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Eight ways to profit through a social media marketing strategy.

Social media, when used correctly, can be a great asset to your organization. Whether it’s commercial or nonprofit, legacy or start-up, the ability to directly connect your organization with supporters can build loyalty and strengthen customer relationships.

Social media marketing, like any other tool, needs to be used properly to maximize its performance. Here, we’ll review eight key ways that successful organizations apply social media plans for the best results and profit.

1. Set your strategy.

There are three reasons why you shouldn’t start using social media platforms without a plan:

  • First, your parents’ advice about thinking before you speak definitely holds true in social media. What you say in cyberspace can and will be around for a long time. It takes a lot of effort to build good relationships but just a few ill-chosen words to damage them irreparably.
  • Second, you need to know what your overall message will be. This is just business common sense. If you have a marketing and advertising strategy in place already, you don’t want to throw a wrench into it and start delivering another message entirely. The strongest message is the most coordinated message.
  • Third, it’s very important to recognize that like most technology, tools will change, and often very quickly, so you should be prepared to pivot when necessary. It’s critical to evaluate (and periodically re-evaluate) where your customers are and then craft a plan to deliver messages on those platforms. If that platform happens to be only Twitter, then fine. But you need to open the conversation to your customers on whatever sites they’re using.

2. Find your audience.

It’s the age-old problem for business owners: In order to sell to customers, you have to first find them. To locate them online, look at your customer demographics and then consider (or research) which social platform they’re more likely to be on. Just asking your customers what social media platforms they use is also a great mode of discovery.

Be proactive too; advertise on your website and/or in-store that you’re on social sites, ready to be followed. If you have access to customers’ email addresses, you can send out a message prompting them to follow you. Paid social media ads are another way to go. They let you target certain demographics with posts and are often very effective in boosting followers.

3. Join conversations.

At first, you might be tempted to simply broadcast all that you think is great about your organization – its product, its people, its brand. That’s a common place to start, but understand that if you keep doing that, your followers will quickly lose interest.

Remember, this is always a conversation, no matter what social media platform you’re working with. That means it can’t be a megaphone where you constantly talk about yourself. Be prepared to engage your audience, just as you would if they were customers in your store.

When you do this, you’ll tap into one of the advantages of social media: You’re holding a conversation with someone, but everyone else can listen in. If you handle these conversations well, people will understand that your business is interested in the needs of its customers.

4. Create relevant content.

To initiate a dialog, you’ll (of course) need to talk about things your audience is interested in. This could mean sharing content from your own blog, industry news, or commentary on current events. If you think you have a good handle on what your customers and potential customers are interested in, start by sharing that kind of information.

The next step is to pay attention to what’s working – and what’s not. You’ll likely find that certain types of posts do better on one platform than on another. The key is to monitor your conversations, learn from them, and pivot as necessary. There’s also an element of fluidity. You can plan content ahead of time, but also be prepared to react to what’s happening in pop culture, locally, even around the world. Selling winter coats, for instance? You’ll definitely want to strike up a conversation about a surprise April snowstorm rather than sticking to a planned post promoting one of your blogs.

Don’t know where to start when it comes to what to share? Listen to other conversations in your business sector. Seeing what others are sharing will give you a pretty clear picture of how to jump in on the conversation. No matter the topic, remember to strike that balance between talking and listening. People do want to learn from and listen to you but they’ll expect to be heard when they have something to say.

5. Find the right tools.

There are lots of great tools available to help you get more out of your social media accounts. Platforms can help you manage multiple accounts, schedule tweets, monitor interactions, and more.

There are also a number of social commerce tools available that let you sell directly through social media platforms. For example, you can couple Twitter’s Buy Now button with a platform like Shopify to sell your products via a tweet. Elsewhere, Pinterest has Buyable Pins, and paid Instagram ads can feature action-oriented buttons like Shop Now or Install Now. If you opt to sell through your social channels, be sure to consider security and choose a payment processor you know you can trust.

Ultimately, you also need to think about how any tools you use fit into your overall social media plan. Will they help you increase engagement and drive your business? If the answer is yes, it’s probably worth the time, effort, and money to implement them.

6. Spark participation.

Producing your own interesting content is all well and good, but what if you could go further and actually encourage users to contribute new and original content of their own? User-generated social content has a snowball effect where participants’ other connections can see their activity, spreading the conversation even farther.

There are several ways to encourage users to contribute content to your social channels. You can use polls, images, and video to get your audience involved in the conversation, or simply ask for participation. Looking to choose a new ice cream flavor? Ask you followers what they think. Another idea is to set up a contest where your social followers share an image or a post, add a comment, etc.

Your clientele are very smart about what they want and need – you just have to tap into their ideas.

7. Listen to customers.

Once you start generating conversations, listen and continue to engage. If you ask a question and get responses, be sure to acknowledge them and keep it going. You also need to listen when it comes to another common use of social media: customer service. Customers often come to company social media channels to ask questions and air grievances. It’s smart to pay attention to this kind of activity.

You need be ready to monitor social media for these sorts of questions and then answer them as promptly and completely as possible. If you have a dedicated customer service team already, you should definitely assign resources to monitor social media channels and respond to questions.

8. Measure your results.

From likes to followers, there are quite a few social media metrics you can begin tracking right away. Some of the most effective analytics, though, may come from your website. Tools like Google Analytics can help you evaluate whether your social media strategy is driving traffic to your website, where users may become buyers.

Even if you don’t sell products and services on the web, you can still analyze inbound traffic to your business by monitoring whether more people are contacting you or converting to customers. Remember that gathering data alone is not enough. You have to apply that data to measuring the achievement of specific social media goals.

Measuring the true impact of your social media marketing activity is not going to be a simple matter of tracking one or two statistics and then calling it done. You’ll need to compile different sets of data and use them in combination to determine the intent of your audience and how you can enhance the conversation as well as achieve your business goals.

In the end, cultivating a social media following, engaging, and measuring is an ongoing cycle. When you pay close attention to each part, your business will benefit.