Resolve to Make 2014 the Year You Finally Harness the Power of Social Media Marketing

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Whether you make New Year’s resolutions religiously or scoff at the mere mention of them, it’s hard not to get swept up by the promise and excitement of a fresh start. If your business suffered from a lacklustre online presence in 2013, now’s the time to wipe the proverbial slate clean, reenergize and take steps to do something about it. For many organizations, change should start with social media marketing, which is sure to play a big role in 2014.

Plan, but don’t become predictable

As with any major undertaking, planning is a worthwhile investment. Marketing strategies help companies avoid wasting time and resources, but they also provide the focus needed to make a formidable task look manageable. If you’re put off by the thought of wading into the ever-changing world of social media marketing, then it’s easier just to stick with what you know—and that doesn’t bode well for making progress.

Before you can begin planning, take time to study what others have done, even if they fall well outside your industry. Learn from the studs, learn from the duds, but always view things from the perspective of your specific target market—what will it take to pique their interest, to get them to come back time after time? In the vast majority of cases the answer isn’t simple. But marketing strategies are designed to help businesses convert “likes” and “follows” into leads and sales, the success of which rests heavily on the power of content.

A large part of social media’s appeal is spontaneity, the off-the-cuff remarks and decisions that make life online more interesting. In fact, users commonly complain about businesses that establish a script and stick to it as if their life depended on it. Sure, brand reputation should be held as sacred, but social media marketing can accomplish so much more if it works the way individuals use it, and in line with the expectations individuals have of it. At the outset be sure to establish guidelines of usage, voice and frequency of posts so that everyone is on the same page. However, do try to find a balance that will allow for personality to shine through.

Tone down the sales talk

There’s been a lot of chatter about the 80/20 rule for social media marketing, and after comparing success stories to failures it’s clear why. The idea is that by limiting overtly promotional content—that is, content that tries to sell—to approximately 20 percent of your social media output and filling the rest with truly valuable, useful content, you can grab and hold the interest of your target audience. The remaining 80 percent could be advice, links to relevant news items, user-generated content—anything that engages without asking for something in return.

Think about it: you wouldn’t go to a party only to drone on about yourself—you would probably ask questions, mingle and yes, throw in the occasional witty anecdote. In social media as in party-going, being an insufferable blowhard will drive all the guests away, even if you are the host.

Most failed social media marketing campaigns result from a fundamental misunderstanding. Rather than view it as a conversation or meeting place, some businesses simply pick up and transport their established marketing voice to another channel—there is no conversation, no back and forth, no exchanging of ideas. While it’s true that some brands have taken a hit for impulsive remarks, it’s also true that the most successful and celebrated approaches to social media marketing were the ones that delivered something unexpected—and in many cases that meant unscripted.

Pick your spots

With so many different channels and types of content at your disposal, you’ll have to decide where to invest time and effort. This comes back to marketing strategies, which must get to the core of the brand and the target audience. Images, especially ones that aren’t too heavy, encourage sharing via social media and can be used to convey a lot of information in a relatively small space.

But videos are quickly becoming the medium of choice for all sorts of social media marketing campaigns, with all sorts of creative means of expression. One trait shared by the most popular videos is the lack of blatant marketing content—the story is front and centre, not the advertising spiel. A lot of companies both big and small have found unique ways to highlight their brand in video form, to the point that it feels like entertainment rather than a sales pitch.

If you feel your brand doesn’t lend itself well to the art of video, focus instead on the way everyday people use or benefit from your product. This not only creates a positive association for your brand, it shows an understanding of the human element.

There’s no hard and fast rule on video length, but generally shorter is more conducive to sharing. Vine, an app that plays six-second videos, is ideal for sharing the funny, the awe-inspiring or the simply outlandish. Image-centric channels such as Pinterest and increasingly Google Plus are also a good bet for social media marketing campaigns in 2014.

Ultimately, though, your brand will need to carve a niche for itself if this year is to be any different than the last.

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