A Quick Guide to the Social Media Toolbox

Facebook, MySpace, Xing, Twitter, wikis, LinkedIn, Plaxo, podcasts, blogs, Digg, YouTube, FlickR, RSS, StumbleUpon…the list is endless. If the vast array of social media tools available leaves you scratching your head in confusion, you are not alone. Cutting through the social media clutter and making sense of it all can be difficult, but it is important to remember that social media tools are, in the end, just that – tools meant to achieve an objective. Once you have identified your business and communication goals, your target audience, and a communication and marketing strategy to reach that audience, the last step is to select the tools that best help you achieve these goals and reach your audience most effectively.

Below is a look at a few popular social media tools, how they work and the communication and business objectives they may help achieve.

Blogs: Blogs are Web journals that contain opinions on different subjects. Often described as the “front door” to social media, the authors of blogs can read, comment and exchange links on other blogs. If a large number of blogs link to your post or entry, it causes your blog to rise in Google’s search rankings. Blogs can be a great way for small or large organizations to build their reputation, showcase their expertise, highlight their product or service, and help improve your Search Engine Optimization by drawing audiences to your website.They also provide a more personal way of communicating with your customers or other target audiences, giving you an opportunity to obtain constant feedback from them.

Social Networking: Social networking sites operate on the simple premise of building a profile and connecting, interacting and sharing information with “friends” over the network. Popular social networks include Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn, all of which allow you to create or join communities, start discussions and share information with people who are interested in connecting or in learning more about you. Facebook, which has more than 200 million users worldwide, also allows you to build your own business fan page and create your own targeted ads, applications or platforms, which can serve as a great marketing tool. LinkedIn, another popular site, is particularly known for professional networking, where you can create a profile, and also display recommendations or testimonials from clients or former employers, ask and answer questions on business-related topics and create or join a professional networking group.

Microblogs: Twitter, the most popular microblogging tool, is a free service that allows members to send short messages or updates that are 140 characters or less. The message is sent to people’s “followers” or people who are interested in what the person has to say or share. Twitter can be a useful tool to drive people to your blog, Web site or Facebook profile by posting a URL every time you update them or want to inform people of a latest event or company news. Since it only consists of short updates, Twitter can often be easier to keep up with, as compared with blogging, and still help you connect and network with current or prospective customers. Many organizations use Twitter for customer service and as a quick way to monitor what others are saying about their brand.

RSS/Social Tagging/Social Bookmarking: Creating content through blogs, podcasts, wikis and videos is just one aspect of social media. The other aspect is to make content easy to access, search and consume when the need arises. Social media tools like RSS feeds, social tagging and bookmarking bring order to the chaos of social media content.

RSS or Really Simple Syndication allows people to subscribe to online news, blogs, podcasts and other information, bringing updates to them instead of having to visit different blogs and sites. Many experts cite RSS as the most important social media tool due to its ability to aggregate different sources, syndicate to a single view and publish instantly to an audience of subscribers.

Social tagging involves adding “tags,” which are keywords or descriptive phrases given to digital information by users so it can be easily stored, sorted and searched. Digg is an example of a site where users can tag articles they like and select the category they should be placed in.

Social bookmarking allows users to mark a page or Web site they find useful and may want to remember or share with others. The bookmarks can be made public or shared privately and can be viewed chronologically, by category or via tags. Using a downloadable application like Del.icio.us, you can bookmark a Web site and classify it using any tag you want. Other visitors to the Web site can not only see your tags, but can also search other sites with the same tag.

As is evident, different social media tools achieve different objectives, and to select the right social media tool, it is important to first clearly define your objective. At PRMG, we help clients evaluate their objectives and integrate social media into their overall communication and marketing strategy, helping them achieve their business goals better, faster and more efficiently.

For more information on our social media and digital marketing services, contact us at (631) 207-1057 or email at: johnzaher@theprmg.com.

How Small Businesses Can Tap Into Social Media

Search for “Will It Blend” on Google and the top result will throw up Blendtec, a Utah-based company that manufactures a $399 heavy-duty blender. George Wright, Blendtec’s marketing director, conceived the idea of creating a video series where the company’s founder attempts to blend various unusual items (a hockey stick, cubic zirconia and even an Apple iPhone) to demonstrate the sheer power of the blender. The videos, which cost a few hundred dollars, were posted on free social media sites like YouTube and Digg, generating six million downloads and 10,000 comments in just a week. Following the first few videos, sales at Blendtec went up by 20 percent, followed by appearances on national television shows.

Blendtec offers a great example of how small businesses can exploit the power of social media to drive business results. Before the rise of social media, most organizations needed to either buy expensive advertising or receive media coverage to attract the attention of their customers. The Web, however, acts as a great equalizer and creates opportunities for both big and small companies to build brands virtually and interact directly with customers and other target audiences.

Today, most consumers look for the right product or service to satisfy their needs when they are online, and using tools like Web sites, podcasts, blogs, microblogs and social networks, you can deliver useful content to your audience when they are seeking it versus one-way interruptions through advertising or direct mail messages.

Getting started with social media:

Listen

The first step should be to listen to what your customers or prospects are saying about you by monitoring online conversations on blogs, social networks, forums and microblogs like Twitter. This will eliminate the need for conducting expensive research to understand your customers’ needs and perception of your brand. Listening will also help to learn about your industry and competitors. 

Using these insights, your organization must define its goals and develop a social media strategy to determine whom you want to target and how you want to reach them. Tools like Google Blog Search and Technorati can help you identify influencers and blogs relevant to your business or company, while an RSS reader can provide regular updates from various websites on specific subjects. 

Participate

Once you have defined your social media strategy, the next step is to participate in these conversations. You can tweet company news or events, leave comments on blog posts, start discussions and ask or respond to questions. While engaging in online conversations, it is important to be personal, authentic and transparent. Social media tools should not be used as just another channel to spread the “corporate message” but to put a face to your company and to build relationships with customers, employees and prospects. 

You can also use social media tools to drive and influence media coverage by connecting with journalists and influential bloggers who look for sources and story ideas over social media channels. Dell’s Guide to Social Media for Small Businesses offers a good example of this. Pinder, an online retailer of lightweight, stylish laptop and computer bags, identified and reached out to an influential marketing blogger, who reviewed a sample of the company’s latest laptop sleeve. After she wrote about the product on her blog, Pinder’s sales went up 30 percent. 

Sustaining conversations with social media tools takes both time and effort, but it can work wonders for your brand and company, if used correctly. As David M. Scott, a virtual marketing strategist and well-known author says, “Word-of-mouse is the single most empowering tool available to marketers today.”

*Sources: Dell’s Guide to Social Media

The New Rules of Marketing and PR by David M. Scott