day every day, but ongoing interaction is key to consistent placement within the search results in each social network. This is true because within each social network’s internal search engine, placement typically has an algorithmic link to how recently the content was created or interacted with.
Monitor your terms! Consistently check how you are ranking for the terms you have targeted. Based on how you are doing, you should optimize any under-performing pieces of content and adjust your strategy moving forward. Another tip is that you should make sure to regularly save and backup your lists. Disaster proofing is a big part of any online businessperson’s work, and you should make sure you have multiple copies of your data stored in different places. Good luck! And be sure to come back and tell us how you’re doing.