Getting started

1. Determine your goals

It’s easy to say that companies should have a social media presence but without a clear plan that activity is unlikely to be effective. Without specific aims your posts will just add to the already significant noise on social networks. At best you’ll be ignored, at worst you will actively annoy people.

So begin by deciding what you want to achieve: do you want to raise awareness of your brand or a new product? Do you plan to use these channels for customer relations? Are you hoping to attract new customers, increase sales or drive traffic to your website? You might want to do all of those things but work out your primary goal and make that the core of your activity.

2. Know where to find your audience

Once you have a plan, you need to decide where to publish. Big brands will probably find that their customers or potential customers are spread across most social networks and will need a coordinated plan to reach all of them. That means Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Tumblr and so on. Smaller companies, or those with fewer resources to devote to social media, will need to prioritise.

Your strategy will be affected by the site – or sites – you target. What works on Facebook doesn’t necessarily work on Twitter and vice versa. And both are crowded. If you have a lot of visual content then you might want to focus on Pinterest, which is a newer site. If you have in-house experts who are good at explaining complicated things then perhaps a YouTube channel is the best outlet.

Setting a tone

3. Be human

Social networks are about people. Think of Twitter or Facebook as being like a cafe filled with people talking about their interests. If you plan to take your brand into that environment then you need a human tone and not one that sounds like a press release or a marketing slogan. That doesn’t necessarily mean that your tone should be casual; business users of LinkedIn will expect a more formal approach than Facebook users, for example.

4. Be transparent (but discreet)

If something has gone wrong and customers are upset then be as open about the problem as you can. That doesn’t mean that you should reveal commercially sensitive information or expose individual employees to the anger of your customers but you should be as informative as possible. Companies often default to secrecy, particularly when dealing with a problem, but customers want to understand what has happened and know what is being done to fix it.

5. Emphasise your expertise

The point of a social media presence is to improve your business and its reputation but that doesn’t mean limiting what you publish to promotional messages and crisis communications. Posts that highlight your expertise within your industry can boost your brand. They deepen your relationship with customers but are also the kind of material that non-customers want to share. This doesn’t mean you need to give away trade secrets. Instead, ask yourself what people don’t understand about your industry and explain it. Or consider the questions you are most often asked by customers and publish posts explaining the answers. Remember to make your posts fit the tone of the community you are talking to and don’t just republish the FAQs from your website.

Read Top ten social media tips for businesses: Part 2.

Author: Shane Richmond is a specialist in digital media who writes about technology for the Forum:Blog.

Image: Staff monitor social networks at Nestle’s headquarters in Switzerland REUTERS/Denis Balibouse