I feel awkward “tweeting”. I don’t like Facebook. I’ve never even opened Instagram and please tell me, what on earth is Pinterest?  In fact, I’ve been ignoring most social media for years. I’ve deleted the constant friend requests and pokes, ignored status updates and been horrified at the amount of personal oversharing that friends and acquaintances choose to make public. Frankly, I was hoping it would all just go away.

After my recent trip to Silicon Valley with 10 amazing entrepreneurial women, visiting some of the most innovative and fast growing companies in the US, I resolved to pull my head out and look at social media more seriously and what it could do for my business and that of my clients.

On my return I arranged for the next gemaker team catch-up to include an introduction to social media with the Creative Collective’s Zoe Wyatt.  Our session finally woke me up to the fact that, as a business person, if you’re not engaging with social media, you’re going to get left behind.

First of all, it’s important to realise that there are literally billions of people on social media across the world. And among those billions is, undoubtedly, a wealth of prospective clients that you may never have been able to access prior to the rise of the internet. So how do you go from social media luddite to lover of social media? How do you take the inevitable time suck of staring at people’s Facebook updates and turn it into something productive?

Firstly, identify your goal

Do you want to generate new business? Position yourself as a thought leader in your field? Create a community of like-minded professionals to share new ideas? Your first step should be to understand what you’re trying to achieve. While Australian companies have been slow to adopt social media as a business tool, many more have taken it up without a basic strategy in mind.

Next, choose your platforms

Once you’ve articulated your business goals, the next step is to work out which platforms will help you achieve those goals. Don’t be overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of social media tools out there – find out where your clients are (ask them), and where your prospective clients are likely to be, and go there. Create a client profile – that is, an outline of your ideal client (everything from age and gender to professional sector and company size) – to help you work out where they’re likely to be spending their time online. For gemaker, Twitter and LinkedIn quickly emerged as the frontrunners. The majority of our client base is in the male-dominated tech, mining, start-up, and R&D sectors and so we worked out that many were already on LinkedIn, some were on Twitter and most were unlikely to be using Pinterest and Facebook.

Next, work out how much you’re willing to invest

The key to maximising your investment is finding the sweet spot between the time you put in and the benefit you get out. So, like any other marketing tool track your progress with analytics: How much time are you investing? What sort of returns are you getting? Are your target audiences being responsive? Is it generating new business for you?

Set up a posting schedule

When and how often you post is crucial to the effectiveness of your social media campaigns. According to Zoe, there’s a tried and true formula that users should adhere to, and it’s based on the fact that each social media platform has a different lifespan:

  • Twitter – tweets have a lifespan of a couple of hours, tops. Be prepared to post three to five times a day.
  • Facebook – a Facebook post will hang around in someone’s news feed for up to about 24 hours. Don’t post more than once a day, unless you want a reputation for being a nuisance!
  • LinkedIn – A LinkedIn post has a lifespan of a few days, so (remembering that many of your contacts will have hundreds of connections whose news they have to trawl through) aiming to post once a week is more than adequate.

What should you post?

Again, there’s a formula for this. Posting on social media is about making your voice heard and raising people’s awareness of your company – but don’t make the mistake of thinking that people want you flogging stuff to them every minute of the day. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Sales pitches make people switch off, so use your social media account as an opportunity to connect, share knowledge and help boost the profiles of those in your network.

According to Zoe, your posts should be:

  • 30% promotion of others – suppliers, affiliates businesses and charities
  • 30 % of information that is relevant to your target audience – links, articles, videos etc.
  • 30% self-promotion – that is, messages with sales content
  • 10% inspirational content – quotes, photos and other things that make your audience smile

Okay – but really, what’s the point?

But the question remains: Why bother investing hours into a form of communication that for anyone born after Gen Y seems like an indulgent waste of time?

The first answer is, because if you don’t control your public image, someone else will. Being on social media means being aware of who’s talking about you and what they’re saying, and being responsive to that feedback. It means presenting your business in the way you want it to be perceived, rather than letting the brand reputation be built by others.

The second answer is  – and as a social media luddite, I can’t quite believe I’m about to say this – because social media offers some amazing potential to forge new business connections, access expertise/market research and reach out to prospective clients might previously have been beyond your grasp. You just have to be willing to embrace the potential.

What can I get out of Social Media that is useful?

  • Linkedin: Building networks, sharing information, referring business, gathering market research data communicating with like-minded individuals in groups and recruiting
  • Facebook: Handy for connecting to a younger and less formal client base than those you find on business-oriented platforms like LinkedIn.
  • Twitter: Great for conducting real-time market research on technology, companies or topics of interest.
  • Pinterest: Great for keeping & sharing great resources on boards i.e. diagrams, infographics, articles.
  • Instagram: Good for sharing photos of our clients’ new disruptive technologies, events or construction of facilities
  • Hootsuite: Useful for managing multiple social media tools efficiently.
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