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.