Starting from Zero on #SocialMedia

Starting from Zero on #SocialMedia

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Kaitlynn-RussoGuest post written by Kaitlynn Russo the Marketing Automation Manager at Ebyline, a company that helps publishers and brands find quality content creators. Before joining Ebyline, she worked for two of LA’s top advertising agencies strategizing and analyzing digital campaigns for brands like Energizer and PlayStation. In her free time, Kaitlynn enjoys cooking, dining out and traveling. Find Kaitlynn on Twitter.

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Social media has reached such an incredible level of penetration into our everyday lives that sometimes it’s difficult to remember a time before a “Like” or “Tweet” button was attached to virtually every piece of content on the web. At this point, most established brands have achieved a high level of social media sophistication, and have developed identities on all the major social networks. This maturation of the marketplace has led to an increasing density of “how-to” articles aimed at brands that already understand the basics of building a social media following.

But what if you’re a start-up or emerging brand that doesn’t have that established social presence? Or, what if your business needs a complete overhaul of its social media presence, and is forced to restart from ground zero?

While there are countless articles that give advice on advanced topics like social media optimization, growing your following past the start-up stages, maximizing your return on investment from social media advertising and so on, the foundational advice contained here is crucial to getting your business off the ground online.

The key three: Facebook, Twitter, and Google+

BigThree
There are myriad social media platforms online, and it’s easy to be overwhelmed when you’re just getting started. How do I turn my text heavy content into something that works on Pinterest? What’s a Tumblr? Does my content have viral potential on a site like Reddit? Should I build my online reputation through Q&A sites like Quora? How do I make great videos for sites like Vine and Instagram Video?

The key to a successful social media launch is clear focus accompanied by an actionable plan. There’s plenty of time to branch out and populate other platforms when your brand has a bit more maturity, but for now it’s best to focus on the key three social sites: Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. These three sites cover the vast majority of social interactions on the web, and are the places where your brand is most likely to experience rapid social sharing. Due to their primarily conversational nature, these sites play better to a more consumer-oriented audience than a professionally focused site like LinkedIn.

At the point that your brand achieves a degree of success on one of these core platforms, it will become dramatically easier to branch out to other sites. It’s very possible to spread your brand too thin in the early stages, and a lack of focus will likely do more harm than good. Trial and error on the key three will establish a style and core audience which can then be migrated to other platforms when the time comes.

Backlog

Think of your social media account like it’s a house, and the content that you post in it is that house’s decor and furnishings. When you invite your friends over for dinner they normally expect to arrive at a house that’s filled with stuff, or at least has a table and some chairs! Only the best of friends would be open to sitting on your floor and eating with paper plates and plastic utensils while they wait for the table to arrive.

The principle is exactly the same when it comes to your social media presence. When you invite someone to like your page, their first action will usually be a quick scan of the content that’s already present to see if it matches their interests and meets their quality expectations. If your page lacks content, it’s relatively unlikely that they’ll wait around for it to show up!

When you create a new social media account, regardless of platform, do your best to pre-populate it with content. About two weeks of quietly backlogged material is typically enough. Publish high-quality content so that new readers can get a sense of what you’ll be providing them with and get excited for what’s to come. After you’ve fully filled out your profile, selected a clear profile picture, and populated your page with initial content, you can then take the step of announcing your creation to the world.

Understand demographics

Each of the key three social sites appeals to different user demographics, and has unique modes of communication that set it apart from the others. While high-quality content will sing regardless of platform, optimizing the presentation of your content for each platform will yield the best results.

It’s important to have a basic understanding of the unique demographics and nuances of communication that set each site apart from one another. Over time, brands have established sets of best practices for each platform that typically yield the best results. By tapping into that research and learning from the mistakes of others you can catapult yourself to rapid success.

Getting Started: Facebook

Outside of their website, Facebook is the primary home for many brands online. The layout of brand pages and incredible user base that Facebook commands makes it easy to effectively set up shop there. Here are a few keys to a powerful start-up Facebook presence:

  • A Fully Fleshed Out Profile: Unlike many other social sites, Facebook allows brands to write an in-depth “About” section and provide a great deal of complementary information that can really bring their page to life. Before advertising your Facebook page to potential followers, be sure that you’ve written a clear company bio and selected high quality profile and cover images that communicate your brand clearly. As with any site, pre-populate as much great content as possible.
  • Keyword Heavy Posts: Remember, both Facebook’s internal search system and external search engines like Google will scan your page for relevant words. Include words in your posts and the headlines of your content that will be clearly recognizable to both those search engines and your fans alike. Each initial piece of content should be entirely understandable from its subject line alone.
  • Break into News Feed: Most brands view their Facebook page as an independent platform set somewhat apart from the Facebook ecosystem. They assume that their loyal fans will regularly browse their page for all the latest news and information on their brand. Unfortunately, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Only 4% of a brand’s fans target = “_blank” will return to that brands page after initial engagement! This means that your best chances for visibility lie in showing up on that individual’s News Feed. Take a look at my post on Facebook’s Edgerank algorithm for the best information on how to crack into your fan’s News Feed.

Building your initial audience

Facebook is one of the best platforms on which to initially advertise your brand to friends and family. It’s likely that your initial batch of fans will be whatever close members of your personal circle your company can pull together to support you, and these numbers will understandably be rather small. While word-of-mouth is a great initial tool, there are many other ways to build your starting audience for under $100.

The two primary opportunities to promote your brand on Facebook outside of word-of-mouth are promoted posts and targeted ads. By paying Facebook a fee, you can “promote” a post to be more visible to the people who already have liked you. Based on Facebook’s Edgerank algorithm, your posts may or may not show up in the News Feeds of even those people who have liked you. By promoting a post, you increase the likelihood of it showing up. Facebook allows you to set a budget for your promoted posts, and see the effectiveness of the campaign while it’s running. Keep in mind, only brands that have over 400 likes can promote their posts. In general, promoting posts that are highly visual or more fun and engaging in nature will yield the best results.

Targeted ads allow you to display Facebook ads to only the part of your audience that the ad is most relevant to. Custom Audiences is a Facebook feature that lets you target those demographics that will be most interested in your business. This feature allows you to upload your customer list to Facebook and reach out to subsets of it based on a set of criteria. This kind of targeted outreach will typically result in a higher return on your investment than simply pushing an ad out to Facebook as a whole.

Getting started: Twitter

Twitter is continuing to rise in prominence, and many see it as the only realistic challenger to Facebook’s social media dominance over the next few years. Twitter has a myriad of options for first time users, but fledgling efforts require focus if they want to be successful. Some top priorities are:

  • Be Conversational: Perhaps more so than any other social platform, Twitter is about creating and maintaining conversations with your audience. Focus on content based in questions and answers, and participate consistently in conversations relevant to your industry. Twitter’s hashtag system allows you to quickly tune in to the conversations of the moment, and should be carefully monitored for opportunities.
  • Follow and Re-tweet Influencers: In addition to communicating with your following, Twitter is a great place to build relationships with powerful influencers online. Identify, follow, and re-tweet the views of people in your industry who have substantial followings and great expertise. Share links out to influencer sites in your work by tweeting them. Twitter-Birds-326Then send a friendly direct message to the influencers in question to let them know that you did it because you appreciate their work. There’s no need to ask or offer anything, simply building that relationship through developing mutual goodwill will yield dividends down the road.
  • Keep It Short and Sweet: With its 140 character limit, Twitter is a platform that emphasizes brevity and directness. Clearly communicating the importance of a given piece of content or update to your site in a shorter format is a developed skill, and most Twitter users have developed even shorter attention spans than that character limit might imply. Keep your communications as brief as possible while still emphasizing the value that you bring to the conversation.

Building your initial audience

As with all your social platforms, word-of-mouth is the best place to start. Engaging influencers is another way to potentially get a valuable re-tweet and organically build your audience that way. If you pursue these tactics initially without experiencing great success, there are a number of other entirely free ways to continue to promote your brand through Twitter.

Twitter chats are regular conversations that occur based around a given hashtag, and typically take the form of a question and answer session or pseudo-think tank among members of a similar industry. These chats are often scheduled well ahead of time by influential members of a given industry, and give the opportunity for incredible visibility. Anyone can participate in them simply by adding the appropriate hashtag to your tweets that day. A good way to enter the fray is by re-tweeting the host of the twitter chat to your personal feed with the appropriate hashtag, and then responding to one of the statements by the host a bit later. Your brand name shows up to anyone searching for that hashtag, and by contributing to the discussion in a positive manner it’s possible to positively impact your brand’s identity.

As your following grows, it’s possible to host Twitter chats yourself, bringing together many experts from your community and establishing yourself as a true leader in the field. Be sure that you select an appropriate, easy to type hashtag and avoid conflicting with any other prominent Twitter chats in the same industry. Select a good time and announce it to your following ahead of time through all of your various social outlets. This will give you the best chance of a successful chat.

Getting Started: Google+

Of the three social platforms, Google+ is both the least broadly popular and the least consumer facing. The typical Google+ user falls somewhere between Facebook and LinkedIn on the social spectrum, and many of the people who leverage the platform do it in the hopes that it will ultimately contribute to their businesses growth. Here are a few of the most important best practices to get your brand on track:

  • Optimize Your Profile for Search: Needless to say, Google+ is highly integrated with Google’s search empire. Google highly prioritizes words and phrases included on your Google+ page when people search for your brand online, and the images that you include on your profile will immediately become closely associated with your brand through search. Think of your Google+ profile as a warehouse for all the things you want people to find when they search for you on Google. In fact, your Google+ account will be displayed immediately in the upper right corner of the screen whenever anyone searches for you.
  • Focus on Rich Content: Google+ is a very aesthetic platform, and rich content tends to play particularly well on it. Focus on providing your following with photos, engaging videos, and particularly informative infographics. This kind of content typically takes a bit longer to develop than your typical text based post, but it will ultimately yield big returns.
  • Engage Communities: One of the unique features of Google+ is its emphasis on “circles,” or subcategories of people with unique interests. By joining or starting relevant communities you can quickly tune in and engage the rest of your industry. Many of these communities can be viewed as pre-vetted opportunities for lead generation, as anyone participating in them is likely already interested by your brand’s subject matter.

Building your initial audience

At this point you should be familiar with the initial procedure for establishing your profile, backlogging content, and reaching out to your immediate following. If you’ve already done this for Facebook and Twitter, notify them of your presence on Google+ as well by linking your profile out to them. This can easily jump start your following on a new platform.

Many of the best ways to build your following on Google+ are oriented around deep engagement with the people most interested in your brand’s subject area. Google+ Hangouts give your brand the unique opportunity to connect directly with your followers through video, while humanizing your brand by putting an identifiable face on it. Regular video hangouts allow for video conferencing with up to nine other people, and you can make them either private or open to anyone who wants to drop by.

Google-Hangout
Hangouts on Air is an additional feature that lets you broadcast live to an unlimited audience, and once your broadcast is finished the entire video is recorded and can be published to YouTube. This allows even more opportunities for consumer engagement and brand reputation building. By putting your actual face, voice, and office out there to the public it will increase transparency and rust, encouraging more people to interact with your brand.

Survival of the Fittest – Directing traffic to your strongest site

As you develop your various social media platforms, you’ll likely find that some will surpass the others in terms of your overall community building and engagement. This is entirely natural. Some platforms lend themselves better to different kinds of brands, and you’ll likely develop a voice and identity that will play particularly well on certain platforms.

When you have the opportunity to direct your following to your different social platforms, always prioritize pushing them in the direction of your most successful one. There are two big reasons for this. The first is that your brand likely became successful on that platform for a reason, and you always want to put your best foot forward when introducing someone to your brand. The second is that you actually need to gain momentum on a platform before directing out to other ones will be effective. When you’re just getting started, it’s best to put your traffic into a single basket and grow from there. Growing a social media account organically is tough, and leveraging the edge of a particularly strong account is necessarily a powerful tool.

There are no short cuts when it comes to establishing a strong identity on each of the three major social media platforms. With a solid plan of action, laser focus on the things that really matter, and a clear understanding of the best practices for each site it’s possible to jump-start your following and give yourself the best