Getting Started in Social Media Marketing

It is rapidly becoming more important for businesses that are serious about connecting with consumers to participate in social networking communities like Facebook and Twitter. To the uninitiated, however, just thinking about creating a social media marketing strategy can be overwhelming. New social media networks like Google Buzz, Foursquare and Go Tribal are springing up all the time.

Getting started in social media marketing, however, becomes much easier when you can answer this one question: Where are your customers spending their time online? The online networking communities your customers are already participating in are the ones you need to target your online marketing efforts at when you are just getting started in s o c i a l media marketing.

You may wish to begin your research by asking your existing customers what social media networks they participate in through the channels you already use to communicate with them.

There are so many social networks on the Internet today, multiple ones in every imaginable niche, that I couldn’t begin to list all of them here. With that in mind, this article is going to focus on the most popular social networks that are open to people in all industries.

I encourage you, however, to apply the techniques we discuss in this article to the niche social networks that your customers also likely belong to. You may also want to consider using these broader, larger social networks to start conversations with members about the industry-specific social media tools they utilize.

At least four out of five adults who use the Internet use social media at least once a month, according to the 2009 report The Broad Reach of Social Technologies by Forrester Research. Half of adults who go online actively participate in social networks like Facebook, with the most rapid growth among consumers aged 35 years and older.

In February, the social media networking giant Facebook celebrated its sixth birthday. It also celebrated another milestone that same month when it reported having more than 400 million users worldwide, with a full-quarter of them accessing the social network with their mobile phones. It is the world’s largest social media site. It is quickly becoming the online marketing tool of choice for organizations of all sizes.

Although Facebook is the Internet’s largest social media network, the microblogging platform Twitter is the fastest growing one. According to a report released by the Nielsen Company, the amount of time Americans spent on Twitter last year swelled by 368%. By December 2009, Twitter had 2.7 million users.

Other members of the Internet’s top five social networks include MySpace, Classmates.com, and LinkedIn.

Once you have decided what social networks are most appropriate for your business, you will want to create profiles for each one that let the world know what your brand is all about. Then you will need to build your network on each social media site. Start by inviting people you already know to join your network.

If you actively engage with your social network, no matter how small, and post interesting content, your network will naturally grow over time.

It is crucial to the success of your social media marketing efforts and your brand that you not only engage in conversation with other members of social media communities, but that you also publish your own quality content on a regular basis. Here are some ideas to get you started:

    • Introduce new products and educate your customers about them with videos that you produce and post on sites like YouTube and Vimeo.
    • Obtain feedback on existing products through Facebook groups and fan page discussion forums.
    • Post articles and videos of interest to your target market on Twitter, preferably ones that are as entertaining as they are informative.
    • Solicit ideas for new products and services from groups on LinkedIn.
    • Build new relationships with potential supporters of your brand and enhance ones with existing ones through Twitter.
    • Make new business contacts by connecting with fellow alumni on Classmates.com.
    • Or, just dip your toes in the social media waters by finding out what people are already saying about your brand.

The Internet is a virtual market where an unlimited amount of information and products compete around the clock for people’s limited time, money, and attention. Doing whatever you can to make yourself stand out is a wise move.

One thing you could do to set yourself apart from competitors is to draw attention to your online presence with your product packaging. A lot of brands are promoting their products using social media tools, but very few have leveraged the potential product labels they have to help their online marketing efforts succeed. Some of the product makers who are leading the way are VitaminWater, Papa John’s Pizza, Pepsi, and a couple of Portuguese wineries that belong to Adegga, a social media site for wine lovers.

The label of Coca-Cola brand VitaminWater’s newest flavor, “Connect,” reads “Made by fans, for fans of Facebook.” Named after Facebook’s development tool for creating Facebook applications, the Connect label features many of the same design elements found on the top social networking site where Vitamin Water’s fan page is now more than 1 million members strong Starting last fall, VitaminWater asked its Facebook members to help create the new flavor with a Facebook application called “flavorcreator.” More than 116,000 Facebookers participated in the creation of the caffeinated black cherry and lime-flavored beverage by engaging in a series of quizzes and games that collected information about what flavors and ingredients they wanted the beverage to have. Later, Facebook fans used the flavorcreator to submit entries for a label design contest.

Papa John’s Pizza celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary by printing an augmented reality (AR) code on the bottom of its pizza boxes along with the URL of a Papa John’s microsite. When consumers logged into the microsite online, holding the AR code up to their webcam gave them entry to an online driving game where they collected Papa John’s coupons along their route. As a result of the AR codes, the promotional microsite received more than 200,000 visits within its first two weeks.

At least two Portuguese wineries have started incorporating quick response (QR) codes into their label designs. When one of these two-dimensional bar codes is scanned with a cell phone or webcam, the Internet browser on the cell phone or computer is directed to a page on Addega about that particular wine. The wine consumer is then able to find out what members of this online community of wine lovers think about the wine, and compare prices, read about the winemaker.

Pepsi leveraged a social media tool in a more subtle, yet highly effective way than the other trailblazing product marketers I have already highlighted. The soft drink giant recently launched a “natural” cola product named Pepsi Raw. To encourage feedback about the new product, they printed the product’s Twitter address on 1.4 million of the Pepsi Raw cans. Printing the address of your social media profile or website on your product labels is a particularly easy and cost-effective method of encouraging consumers to connect with you online. If this is something you think would be effective for your brand, we here at Lightning Labels would be happy to help you produce high-quality product labels for this purpose.

But what if you are not a product maker? Can you still leverage the power of labels and stickers in the offline world to help people connect with you virtually? Absolutely. Anyone with an online presence, not just product makers, can benefit from adding good old-fashioned promotional stickers to their marketing mix. For very little cost, you can have stickers custom-printed with your brand logo and social media address or website.

A local band, for instance, could have stickers custom-printed for very little cost with their name and MySpace address and distribute them at their shows. It would be an easy way for them to drive more traffic to their MySpace page, where fans could listen to samples of their songs, see where they are performing next, and find out how to buy their music.

Alternatively, you may choose to design your sticker around an image identified with your social media site of choice instead of your own logo. An illustration of a bright blue bird would work well to promote a Twitter URL, as a bright blue bird is Twitter’s primary mascot. If you are going to use one of a massive number of social media themed images available free of charge on the Internet, however, remember to use only high-resolution images that will look good when printed, and respect copyright laws.

(Christy Correll)