Editor's Note: This the second in a two-part series featuring expert perspectives on how to use social media for marketing. For the first article in this series, please see "Experts weigh in on social media - Part 1," The Green Sheet, Dec. 27, 2010, issue 10:12:02.
Topics discussed were the purpose of social media, how social media can complement an overall marketing plan, how to measure the results of a social media campaign, whether it is wise to accept connections from anyone or restrict them to close friends, what distinct approaches work for various types of clients, and which social media platform deserves the highest recommendation.
The panel who generously offered informed opinions and advice included the following:
Q. What is the best approach for beginners? Do you recommend one platform or all five: websites, blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter?
"Start with a personal page on Facebook and make all your mistakes there," Michael Angelo Caruso recommended. "Push the envelope.
"Go to the Help Center and keep clicking on links to get the nickel tour. You're not doing it right if you don't get slapped by the Facebook police once in a while."
Terry Bean said, "Again, that depends on what you're trying to do. Most people will find benefit and value on Facebook unless they get sucked into the games and shenanigans. The key is to have a focus and a purpose for being on social media [sites] in the first place."
"Limit your time on each; otherwise it will consume your life and you will lose sight of your real business," Timothy Dunn advised. "If more than two hours a day are being spent on social media, it is time to outsource."
Q. What is involved in setting up and maintaining a social media plan?
"[T]here is - or should be - a great deal of time invested," Jada Brazell said. "First, the marketing department should agree upon a social networking goal. All strategies and efforts going forward should work toward that goal. ... The maintenance is not as time consuming, but it does require consistency. There are tools designed to consolidate efforts, like HootSuite, which can make updating accounts quick and easy."
Tom Daly recommended two to three hours a day for several weeks as appropriate for serious work. "Much of that time would be used to gain an understanding of how social media can help a business," he said.
"After that, time should be allocated on an ROI basis. Some social media tracking software would be essential. Depending how serious the effort, the software could cost hundreds or thousands of dollars."
Bean emphasized knowing your audience. "Figure out what you want them to know and where they are going to find the information," Bean said. "You can run an effective social media campaign in as little as 15 minutes a day.
What you need is to talk to social media pros who can help you put your program on quasi auto pilot. Only focus on things that are relevant to you and your business. This will save you tons of time and energy."
Dunn suggested taking two weeks to collect information before diving into any platform. "Go slow," he said. "But do it properly; add a new platform every week or so until you get to your objective. And if you find you do not have the time, outsource it. But ... you have to stay on top of your message."
Q. Should I hire a service to set up and maintain profiles and campaigns? If yes, what should I look for in service providers?
"If your company has the resources to do this and do it effectively, then no one is better equipped to communicate on behalf of your company than you," Corey Perlman said.
Dunn advised looking for proven, scalable services first unless you know someone you trust. "Handing over your reputation is dangerous unless you know how it will be handled," he said. "Start with something like Hubspot."
"If you are serious, absolutely hire a service," Daly said. "The service provider must have a comprehensive view of how social media works and a copywriter's ability to condense meaning into few words (while promoting)."
Caruso recommended hiring someone on a month-to-month retainer to teach you the best Internet practices. "Selling on Facebook is really a small slice of the Internet marketing pie," he said. "The whole idea is to drive traffic to your primary website, and most people need help or at least ideas to improve the efficiency of that activity."
Q. How important is maintaining privacy versus sharing connections on social media?
"I do not share my LinkedIn connections," Sandra Maurer said. "A large portion of my connections are private investors, venture capitalists and other elite contacts that I developed over 20-plus years networking. Vital to my business, they are my 'secret weapons.' If my competitors or clients were able to access that information, and could contact them directly, I would lose my edge."
"The money is in your list," Dunn said. "You need to build a list from day one. But keep that to yourself and never ever share it, ever!"
But Bean believes privacy is "moderately important and you definitely need to make your contact information available. Too often people find someone they're looking to do business with on a social media site but can't easily find their contact info...another wasted opportunity."
"If you are using social media for professional reasons, you should absolutely make your information available to other contacts," Brazell said. "You can always send confidential information privately to your connections and simply ensure that your public updates contain information that anyone, including your competitors, could view elsewhere. ... Keeping your account public allows greater opportunity for prospects to see and connect with you online."
Al Crawford will terminate a connection if he finds a new connection has blocked his or her contacts from view. Blocking contacts annoys me, this article's author, because my list is open.
However, I do understand the rationale. If you are using LinkedIn to expand your network, leave your list open. If you are using it for customer contacts or desire to limit exposure to valued contacts, leave it blocked. The option is yours. But remember that you may lose some contacts because of it.
Q. Do you recommend any other form of social media? If so, why?
"Other forms of social media can give you the competitive advantage you need," Brazell said. "If you deal directly with consumers, for example, you might provide them the convenience of exchanging information easily via text or phone apps. Take a deep look into the cost and benefit of these tools for your company before using them, to make sure you will get your return on investment."
Dunn recommended spending the first six months to master the "big five" and then making the move to mobile payments. "The mobile payments and integration [market] is five times the size of the entire web," he said. "Mobile consumers are 24 percent more likely to buy when targeted properly.
And right now there is very little competition. There are three things that most people keep close at hand almost 24 hours a day: keys, wallet and cell phone. Mobile is the future."
"It depends on your market," Bean said. "If you're going to engage people ages 13 to 28, you had better be texting them. If you're dealing strictly with businesspeople, you may want to look at Plaxo. The key is to go to where your clients are. You also need to find industry-specific private social networks and engage there. Ning.com and Groupsites.com host many of these."
Q. What else is important to a conversation on social media?
"Regardless of what you use, make sure that once a day you are educating people on what you do for a living," Crawford advised. "One post a day needs to be something that can make you money."
Bean emphasized the importance of return on investment. "My friend Dennis Fassett has the best quote on this ever: 'It ROIs or it dies.' If you're doing social media without a way to make money from it, you are wasting valuable time and resources. If you don't know how social media can make you money, talk to a pro."
So, is it worth it to the average merchant level salesperson or ISO to give social media a try? Definitely. KLINCKPHILLIP wrote on GS Online's MLS Forum that on Facebook he has over 700 friends, and it so far has led to three deals and a cash advance. That is a very good start.
There are many benefits to a properly administered social media campaign. What's more, you can spread the word about your service at little to no cost. Using LinkedIn's groups and questions and answers, you can give people information to help their businesses without the appearance of selling to them.
Once people in your network trust you, they are most likely to approach you. The easiest sales to close are from people who are looking for your services and recognize you as an expert in your field. Success is yours to define. Get started.
Bill Pirtle is the President of MPCT Publishing Co. and author of Navigating Through the Risks of Credit Card Processing. He is also a merchant level salesperson for Clearent LLC, Electronic Payments Inc. and Electronic Merchant Systems Inc. Bill's website is www.creditcardprocessingbook.com, and his email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. He welcomes all connections on Facebook and LinkedIn.
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