Like most of us running small businesses, you’ve probably heard a lot about the explosion of social media and its most prominent players, Twitter, Digg and Facebook among others. In this article, we’re going to provide you with some social media marketing best practices and how you can get started building a social media footprint to help you market and grow your small business.
So, what is social media marketing anyway? Social media is undoubtedly the shiny new toy of online marketing, often misunderstood and confusing to so many small business owners. Above everything else, social media marketing is really about building a “sphere of influence”, either personally or professionally. Maki from one of my favorite online marketing blogs, Dosh Dosh, describes it very succinctly:
“[Social] media marketing is not merely about hitting the front page of Digg or any other social news website. It is a strategic and methodical process to establish your influence, reputation and brand within communities of potential customers, readers or supporters.”
Social media’s “sphere of influence” is often misunderstood. Small business owners, in particular, need to first understand what that sphere of influence actually is before they can establish and build their own. That “sphere” in SMM is built upon the three most important components in social media influence: relevance, trust and authority.
Before we begin, however, it would only be fair to provide some history and a bit of context to the ideas of relevance, trust and authority and how these principles were so heavily influenced by Google. Now, the folks over at the Googleplex get praised, criticized, deified and brow-beaten for lots of different things on lots of different subjects. I, for one, am seriously worried about Google’s dominance and how pervasive and threatening that dominance truly is to publishers, online marketers and privacy advocates worldwide. Undoubtedly, Google’s influence is enormous.
Regardless of how you feel about Google and its market influence, the one thing the folks in the Googleplex know how to do really well is rank search results. They’re really, really good at it. Relevance, trust and authority play significant roles in how Google’s algorithm ranks those search results.
So, if you’re one of those folks (like myself) trying to figure out this whole social media milieu and how to get something meaningful for your business from those efforts, understanding the basic premise behind how Google ranks search results is a good place to get started. Using the principles of relevance, trust and authority as a foundation in building your social media footprint, you’ll have a solid understanding of how to do so successfully.
What is the definition of relevance anyway? Wikipedia provides a pretty accurate description:
In the context of information science and information retrieval, relevance denotes how well a retrieved set of documents (or a single document) meets the information needs of the user.
With respect to the relevance of any “document”, whether it’s a high definition video clip on YouTube, a 500 word blog post, or a 140 character Tweet, any measure of relevance should begin with its target audience in mind. How relevant will your document be for your Digg audience, your feed readers, Facebook “fans” or Twitter following? How much will they care? If you’re not a celebrity or new media rock star, your audience/fans/following doesn’t really care what you had for breakfast or what you’re driving to the mall for. To be highly relevant, you need to stay on message with your audience and avoid drifting away too far with personal stuff. If your Shaq or Oprah or Martha, people just might want to hear all of the personal musings and mindless jambalaya that’s oozing out of your feed (no offense meant to Ashton or John Mayer), but for the rest of us, no one really cares about any of that stuff. Seriously – no one cares. But for the average person or business owner trying to build an audience and a meaningful social footprint, how relevant is that message to your audience? How meaningful is it? Start by putting your audience right in the middle of your message and ask:
- Will my audience really/truly/honestly give a s**t about what I’m about to tell them or send them?
- How meaningful is this update/Tweet/post?
- To what degree will this information truly add value to my users experience?
Whatever audience you cater to on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or any of the countless social media sites that are out there, in order for your message to be relevant, it must be meaningful.
The information, media, clips, video and links you are providing must be HIGHLY relevant to the interests of your audience. Without relevance, it’s nearly impossible to build trust and gain authority, the other two cornerstones of social media influence.
Irrelevance undermines trust. If you’re not first relevant to your audience, you’ll largely be ignored, completely undermining your ability to gain trust or subsequently build authority. You have to be relevant to your audience before you can be trusted by them. People have to trust what you’re saying, the advice you’re giving or the recommendations that you’re providing.
In order to build trust, be trustworthy.
Make sure that you’re recommending highly useful resources and credible information that your audience will benefit from. Think about serving your audience first and giving before you get with rich content and valuable information regardless of whether or not you can “monetize” it. Give your audience something meaningful, juicy and righteous that they can really sink their teeth into.
Don’t carpet bomb your audience with affiliate offers and promotional content that only serves to benefit you.
If your audience will truthfully benefit from an affiliate link, go ahead and put it in your blog post or Tweet, but make sure that you’re not overwhelming your audience repeatedly with overzealous and repetitive affiliate link fishing expeditions. Nothing undermines trust like the careless, mindless and selfish use of affiliate marketing that only serves to benefit you and does not meaningfully add value to your users experience. Social media sites have been bombarded with affiliate link spam that has added nothing of value to the conversation, serving only to damage its credibility as a viable marketing medium.
While it’s easier to build trust if you have a presence in the marketplace and been around for awhile, you can also build trust by taking a steady, service-oriented approach to your industry niche by providing meaningful opinion, advice and commentary on relevant industry forums and blogs, for example. Building trust takes time and patience; it’s a linear process with output that is proportional to the input. In other words, you’ll earn as much trust as you rightfully deserve.
The definition of an authority is someone or something (entity/institution/organization) whose opinions about specific subject matter are valued and respected by his/her peers and whose expert views are taken as definitive. Authority status is highly coveted by those trying to establish their expertise online, but becoming an authority or “tastemaker” in your industry also has to be earned. Building authority takes time, it takes patience, and above all, it takes hard work. I hate to disappoint but they’re not selling authority status for $99 at Wal-Mart. People who are spamming and jamming people with unsubstantiated and un-targeted affiliate offers by definition are anti-authority.
With respect to search engine rankings, authority sites are usually ranked highest in Google’s results pages for their respective keywords primarily because, in Google’s eyes, authority sites are considered the most relevant and most trustworthy over a long period of time, making them the most rank worthy.
Peers within an industry are more likely to “vote” for other authoritative sites by linking to them, which just happens to be one of the most prominent factors influencing Google’s search engine results. Authority sites will typically only get links from other authority sites, serving as a democratic filter to measure authority in a category. The same principle applies in social media: authorities in an industry will typically only Tweet, Digg or “friend” other authorities in their niche.
So if you’re a rookie or a noob in your industry trying to build a viable social media footprint, here are a few takeaways to be mindful of:
- Be relevant and useful to others in your industry
- Stay on message within your category of interest
- Minimize your personal “musings”
- Provide meaningful content, tips, advice and recommendations
- Be trustworthy and serve your audience first
- Use your affiliate linking honorably and sparingly
- Recognize, mention and point out other deserving authorities in your industry
Additional Resources for Social Media Marketing Best Practices:
- Best and Worst Practices of Social Media Marketing (TopRankBlog.com)
- Best Practices in Social Media Marketing (ChrisAbraham.com)
- What Are Some Social Media Marketing Best Practices (ChrisBrogan.com)