We are surrounded by social media. Everyone is talking about it, living it and breathing it on a daily basis – it doesn’t take a genius to figure that out. It’s easy for us to use and we can transform almost every single life occurrence – whether large or small – into a broadcast for our world to see – and we love it.

Where the problem lies, however, is how businesses go about discerning how and where social media fits into their business. Experts agree social media plays a part in a businesses’ growth, from a marketing and consumer standpoint but no one really hands out a set of do’s and don’ts when it comes to inserting status updates, tweets, pins & more into a marketplace presence.

The business person who thinks Facebook and Twitter are only good for advertising sales and coupons to a bargain-hunting consumer is sorely mistaken. While Social Media is a good way to disperse those messages, it is not the only messages these platforms are designed to deliver. In fact, I’m one of those believers in the purest form of social media – that it be used to set up relationships, build community and give people a forum to vent, rejoice, share and encourage.

The businesses who truly understand this and don’t just talk AT their friends, connections, followers & the like, end up having repeat visitors, active community participants and likely brand ambassadors. Those who don’t end up with customers who download the coupon, engage in a sale but never really buy into what a brand is all about. If that’s the case, the customer is easily swayed by the next business who offers something better or something more. Loyalty is no deeper than the next deal download.

This is why social media planning is so important to a company’s growth strategy. While it is true any and all businesses can have a page on a variety of social media platforms and they can be updated by whomever decides to take the task, the problem lies in the job of ‘social media manager’ is given to anyone who will take it.

‘Oh, we need a Facebook page. Bubba, go build one and start updating it every single day.’

‘Yeah, OK boss.’

And that’ the extent of the plan.

Businesses who undervalue the importance social media marketing can play into their bottom line are missing out on long-term opportunities and true brand interpretation. A company’s social media communities can easily turn into focus groups, beta testers, sounding boards and even product improvement commissions.

All a company needs to do is set their pages up in such a way where they welcome two-way communication (coupons are one-way communication – you’re telling the consumer to spend), be open to opinion and criticism and send a message with daily posts you are a brand who not only cares, but listens and is involved with the consumer.

It’s not an easy task but a well-studied digital strategist can help even the most amateur social media manager establish a comprehensive plan that is easy to follow, carry out and will pave the road to community that will help you gain brand trust and most of all, loyalty.

Give these a try:

Just because everyone else is doing it, doesn’t mean it’s right for you. This is true in every single walk of life as well as Social Media. There are some forms that just may not lend themselves to be helpful in your business. Just because Pinterest is out there doesn’t mean you have to use it if it is not a natural fit. Choose your outlets wisely. This allows you to allot your time accordingly and fine-tune a strategy to fit your outlets.  It doesn’t mean you’re behind the curve if you don’t use every social media platform. It means you are strategic – especially if you utilize the platforms you are using to their fullest potential.

No one likes a voice that’s off-key. And while you’re not necessarily singing your posts within social media, you are portraying a voice. If it is disjointed, out of brand or just plain ignorant, it can leave a bad sound ringing in the ears of potential clients.

Take the time to decide what the voice of your company is. Are you more professional? Can you have a casual tone? Playful? Establish this voice and know the ins and outs of presenting it when it comes to your social media. Do not downplay the importance of voice. Those who do, end up with mixed messages resonating with no one and annoying everyone.

Work towards a full social calendar. Planning a social media calendar is every bit as important as planning out your business calendar. Your social media communications should help walk-up to important events, help build buzz around regular events that can have brand impact and start associating you with times, events and celebrations you want to be a part of. Think about how your brand, for instance, can play into a Grammys party or a Super Bowl celebration. Start planting the seeds now. You may not have big budget to have a million-dollar ad, but you have the power of your social media community — and it DOES matter.

Plan out a calendar with a few contests, add in a quiz or two and sprinkle in some conversation starters in there. A well-planned social calendar can instill stability and anticipation into your brand’s community.

On an important note though, keep in mind your social media calendar is a document that CAN and WILL change based on situation, brand changes and consumer environment. It is a living, breathing strategic document that bends to the will of what is right for the brand.

Be prepared when things go awry. Managing a businesses’ social media pages is not all flowers and butterflies. It gets rough – especially if the brand receives bad press or if a consumer is unhappy. The social media pages are the first place disgruntled people go to air the company’s or the brand’s dirty laundry.

The worst thing a social media manager can do is ignore it. To be ready for such occurrences, have a set of rules in place that allow a SMM to act swiftly and deliberately in negative situations. Deleting negative comments (unless highly inappropriate or vulgar) is one of the worst things a company can do. Not only do you have to deal with the poster’s issue, but you also have to deal with it in such a way that the majority of your community will approve of.

Walk the line – the guideline, that is. As an active SMM, it is extremely easy to get caught up in the moment and let attitude and snark take over. While some brand voices do include these qualities, it has no place when it comes to criticizing, demeaning or smacking down a potential consumer.

Outline guidelines for response to such situations as well as what is acceptable and not acceptable within your brand’s community. Even if your response to a potential customer is ‘I’m sorry you’ve had a bad experience, can you please contact our customer service center,’ you’ve taken care of the issue and deflected bad community karma.

When it comes to brand marketing, brand perception and social media, WORDS HURT. So always be assured what you are saying falls into your brand and your communities’ guidelines.

These are only a few of the extremely important aspects of planning a truly engaging social media experience. Understanding social media’s place in your business can give a brand a much-needed lift with little-to-no investment. The strategic planning of social media’s role in your business is vital.

Because whether you believe it or not, someone somewhere is always talking, tweeting, pinning or otherwise discussing your business or brand. It’s up to you to shape the conversation.

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