By now you've heard stories about the positive impact social media marketing is having on the sales of many businesses. In fact, many marketers have acknowledged that social media is now a crucial piece of their strategy. But creating a Facebook page or Twitter account is easy; providing content that's entertaining and useful to the reader takes a little more work.
Success with social media marketing is cumulative. Every status update, pin, post, tweet or share is a step toward building a loyal community of fans and followers, which in turn has the potential to produce an unlimited number of leads and sales.
Choose the right social network
The biggest misconception about social media marketing is that you need a presence on every platform. For the solo travelpreneur, dividing your social marketing among Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, Google Plus and YouTube can be exhausting and unproductive. It is far better to choose one social network and use it purposefully and consistently. Become knowledgeable about how to post and engage with its community. When you've mastered it, add a second one if your schedule allows. If you're not sure which social network to choose, here's an overview of the big ones and their basic characteristics.
With more than a billion registered users globally, Facebook is the world's most popular social network. Women slightly outnumber men among the Facebook population, with 35- to 64-year-olds accounting for the largest percentage of users. In a Facebook newsfeed, you'll find everything from photos and videos to articles and status updates. It's the one place you can connect with old classmates, start a special interest group, grow a business and share life's most memorable moments.
Remember the old corkboards with the pushpins? If you used one back in the day, you'll love Pinterest.
Expanding on the idea of a bulletin board, Pinterest users create boards to collect and organize the things they love. You'll find boards dedicated to shoe fetishes, recipes, home improvement ideas, bucket-list travel and everything in between.
Pinterest users are primarily women, 25% of whom have purchased something they discovered on a Pinterest board. Adding the "Pin It" button to a browser enables users to discover and pin photos from anywhere on the Web. Pinned photos retain links to the websites on which they were found. The ability to retain the link is why businesses are actively using Pinterest. When users click on a photo pinned to a board, it redirects the user to the website where the photo was found, sending new traffic back to that website and potentially generating new sales.
Pinterest is one of the three top social networks for sending referral traffic back to your website. Facebook and Twitter round out the other two spots. The key to Pinterest is that it is very visual. If you have stunning pictures that you can link to your business, product or service, this is the platform to consider.
Twitter is a real-time information network that enables users to stay close to stories, news, articles and opinions. Status updates, called tweets, are limited to 140 characters or less. Top news stories often break on Twitter long before they're reported anywhere else. On average, users spend 170 minutes per month browsing the feed. Twitter chats, such as Travel Weekly's (#twchats), are conversations on Twitter scheduled at a specific date and time on a predetermined topic.
Twitter is an excellent tool that enables you to communicate with anyone who has an account. There are no restrictions like the ones you find on Facebook. For many businesses, Twitter has become a very successful customer support tool.
If you're a budding blogger, Twitter is the ideal platform for real-time, spur-of-the-moment updates and news. And for some, it has become the preferred platform for microblogging because it amounts to short, informative information sharing.
As the world's only professional social network, LinkedIn isn't a place you'll find photos of the kids. It's all about business and making connections. LinkedIn has 259 million professionals, about half of whom check in daily. The average LinkedIn user spends 17 minutes a month making new connections. That's not a lot compared with the time spent on the other, more social networks.
LinkedIn is an underused platform with untapped potential to get you in front of the right people. The single most important factor for success with LinkedIn is a great profile that's optimized with keywords, a well-crafted headline and summary. While there are many ways to use this network, it's equally important that you are an active user. Participate in LinkedIn groups and in sharing useful business updates. If you want to connect to the industry or build an image as an expert in your field, LinkedIn is the platform of choice.
Any social network owned by Google is one you should pay attention to. Sharing your unique website content and blog posts on Google Plus can help improve your search engine rankings.
Explore Google Plus Communities (analogous to Facebook groups). A community is built around any topic from marketing to travel. Stephanie Lee of Host Agency Reviews has a wonderful community called Travel Agent Chatter. If you're still wading through the waters of social media, I encourage you to join my social media community, Social Marketing for Travel Entrepreneurs.
One of the most popular features of Google Plus is Hangouts. Breathe life into your conversations with a group video call. Hang out online with up to 10 people. Share your screen, meet with clients. Be creative. Even the Dali Lama hosts Hangouts. Businesses have caught on and are finding ways to monetize Hangouts by hosting online shows and training classes. You can create separate personal and business pages. If you have a physical location, the benefits of Google Plus get even better.
While Google Plus may not be the largest social network, it's one you should pay attention to. It has 343 million active users and is growing fast. One caveat: You'll need a Gmail account to participate.
Share your story with photos on Instagram. Upload a photo and within a few moments, someone likes it. Instagram is dedicated solely to sharing photos and videos. To date, more than 16 billion photos have been shared (more than 35 million are "selfies"). Instagram users spend 257 minutes per month on the service. It's very easy to use, and the free filters can help you turn any photo into an artistic masterpiece. You'll need a visual marketing strategy to see real success here.
Brand your business with your own hashtag (#yourbusinessname) in the description. Links included in the description are not live links, but when you share Instagram photos to Facebook, the links become live on Facebook. The integration between Facebook and Instagram is superb, particularly since Facebook acquired the service. For the travelpreneur with a solid Facebook presence, this could be another platform of choice. It's an easy way to share your travel adventures with clients and give a "wish you were here" moment to your audience.
With 1 billion users, YouTube is the world's second-largest search engine. A staggering 4 billion videos are viewed every single day on this service. In the past, YouTube gave weight to how many views a video had. Today, while views are important, watch-time (how long you held a viewer's attention) is more important. The day of posting random content that has no value to the reader is over. It can hurt your rankings in search engines and in most social networks.
Putting social to use
Now that you know what the major social networks are, how do you use them? Each has its strengths and weaknesses. Each is social, and members are looking for useful content and connections. As you set your 2014 social media goals, become a story-teller. Learn how to sell by telling the story of the solution you provide. It's an indirect sales technique that can be quite effective on social media. Where there are opportunities to advertise, such as Facebook ads and Twitter promoted posts, you'll find increased opportunity for direct sales.
When social advertising opportunities are not available or if you don't have an ad budget, there are four main areas that can consistently build your brand and increase your sales.
1. Expose your brand to a larger audience. One of the best uses of social media marketing is to build your following, and every major social media network does an excellent job in this regard.
Start with a brand page if it's available. The appearance of your page should reflect the culture of your business. Develop a social media marketing strategy that includes a content calendar. What will you share? Which network will you share it on?
There's no magic formula for the perfect time of day to post or for the number of posts you should make. Posting a few times each day ensures better post visibility. If it's something you want the majority of your followers to see, don't be afraid to post it more than once, keeping in mind everyone is not online at the same time.
Remember, generating sales with social media is the result of consistent effort. Don't be afraid to tweak a strategy. Social media is always changing. Check the analytics of the social network you're using to see if you're reaching your intended audience and if they're engaged. If you're advertising, carefully watch your ad performance. Tweaking a social-network ad can mean the difference between success and money wasted.
2. Increase website traffic. The No. 1 rule of social media marketing is to get fans and followers into your database. Sales don't occur on social media. They occur on websites and landing pages. Those are the only places over which you have complete control and are free from the marketing restrictions of social media.
Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and YouTube shine in this category. Social bookmarking platforms like Stumble Upon and Reddit also rank high. Website content and blog posts should be shared on Facebook and Twitter with a link back to the original post on your website.
Create a board on Pinterest specifically for your blog posts. Pin the photo from the post itself and give a snippet of the post in the description. Ask your fans and followers to share or retweet it. If you publish a newsletter, do not just share the link to the content. Instead, post a teaser of the content to come, and link to a newsletter sign-up page. Content must be relevant to the reader. When you become a problem solver, your traffic will significantly increase. More traffic equals more leads.
YouTube is a bit different. Add your website domain name in each video with video editing software or YouTube annotations. Watermark the video with your logo. When you're recording, don't be afraid to ask viewers to visit your website when you're recording. Also include your website link in the description of the video. The more entertaining and useful the video is, the more likely they are to visit.
3. Increase your search engine rankings. If you want to increase your search engine rankings in Google, focus on Google's social networks: Google Plus and YouTube. An active YouTube channel can bump up search engine rankings. Adding keywords and titles helps Google define the relevance of a video.
Google Plus is the workhorse in this category. The 1+ button is Google's equivalent of Facebook's Like button. When added to your website, the number of 1+'s your website content receives is highly related to where you appear in search engine rankings. In fact, 1+'s beat out every other metric known to improve search engine rankings, including Facebook shares and keyword use.
There are a few steps to seeing success with Google Plus. Create separate personal and business pages. Incorporate the 1+ button on your website and blog posts. Lastly, you'll need to establish Google authorship, linking your Google Plus profile to the content your write. You may need the assistance of your website provider to complete the last step, but it's well worth the effort.
4. Communicate with your existing customers. Not every social network promotes communication directly to customers.
If your 2014 goals include real-time customer support and communication, Twitter is the network that excels in this area. Customers can tweet a question, problem or accolade in 140 characters. A tweet is real-time, so there's no lapse between its being sent and being received. This concept works better when you create a separate Twitter account dedicated exclusively to this purpose.
On the surface, Facebook does a decent job when the communication happens via a private message on your business page. However, posting on your Facebook page comes with restrictions. Every post is not seen by every fan. Facebook uses an algorithm to determine which of your fans sees your content. Those limitations don't exist with Twitter.
The end of the year is the perfect opportunity to take a look at your social marketing strategy. Choose your social network wisely, and work it to perfection in 2014.