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Factoring Social Media into your Business Marketing

By Mike Strand, StrandVision Digital Signage

To say there’s a buzz about social marketing / social media is probably an understatement. Clearly, a revolution is taking place in group communications. One-to-many conversations have been transformed in ways that no one imagined a few years ago. The question for us, however, is: do Facebook, LinkedIn, MeettheBoss, Plaxo, Twitter and the others have a place in your marketing programs? Are there other vertical industry blogs and social media sites that deserve your attention?

The short answer is "Yes." The phenomenon is real and you should at least explore it. The services don’t charge to participate. But, social media is not free because you or your staff must invest time to manage postings and monitor the sites.  Of course, there are always experts available that will do much of the work for you – for a fee.

Take a Test Drive

The best way to familiarize yourself with social media services is by joining a few of them to see how they work. You’ll find that they have interest groups around specific news, music, technologies, and other topics. You can search groups that are related to your business and sign up for a few of these to see what comes across. You can create a username that describes what you do to help other subscribers find you when they search on industry terms.

Making these connections also gives you an entrée to promote your company within these networks, while at the same time, building your own network of followers under your registered name. You can gather followers and members for your network by being active yourself and by using key words in your postings that others may be searching against. It also helps to join other subscribers’ networks. Under LinkedIn you can also offer and solicit recommendations that go into your profile. These can be great places to post customer testimonials and other complimentary comments.

Balance Time against Return

The downside is that this all takes time. It’s often best to assign an administrative person to the task of updating the social media sites. Pick someone who is comfortable with social media and has related responsibilities – perhaps the person who updates your Web site, or does your newsletter or other customer communications. Then, work out an update posting schedule that is frequent enough to keep your network active without taking too much staff time. The quality of your content, of course, also plays a role. You should develop a communications strategy, key search phrases and topics list that will guide your administrator in his or her postings.

There are tools to help you manage the time it takes to maintain your presence. Several of the social sites allow you to simultaneously post notices to other sites. There are also free third-party tools available to post your Tweets and updates to several social network services, blogs and instant message services at once. A partial list includes: Ping.fm, Posterous, Pixelpipe, Quub and TweetDeck. Some of them also offer a desktop portal to monitor comments as they are posted on several of the services simultaneously.

So, is it worth it? That’s for you to decide. As with any marketing program, you’ll have to measure the response to make the determination. A good lead tracking process will quickly identify if you are attracting the right target audience and will help you evaluate the staff time investment.

At StrandVision, we’ve found that social media is another marketing tool that puts us in front of a wider audience that we may not have reached through our traditional efforts. At the same time, we’re realistic about the potential. We see it as a supplement, not a substitute, to our marketing efforts. We control the amount of time and effort that we invest in maintaining our social media networks and we are constantly looking for ways to be more efficient and to be early on the next communications wave.

Mike Strand is founder and CEO of StrandVision LLC, an Internet-based subscription digital signage service that is distributed through resellers. Previously, Mike founded StrandWare, a leading bar code software and AIDC company. Prospective resellers may contact Mike at mjstrand at StrandVision.com.