smartphone with social media bubbles (like, tweet, friend, shareFrazzled by Facebook? Tortured by Twitter? Panicked by Pinterest? Well relax! Here is your guide to getting going with Social Media and using it to get and keep customers for your business.

So let’s start with some definitions. What is Social Media? In a nutshell it’s content that is created for and created by everyday people. So it might be a photo shared on Facebook, a comment on a blog site re a recent product purchase or a conversation on Twitter. These are all examples of Social Media. We’ll review the individual channels in detail in coming months.

People will be using different social media channels depending on what they are doing. LinkedIn is a social media channel used predominantly by business people for networking whilst Facebook is more consumer focused. Twitter sits somewhere in the middle. But business people do have a private life and so could also be using Facebook to communicate with friends and family. Pinterest is a great channel if you have great images and photography to share.

This is why it’s important to know who your perfect prospect is.

It’s also important not to spread yourself too thinly. A good social media plan takes time and you’re better off focusing on 1 or 2 channels that you can do properly rather than several which you can only get to once a week. Because using social media is all about starting a conversation with your target audience and your current customers. And no-one wants a conversation with someone who goes quiet for a week!

Your aim is to use the chosen networks to influence the participants. To understand how social influence works, you need to look at how people are influenced face to face. After all social influence isn’t new. People have been asking for recommendations, advice and commenting on what they’ve bought and where they’ve been long before the web was invented.

And the higher the value of the purchase or the importance of the decision the more information people will seek in their decision making phase. Think about the research parents do when deciding on which schools to send their children to.

Another reason why it’s worth putting effort into social media is because a positive presence on social media can help at all stages of the decision making process. The four stages are

Attention -> interest -> Desire -> Action

Your perfect prospects need to be aware of the product or service that you offer, then they need to be interested. Then they need to want it. And finally take action to buy it!

You can see I’m sure how social media can be used to promote your product.

No matter which social media channel you use it’s important that you use it appropriately. If all you do is sell, sell, sell then you’ll turn prospects off. You need to build the relationship so they get to know, like and trust you. This might take time but is worth it. But that doesn’t mean that you should sell – you just need to get the balance right. A good rule of thumb is for about a third of your posts to be useful and engaging content, a third responding to comments and a third making offers. You want to appeal to prospect and current customers to they see that they’ve made a good decision buying from you and come back again.

You can plan your content in advance – we recommend a two week schedule. Think about events that you can refer to such as bank holidays, sporting events and so forth. Are there sites you can visit to pick up trends and statistics in your area? For a more news based approach visit sites such as mashable.com. The aim is to develop an educational approach combined with your brand personality. That’s the way that you will become known, liked and most importantly trusted.

Responding to comments needs to happen in a timely manner. The idea is to continue the conversation. This is best done by noting when you get most interaction on social media and scheduling to be online at this time every day. A common mistake is to be online when suits you rather than your prospects and customers. 10am might suit you but if most of the posted comments are in the evening then you or someone in your business needs to be online then.

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