Unless you've been living under a very large rock for the past few years, you can't help but have noticed the rise of social media. From Facebook to Twitter, Foursquare to Flickr, the Internet is jam-packed with new means of communication. There's no doubt that this is great on multiple levels. Professionally, businesses can now have much more personal contact with their customer base; and socially, we can all stay in touch much more easily. There's no denying it, social media is here, and here to stay. So as a business, how do you take full advantage of this social revolution without forking out for expensive consultants? Well, if you follow a few simple steps, you can easily launch your social media efforts absolutely free - all you need is a little time and elbow grease.
Put Your Wallet Away
The first thing you need to remember about social media is that it's free by design. The concept revolves around the sharing of information and content between people via social networking sites. Starting profiles on these websites is completely free - it's what you do with them that counts. So let's assume you've never used one of these sites before; your first step is to sign up.
The process is pretty straightforward and most of the sites have handy guides if you need help. Once this is done, you'll be able to start posting updates to the world. Of course, you won't have any 'fans' or 'followers' just yet, but that's step two. To find an audience, it's a good idea to start with your existing clients. Let them know that you now have a Facebook/Twitter/etc. page, then invite them to join your network. With this initial influx of people, you should have a good starting point from which to grow. So how do you do that without a fancy 'new media' consultancy pointing you in the right direction? It's easier than you think.
Know Your Audience
Don't forget: nobody knows your business better than you do. Social media companies may have experience in encouraging a response from an audience, but this isn't something that you can't learn with time. Harness the expert knowledge of your company and channel it into something that will please a social media audience. Blog posts, feature articles, top ten lists, and more, are all great ways to engage with your audience. This will obviously mean that you'll need to arrange the resource to create this content, however this is pretty much unavoidable. If you just keep posting links to your website, or to products or services you offer, you'll find that your fans and followers start to block or 'unlike' you very quickly. Keeping your social media offering fresh is all about variety, so always try new things.
Share With Your Peers
Consider bringing in guest bloggers who have specialist knowledge in your industry; they may be willing to write a post for free to gain some exposure. Contra-deals with other companies is now easier than ever with social media outlets, so talk to your peers and ask if they'd like to trade a 'tagged' post with one another. This will give your company exposure to another stream of potential customers and fans/followers. You'll generally have good results if you promote yourself to audiences who are at least a little similar to your own; for example, if you sell paint or wallpaper, you may want to post on the profile of an interior design company.
Market Research On the Fly via Social Media
Social media can be a very powerful tool, if it's used correctly. Remember that it's a learning process: you will have to track the reception of your posts, and learn what works and what doesn't. By doing this, you'll be able to find out exactly what your target audience responds to, then arrange promotions and special offers based on this information. Another key benefit of social media is the ability to do market research on the fly: you could, for example, run the concept for a new product by your fans/followers and see how they respond. In the past you'd have to rely on data which is time-consuming to collect, now you can do it with a few clicks. And that's just for starters - as you go on with your social media efforts you'll learn how to harness the tools it offers to bring your company right up to the cutting edge of modern technology.
Oleksiy is the Founder of ArtDriver. He oftentimes takes the lead as the Agile Project Manager and SEO expert on selected projects, which allows him to be hands-on with the latest trends. In his spare time, Oleksiy enjoys playing the guitar and spending time with his family.