sm1We are probably still only at the beginning of the social media marketing story as its landscape is continually evolving. Businesses are experimenting and adjusting their social media strategy constantly in order to find the best mix to meet their goals.

Developing and implementing a social media marketing plan is a long-term strategy that requires persistence and patience for achieving success. The strategy can be enhanced with short-term tactics, but taking care of the basics, including reading, creating, sharing and discussing, is a must:

1.   Read

An effective social media marketing plan starts with research and requires a lot of on-going and constant reading to make sure that you are not only aware of what’s going on in  your industry, but about the current online conversations related to your industry, business, products, services, customers, and competitors. Indeed, you should try to digest as  much information as possible on a daily basis, to be able to communicate with your audience honestly and intelligently. Stay up-to-date by reading industry websites, news sites,  press releases; blogs that relate to your business directly or indirectly, written by industry experts, companies, or consumers; industry periodicals (online and offline) or e-books;  Twitter feeds by renowned people in your industry or online videos or podcasts; and last but not least printed newspapers and periodicals as they are still around.

2.    Create

Most social media experts suggest that creating content is the most important part of any social media marketing plan. It is hard to start good online conversations, but you have to share them to become successful in this field. Keep in mind, creating amazing content goes deeper than sharing just useful snippets such as coupon codes and discount announcements. Instead, amazing content truly adds value to the audience and the online conversation, so make sure that you write it in your own voice for making it personal. Thus, use the same language and tone in which you speak to your target audience while maintaining the level of professionalism that matches your target audience’s expectation. Further, make sure that your content is published consistently, that your content is devoid of corporate rhetoric and jargon that confuses the target audience, and that your content is transparent, meaning the target audience views it as open, honest, reliable, and trustworthy.

3.    Share

When most people think about marketing, they think of direct advertising and promotional methods, however, social media marketing adds new elements to the marketing mix based on behavior related to sharing. In a world that has become somewhat cynical and distrusting of advertising, consumers have come to depend more than ever on relationships, reviews, recommendations, and conversations. In essence, the social Web brought behavioural targeting to the forefront of marketing strategies after decades of reliance on demographic targeting. There is not just one type of content you can share, nor is there a single audience with whom you can share that content. Just as you use different traditional marketing tactics and messages to promote your business to different segments of your customer audience, so you should share different types of content with applicable segments of your online audience. You can share, for instance, content that you created, upload presentations through Slideshare, videos on YouTube, and pictures on Flickr, and you can also share your own content that you published online through different social media tools.

4.    Discuss

As you created and share more and more content online, your online audience will grow organically and hopefully become your loyal followers. The more you engage them by creating and sharing amazing content, the more they are likely to vocalize their appreciation, thoughts, and opinions – both positive or negative. And if your audience interacts with you by leaving comments on one of your social blog posts, sharing your content, connecting with you via Twitter or social networking etc., it is essential that you respond to them. No one likes to be ignored, but everyone likes to be acknowledged positively. In other words, show your audience that you appreciate them, respect their opinions, and that you want to build relationships with them. Keep in mind that the power of social media marketing comes from your loyal audience members, who often become your vocal brand advocates and brand guardians. Their collective voices can champion your brand and protect it by speaking out against negative and false information. It’s this power that has caused the Internet to evolve from a navigational and transactional destination to an audience-centric destination offering immense opportunity for word-of-mouth marketing.

Many of the most popular social media experts claim that their success came primarily from building loyal followers, that it started with great content and grew because they responded to all comments left on their blogs and social networking interactions. They also answered all e-mail and made themselves accessible to their audiences by showing audience members that they are valued. Maybe you want to give it a try, too?

By Daniela La Marca