You are a busy business with 1,001 things to do - and social media makes that about 1,006.
So how do you avoid wasting your time on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn and the rest?
Social media can become addictive. Maybe you have logged on to your laptop, or pulled out your smartphone, and then realised that half an hour (or more) has gone by and you've got little to show for it - apart from some trivia facts that might wow your team mates at the next pub quiz.
Here are my top seven tips for making your time on social media productive and beneficial to your business.
1. Decide from the start what you want to achieve through social media. Without a plan social media can become a random assortment of words and pictures fired out to the world at general. Think about WHO are your ideal customers, and on WHICH social media platforms you will find them. For each social media platform that you use, create a one page summary that reminds you WHY you are there, WHAT you will do each day/week or month and HOW you will measure success.
2. Get trained and get confident. If you don't know what you are doing, ask for help. Some people take to social media like a duck to water, but others flounder and can waste a lot of time trying to find their way around. Investing in training can save you a lot of time and stress in the long run, and time is money. You will enjoy using social media more when you feel confident about what you are doing..
3. Measure actions and reactions. There are lots of social media measurement tools and apps out there, but you can get plenty of useful data from the free analytics that you will find within each platform. Followers alone is not a true measure of 'success' on social media. 'Reach' and 'engagement' will give you a more accurate picture of how many people are seeing the content you create and share and whether or not they like it. If you know what's working you can do more of it. Use the analytics to refine your original plan.
4. Listen - don't just talk. It's a good rule of thumb to listen twice as much as you talk. The more you know about your customers and what matters most to them the more you understand about how you can make their life better and win their loyalty. Don't just rely on notifications to follow conversations about your brand or company: not everyone will know your official Twitter handle or LinkedIn url. Use the search box in each social media channel to check for mentions of your business and its products.
5. Post consistently - not feast or famine. Nothing looks worse than an abandoned social media channel where the last post was a couple of years ago. You need to decide on a schedule and make it happen. This may mean, for a small business, that you need to focus on ONE channel rather than trying to manage every platform. To hold the attention of your audience you need to be giving them something of value on a regular basis. Never forget the 'social' in 'social media'. It's not about 'sell sell sell'. No-one likes being sold to, and if you KEEP doing it you'll find your followers show less interest in what you have to say. Make sure you show support and gratitude to happy customers and the businesses that supply you with services and products too.
6. One size does not fit all when it comes to posting on social media platforms. There are scheduling tools that will let you post the same words to all your accounts, which at first glance looks like a great time saver, but your Facebook audience will be interested in different content to your LinkedIn audience. Your Twitter followers may not be fans of Facebook, so when they see a Twitter post that includes a link starting fb.me... they may feel excluded and think you are more interested in your Facebook fans than them. Another turn-off to many people on social media are the direct messages that are clearly powered by third party tools. People aren't fooled when you pretend to reply personally, and if your message is just urging them to sign up to your newsletter or visit your website they'll probably be even less impressed.
7. Don't hijack hashtags. Another way to undo your good work on social media is to attach a #hashtag that is trending to a sales message for your business when there's no connection. It's a great tactic when your brand or business can say something about a trending topic - such as a major sporting event or an issue such as the sugar tax - but be very careful about jumping on the bandwagon just for the sake of it.
Success on social media does not come overnight but it is an important part of your overall marketing strategy. So think about the WHO, WHICH, WHY, WHAT and HOW of your business social media plan and devise a schedule that fits the time and resource you have available - and then measure to see what is working and adapt your plan accordingly.