Social strategies: An expert's advice on using social media By Margie Jordan / January 30, 2013 Share 1 -- For some businesses, growing a social following seems almost magical. They effortlessly attract large followings, have great engagement and generate massive sales. For others, the social sales experience is not so magical. Their social media pages are like abandoned ghost towns with no engagement and, most importantly, no sales. If you've seen a few tumbleweeds blowing around your profile, I want to share some practical advice to re-engage your followers and jump-start the sales process with social media. A powerful combo: Search and socialYou might be surprised to learn that deploying social media to generate sales begins on your website, not on social media. "Google it." You know the term. Google has achieved such dominance on the Web that it has become not just a verb but a generic verb. Even if you happen to be using Bing, Yahoo or some other search engine, you are "Googling" it, and finding anything online begins with a search. With the click of a mouse, search engines provide everything from itineraries of Caribbean cruises to the menu at the Italian restaurant down the street. Which is why monetizing social media begins with content shared from your website -- content that can be found using Google. Businesses pay thousands of dollars each month to appear on the first page of search results. If you can obtain that coveted first spot, you'll receive about 40% of search engine traffic. The second spot receives 26%, the third, 14%. If you're on page 5, 12 or even further back, very little organic search engine traffic will ever see your content. Competing with millions of other pages for a search term is nearly impossible. However, learning to use keywords strategically -- a process known as search engine optimization, or SEO -- can boost search engine rankings, generate traffic and increase sales. Google redefined search engine results with the introduction of its own social network, Google+. Traditionally Google used links and other factors as a means of ranking websites in search engine results, but with the introduction of Google+, "1+'s" are now factored into search engine rankings. Content creators that connect their blog or website to a Google+ profile are ranking higher in search engine results without spending thousands of dollars to do it. Optimizing your original content with meaningful or relevant keywords and connecting your website or blog to your Google+ page gives you a powerful advantage to appear higher in search engine results and drive traffic to your website. Traditionally, we've sought ways to make sales on social media. But keep in mind that the real goal of social media marketing is to generate leads and drive traffic to your website, and creating content to share on social media platforms is a powerful, often overlooked component in generating sales. Too much time is spent looking for content to share rather than creating it. Sharing other people's content more than you share your own sends the fans you worked so hard to get to someone else. You are giving someone else the opportunity to harvest that lead. Any time you can direct fans or followers back to your website, you have a chance to generate a lead with a newsletter sign-up or even to make an immediate sale. Driving traffic to your website begins by creating content that, first, can be found in search engines and, second, is posted on social media. It's a powerful one-two punch that works in harmony and can have an immediate effect on your bottom line. Start with FacebookWith one of every two Americans now having a Facebook page, it stands to reason that your target audience is on Facebook. With its robust advertising platform, Facebook makes it easier than any other social media service to reach that audience. Extend your reach beyond your website with a Facebook page. If you have fewer than 1,000 fans, your first goal of the new year is to cross the 1,000-fan milestone. Why 1,000 fans? Because perception is everything. A fan page with 100 fans vs. 1,000 is viewed as being dramatically inferior. Consider the case of a restaurant with people waiting for a table vs. one that's virtually empty with only one or two diners. With no prior knowledge of either place, you're more likely to wait for a table at the crowded restaurant (taking the unspoken endorsement of the people in line) rather than risk eating at the virtually empty restaurant. It's all about perception. If you've built your page and the fans still haven't come, consider using the Facebook advertising platform. There are three types of Facebook ads: sponsored stories, promoted posts and Facebook "like" ads. Sponsored stories and Facebook "like" ads are a great way to build a fan base: • Sponsored stories: A "story" is an ad generated by the activity of your fans. As fans like, share or comment on your status update or like your page, a "story" is created that is displayed to their friends. Sponsored stories appear in the news feed, on mobile devices and on the right-hand side of the Facebook homepage. • Facebook "like" ads: A "like" ad is a Facebook ad that runs with a call to action instructing the reader to "like" the page. An example would be, "Like this page if South Africa is on your bucket list." As soon as readers click "Like" in the ad, they automatically become fans of your page. One of the best features of Facebook ads is that you can target a specific demographic or interest. Experiment with a combination of sponsored stories and "like" ads and jump-start your social marketing efforts. But be patient. Like Rome, your social community won't be built in a day. Reaching more of your fansAs your fan base grows, you'll need a strategy to ensure that they see your updates. According to Facebook, your status updates reach approximately 16% of your fans, meaning that 84% might never see them. Facebook uses an algorithm called Edgerank to determine which of your fans sees any single update. An Edgerank score is assigned to each of your fans based on how often they like, share or comment on your posts. The higher the score, the more likely they are to see your updates in the news feed. Before you begin a promotion of any sort, it's important to boost your engagement levels in the weeks prior to launch. As your engagement rate increases, more of your fans will see your posts. Check your engagement rate by dividing the number of people talking about this by the number of fans. You'll find both numbers under the photo of your page. It can be a challenge getting fans to like, share or comment on your posts. Numerous studies have shown that photos are the most engaging type of posting on Facebook. Most travel professionals have a library of photos from personal travel and fam trips. Suppliers and tourism boards also provide photos for travel agents' use. A beautiful photo could be worth a thousand likes. Promoting a post is an excellent way to reach the elusive 84% of fans who don't see your posts. Promoted posts are ads created right in the status update window by clicking the "promote" link at the bottom of the post window. You have up to three days from the time something is posted to promote it. Promoted posts are easy to create, inexpensive and are shown to your fans or fans and friends of fans. The art of social sellingYour approach to generating sales on social media cannot be the same as your approach with traditional media, because posting one travel deal after another will kill your fan engagement one deal at a time. To understand this, take a look at the posting strategies of the larger brands. Carnival Cruise Lines, for example, has developed its message strategy around photos. Most every post is a photo of a cruise ship experience or destination. Rather than adding text as part of the status update, the text is added to the photo as a call to action to like or share it. In this case, there are no links to their website, just calls to action and beautiful photos of their product. The strategy works because the photos are shared repeatedly, and the likes are off the charts! It's a smart way to motivate fans to cruise on a Carnival cruise. G Adventures posts content from its blog with socially engaging text and calls to action that encourage users to comment and share in the adventure. Scenic destination photos, travelers' experiences on an adventure and interesting destination content are typical G Adventures posts. There are no prices, itineraries or sales pitches to be found. They are clearly selling the experience. Walmart has the largest Facebook page in the U.S., and its posting strategy takes advantage of current events. A recent post about an upcoming NFL playoff game read, "True or false: Houston will pull off an upset of New England today." That post received more than 16,000 likes and 200-plus shares. It's a smart way to humanize the brand, and it's working well. Pinning your businessFacebook might be the biggest, but it is not the only social media service that can boost sales or fuel the lead-generation process. Pinterest is the newest social media website. It's a content-sharing service that enables members to "pin" images and videos to their "pinboard," and it has attracted the attention of marketers for its ability to drive traffic to a website. Retailers love it because it shares photos of products that are linked to purchase pages on their websites and generates a lot of sales. The key to success in using Pinterest is to pin content from your website rather than repinning everyone else's content. You will automatically stand out simply because 80% of content on Pinterest is repins. There are very few content creators. Pin directly from your website or upload photos and videos linking back to your website. YouTube videos can be pinned directly from YouTube and will play inside of Pinterest. Remember, the goal is to drive traffic back to your website. Be a content creator on Pinterest, and let others repin you. The links in your professional chainLinkedIn, the premier professional social networking platform, has attracted the world's business professionals and thought leaders, and it continues to grow rapidly. For the travel professional, it is a potential gold mine of opportunity. Find group leaders, build supplier relationships, attract new corporate or luxury clients. Establish relationships with writers, reporters and TV personalities and become a source for media opportunities. Optimizing your profile is the single best way to gain exposure and open the door to LinkedIn's opportunities. Begin by deciding the keywords under which you want to be found, then be sure they're included in these three areas of your profile: Headline. Summary. Employment history. Rather than using the employment history as a chronological list of where you've worked and when, use it as an area to showcase your niche or specialty. Once you've optimized your profile, get active and discover your network. Join groups, take part in discussions and answer questions. Create a business page on LinkedIn and share your company news. As your network grows, consider downloading your contacts. LinkedIn enables you to download a CSV file of your first-level contacts that includes names and email addresses, an immediate mailing list of professionals with whom you can make direct contact. • • • We've covered some key strategies to generating traffic, leads and sales with social media. While I didn't mention Twitter, Instagram or Yelp, each of these can also support lead-generating efforts and boost sales when used properly. Here a few things to keep in mind: Be active. Don't leave your fans wondering where you are. Be a real person. Remember this is social media. Be the expert, and showcase your knowledge. Create your own content and share it from your website. Know your audience. What's posted on Facebook might not work for LinkedIn. Regardless of the platform, before making a post ask yourself the following questions: Is there a call to action in this post? Does it help my target audience by solving a problem or addressing a concern? Will it engage my audience and spark conversations? Is it likable or shareable? Does it position me as an expert and provide value to my audience? Am I sending fans and followers to my website or to someone else's? There's no magic formula to growing your business using social media. It requires strategy, time and effort. Remember, social media is only one element of an effective marketing plan. Whether you are new to social media or a veteran, use these strategies as an action plan to begin the journey from social to sales. Margie Jordan is the CEO of Jordan Executive Travel Service and a self-professed social media geek. She is also a speaker and trainer and has led sessions on social media at Travel Weekly's conferences. Follow her on Twitter @margietravels.