The 10 Rules of Social Media Marketing Engagement

As the social media landscape grows with both mainstream and specialized sites, so will the creative ways to communicate to friends, followers and fans. Although the current social network behemoths are Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, other venues like Pinterest and Google+ are also carving out a niche for themselves. And MySpace still has a strong foothold amongst the younger demographic. But don’t forget that social marketing isn’t just for networks. Forums, chat rooms, message boards and blogs are the granddaddies of Web 2.0. These venues are where socializing and interacting in communities originated. Some call it old school, others an untapped resource when used correctly in your online marketing mix. However, before you starting posting away, it’s a good idea to know the “best practices” that help make up a successful social marketing program.

As the social media landscape grows with both mainstream and specialized sites, so will the creative ways to communicate to friends, followers and fans.

Although the current social network behemoths are Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, other venues like Pinterest and Google+ are also carving out a niche for themselves. And MySpace still has a strong foothold amongst the younger demographic.

But don’t forget that social marketing isn’t just for networks. Forums, chat rooms, message boards and blogs are the granddaddies of Web 2.0. These venues are where socializing and interacting in communities originated. Some call it old school, others an untapped resource when used correctly in your online marketing mix.

However, before you starting posting away, it’s a good idea to know the “best practices” that help make up a successful social marketing program:

1. Be Aware. Get to know each community’s rules. Each site (network, forum, blog, chat room and bulletin board) has its own set of rules—many you have to agree to, if you read the fine print, when you sign up for membership. If a site has a specific area for promotional or marketing messages, keep posts of this nature restricted to those areas. If rules dictate what type of messages are allowed (such as no overtly self-serving, defamatory, illegal, elicit or pornographic material), follow the rules. Any deviation will prompt a warning by the site’s moderator or immediate ban from the site.

2. Be Active. Don’t be a “hit and run” marketer. In other words, don’t just go in a few times and hit members with your marketing message then forget the site for weeks or months at a time. Get involved. Participate in discussions. Interact with members. Read and respond to engaging posts with no hidden agenda. Involvement encourages interactivity and interactivity solicits followers and reinforces credibility within the community.

3. Be Relevant. Some “rules” are not imposed, but is common sense if you’re a seasoned marketer. Targeting your message to the right, relevant audience will prompt better results. Make sure the community and site itself are synergistic with your goal, target audience and message. Also, ensure you’re posting in sub areas of the site that are relevant to the topic you’re discussing. Many forums have segmented subfolders by category and interest level. This granular dissection to your target audience helps the members easily find the topics they’re interested in and keeps you from muddying the waters in unrelated areas of the site.

4. Be Genuine. Posts that are contrived, unrelated and have a hidden agenda can be seen a mile away. Let the conversations flow organically. Contribute real, thought-provoking comments that members will find interesting. Talk to your audience, not at them. Not every post has to be a marketing message.

5. Be Useful. As a social community member, your goal is to participate in intelligent, useful discussions. Make sure you’re adding value to the site in some way. Your comments should also be valuable to the readers and not random posts. Nothing gets under members’ skin more than messages that are blatant spam.

6. Be Subtle. Many marketers embed their entire message with URLs to whatever page they’re trying to drive traffic to. If a community allows links in your post, use them sparingly. Less is more here. Some sites even have rules about not allowing links in the body copy of a post, but keeping them only in the auto signature field where your username is. Links should be relevant to the post (such as a great article that you want to share with members—then enclose the link so they can read for themselves).

7. Be Balanced. Mix up your messages. Not all your posts have to be promotional (and they shouldn’t be). Hang out in the community. Read other posts. Get to know the members and the site. See which areas have topics and discussions that vibe with you. Mix up your posts. Find balance with the editorial and marketing messages. The idea is to provide value and engage.

8. Be Informative. Be aware of what’s happening in your area of interest. Be able to have intelligent discussions about different news, events and publications under your subject matter. If you see other related articles that you think members would find interesting, even material from other publishers, share the knowledge. After all, that’s ultimately what social media is about.

9. Be Personable. Develop relationships with the community on both a “friend” and an “expert” level (for your area of specialty). Let your personality and credentials shine through with the information you share. Offer free expert advice. Share funny stories. Have witty discussions. Start to truly develop a memorable presence and bond with the community members. This helps your posts stand out in a whirlwind of background noise that passes readers each day in their news feeds.

10. Be Respectful. Don’t spam your fellow members. Some social communities allow users to post their email addresses on their Profile pages. This could lead to a flurry of unsolicited emails from social marketing barracudas who use this personal information for their own self-serving purposes. Remember, just because an email is posted on a user’s profile page doesn’t mean that person opted in to receive solicitations, promotions or similar email communications. Sending unwanted and unsolicited email is spam, plain and simple. Don’t exploit community members’ personal information.

How ‘Frienemy Marketing’ Can Save Your Online (and Offline) Business

With the economic climate as crazy as it’s been, now more than ever businesses large and small are looking for creative ways to increase visibility, sales and leads. One effective way is to leverage the relationships with your ‘friendly’ competition. By friendly, I mean synergistic and respected formidable adversaries with a like-minded community of followers to your own.

With the economic climate as crazy as it’s been, now more than ever businesses large and small are looking for creative ways to increase visibility, sales and leads.

One effective way is to leverage the relationships with your ‘friendly’ competition. By friendly, I mean synergistic and respected formidable adversaries with a like-minded community of followers to your own.

You can look to this niche for opportunities to help grow your list and add extra revenues to your bottom line. Even better, this can be done for virtually no out-of-pocket cost.

This is a great way to leverage your content and increase market share, enhance brand awareness, grow sales and leads, and establish credibility with a new, yet synergistic list.

As a consultant, and even back in the days when I was leading the marketing efforts at top publishers, it’s important for me to be “strategically creative” and deploy as many no-cost online marketing tactics as possible for greater return on investment (ROI).

I like to concentrate on the marketing and editorial relationships I have forged with fellow publishers and aggressively pursue ad swaps, guest editorials and joint ventures (JV). I’ll explain a little more about these three opportunities in a moment.

With “frienemy marketing,” the idea is to develop synergistic relationships that are mutually beneficial—to look for areas of deficiency in your competitors and think of ways your company can fill the void.

One potential partner may have a great front-end product (e.g., a low cost e-book) but no up-sell (e.g., a higher-priced related kit containing DVDs, CDs and workbooks). Another potential partner may have an innovative back-end product but no cost-effective front-end product to bring new customers in the door. Still others may have large, qualified lists but need editorial to bond with their lists.

Some tips to keep in mind when looking for partnerships with friendly competitors:

Do your homework. Find out, in advance, who will be at industry events that you’ll be attending. (Check the program for speakers, vendors and participants.) Sign up for their e-newsletters. Read their promotional emails. Maybe even purchase some of their products.

Look at EVERY opportunity as a way to maximize your company’s brand during presentation breaks, lunch time and cocktail parties. When you go to industry events, don’t eat dinner alone in your hotel room. Go to functions. Mingle. Network. Have a genuine conversation with a potential partner … then, if there’s a synergy between your two companies, exchange business cards.

Before you contact a potential partner, get familiar with his products and target audience and figure out how your company may be able to dovetail with his product line or marketing efforts.

So, once you’ve made the connection, now what? You need to look at potential marketing and editorial opportunities …

Ad swaps are a form of revenue sharing. Typically, this can be a text or graphic ad two publishers place in each other’s e-newsletters and each keep 100 percent of the sales they get from their respective ads, no strings attached. Other things to know: Both list sizes should be close in circulation size, hence the reciprocity. You both keep any sales or email addresses collected, and call it a day. Know your “opportunity cost”—the “cost” you will incur for running an outside ad to your list instead of your own ad. If you normally sell ad space in your e-newsletter, this cost could simply be the flat rate fee you typically charge. Or, if you know the average revenues an issue brings in, you could calculate the potential “missed opportunity” of letting another ad run to your list on a given day. You should also agree to share important information with your partner. Before his ad runs in your e-newsletter, point out any creative issues. Provide your partner with your e-newsletter’s sent and deliverability sizes, open rate and ad click rate. Exchanging performance data is critical to a long and mutually beneficial relationship. It has to be a win/win situation for the partnership to work.

Guest editorials are offering content (editorial) that is relevant and targeted for an external publication and reciprocate. This is a great way to get introduced to a new list with the “implied” endorsement of the publisher. His endorsement gives you credibility. And if you provide his readers with good, solid, useful information, they will bond with you quickly.

This is a soft-sell approach that may or may not yield results on its own. At the end or beginning of the article is an Editorial Note or Byline, which can have author attribution, back-link to your website and short sentence for cross-selling, which help with sales, traffic generation and link-building efforts.

Joint ventures are similar to affiliate relationships, with the difference that instead of an affiliate program that is openly marketed, this relationship is more personal—it’s usually a company that you’ve built and cultivated a relationship with and are looking forward to a variety of ongoing business ventures down the road. There’s more of a vested interest. This is a quick and cost-effective way to make money with your list even if you have not yet developed any products.

To determine the viability of a potential JV product, there are several strategic marketing variables to consider. I like to think of them as “PPPGS”:

P = Product quality
P = Price point
P = Performance (when promoted to your potential partner’s house list, as well as to outside lists)
G = General market demand
S = Subscriber interest (when promoted to your list, as determined by feedback, surveys, etc.)

Remember, with “frienemy marketing” you’re looking for long-term partners, not one-hit-wonders. So carefully select the people you approach, making sure their products, brand and message make sense to your business … and, together, you can reap the unlimited profit potential of this underutilized business builder.