New social networks have been springing up like fairy rings on midsummer’s eve and are equally likely to spirit people away to a land where time passes differently than it does in the Real World. Every time I turn around, people are talking – their eyes all a-sparkle – about a new social network that’s sure to be the Next Big Thing. The rampant launches of me-too networks and niche networks and spin-off networks is dizzying to the point of intoxication. So, how do you choose the right social network for your business? How do you know which social network is best for marketing? How do you not wind up wasting endless hours with no quantifiable return on the investment of that time?
It’s a trick question.
There is no, single right answer. Most people would probably guess that some combination of Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn would be the go-to social marketing solution. Maybe. Maybe not.
The trouble with social media marketing is that it involves this tricky little variable called “humanity.”
Social media marketing is not based on formula. It’s based on actual interactions with other human beings – interactions that involve emotions, psychology, desires, fears, humor, and the rest of the range of human experience. Humanity brings with it a lot of gray area – both on the brand side and the consumer side of the equation. Finding the right social network is a matter of chemistry as much as it is a matter of numbers.
Social Network Alchemy – finding your perfect match
Some would have you believe that everyone should have a Facebook page, tweet daily, engage with LinkedIn groups, advertise on Yelp, etc. If you encounter one of these “never/always” marketers, put your fingers in your ears and back away slowly. There is no one-size-fits-all social media marketing solution. Besides that pesky element of humanity, there are a number of other variables you must consider in order to determine if a particular social network makes sense for your business or not:
It doesn’t matter how many bells and whistles and technological wonders a social network has if it doesn’t have the right people … your right people. When looking at a social network, pay attention to who is already there. Are they your peers or your prospects? Many people fall into the trap of spending too much time in networks that are full of their colleagues and competition instead of potential customers. It might be fun, you might learn some stuff, but you won’t sell anything.
On the other hand, you can reap great benefits from a collaborative social network – one that has neither peers nor prospects, but people who might potentially partner with you on joint projects that would help you reach a shared audience.
In addition to looking at the people in a network, look at what they do there. Are they hanging out to learn, to promote their own work, to share jokes, to be entertained? When you’re investigating potential social marketing platforms, be sure you don’t overlook the marketing part of the equation. You can spend time in a huge community of potential customers, but if they aren’t in a buying mindset while they are in that network, you’re sunk.
Even though I pooh-poohed “bells and whistles” a moment ago, I will say that the ability to segment your connections is a must-have feature in any social network where you plan to market yourself or your business. Being able to create separate lists of connections, or tag them with particular attributes comes in very handy for targeted messaging down the road.
After you’ve determined that your “right people” are present and accounted for, and they are engaging in activity that could potentially generate leads for your business, it’s time to take a look at the topics of conversation on the network. Are they more geared towards business or pleasure? What’s the ratio between the two? Is the network a general one that has no specific focus, or is it a niche network that serves a specialized interest? How does your business fit into the landscape of the conversations? What kind of value can you bring to the people by way of your expertise or ability to entertain? What kinds of questions are people asking? What terms are they searching on?
Explore the network from top to bottom. Do some searches on keywords relevant to your business and see what comes up. Who’s talking about what and how often? Does what you see inspire you to jump in and join the conversation, or does it leave you cold and wondering what the heck you could add?
You’ve probably heard social media likened to a giant, global cocktail party. It’s a tired cliché and one that is increasingly inaccurate as people – both marketers and consumes – get savvier about the rules of brand engagement in this space. However, the metaphor still has relevance when comparing different social networks in that each network has its own ambiance or “feel.” For me, Facebook is mostly for family and friends, so more like a house party than a cocktail party. LinkedIn is a business mixer, and Pinterest is a night out with the girls.
A social network’s atmosphere will dictate which types of content and interaction fare well, and which leave people whispering behind your back about your bad manners. Just like you would at a real world party, hang back a bit at first. Watch the other guests. See what and who people gravitate towards. Inject yourself politely into conversations. Behave in a way that is harmonious with the network’s “groove” and you’ll make headway much more quickly.
The Content Style
Finally, each social network revolves around a particular kind of content. YouTube is obviously all about video. SlideShare is all about presentations. Pinterest is about cool images of crafts we’ll never make, foods we can’t eat, and outfits we can’t afford. (Just kidding … sort of.) Twitter is about the beauty of brevity in communication – short and sweet and fast. Facebook is more and more about visual content. (Have you tried to find a text-only post in your Newsfeed lately? They are a vanishing species.) Different networks also have different tolerances for irreverence, conjecture, promotion, humor, etc.
As you tour a social network, make a casual assessment of the types of content that perform well. Do some experiments with different types of media, play with short-form vs. long-form, interject some personality or humor. See what works and what doesn’t.
At the same time, give some long, hard thought to which types of content you a) are capable of producing and b) can continue to produce with consistency over the long-haul. If you hate writing long-form content, a site like Quora where you’re expected to provide insightful answers to questions might not be the best fit. If your business has no obvious visual assets and you’re lousy at creating graphics, Pinterest will probably be a bust. Pick a network that caters to your style of content marketing. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t stretch yourself and try some new things, but don’t over-extend to the point of being a network member in absentia.
Two final bits of advice:
Don’t leave well enough alone.
Once you have selected the social networking sites that are best for your business, don’t forget to step back regularly and measure the results of your engagement. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, but look at some high-level stats like post engagement and traffic referrals to see if what you’re doing is working. When you connect with a new person or land a new lead, ask that person how she found you.
To measure most effectively, you should start out with some predetermined goals. Are you trying to increase brand awareness, build your mailing list, improve traffic to your blog, convert people from within the network? Think about these things as you begin making connections and generating content, and then circle back to them after you’ve been in the network for a while.
Make redundancy part of your strategy.
Some people fall in love with one social network and don’t feel the need to stray outside that comfortable territory. They build up their audience, interact regularly, and focus all their social media efforts in this one space.
Though I don’t think anyone needs to be everywhere, and we should each choose the social networks that are the best fit for our businesses and our personalities, you put yourself at huge risk if you keep all your “social eggs” in one basket. You must remember that you do not own the network. If Facebook were to implode tomorrow, what would happen to all those nice people who “Liked” your page? Poof! They disappear into the ether.
Duplication is not a bad thing in social media. You can and should have crossover between your connections on various networks. More importantly, however, you should also be driving people back to your home base – your website or blog. Ultimately, you should be cementing your relationships by getting people to subscribe to your blog or, better yet, opt in to your email list. Your social networks are not the end game. They are a tool to drive people to your “real” home – the piece of the Internet that’s yours and which you control.
Lots to think about? Sure. But don’t be overwhelmed. Start small. Pick one network and experiment. You’ll know soon enough if it feels like a fit. Branch out from there, always making sure to clear the path from each social network back to your own front door.
How do you choose which social networks to join? Which are your favorites? What kinds of content come most easily to you? Where have you seen the best return on the investment of your time?
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Image Credit: Chuck Pettis