Successful Social Media Marketing

 A lot of people ask me why I'm so successful with connecting with my tribe via social media. It's a great question, because it lets us explore how useful social media can be - and how to utilize it without broadcasting endless pitches to people, but actually engage them and provide true value.

Here are my seven secrets that transcend all social media platforms and allow you to apply them in ways that grow your business, no matter what field you are in:

1) Be Findable
You have to take your business where the people are and be in the relevant conversations. And in today's world, the relevant conversations are taking place on social media.

The particular platforms will be different for different businesses. Someone in the corporate arena needs to be on LinkedIn while a band would still be a better candidate for a page on MySpace. The criterion for deciding which social media platforms you need to be on is simple: where are your customers and prospects hanging out today?

Once you know what those platforms are, make sure you have a presence on them and are contributing to the community there. Be certain that when prospects are looking for your area of expertise, you can be found.

2) Have an Attitude, Yo
If you're a business that sells accounting programs for accountants, you probably have a certain vibe on your website and other marketing materials. If you sell exotic automobiles or couture fashion, your vibe would be quite different. Whatever that vibe is, it should bleed through to all your social media accounts.

This attitude should show up in all your graphics, such as the header and pictures on your Facebook Fan Page, your avatar pic and wrap on your Twitter page, and even the style of your headshot on your LinkedIn profile.

I can't count how many times someone has messaged me or shared one of my posts, and when I click through to their page to see if I should be following back, I find... nothing. No picture, no bio, not even the city they live in. If you're in the witness protection program, you probably shouldn't be on social media in the first place. But if you are hoping to use social media to build your brand, expand your reach, or actually make money, give us something to go on.

You can start with a pic! If we go to your Twitter page and there's only a colored egg where your face should be, it's like a billboard that says, "Hi, I'm Amish, and I'm checking to see if this computer fad is gonna last." Even 97-year-old mammies are emailing pix of their great-grandkids. If you don't know how to upload a photo, ask someone.

Make it a real photo of you, not your dog or cat or llama. And please, post a current one. (Don't be one of those people who sends a pic and shows up 15 years later!) We want to know who we're conversing with. Likewise with caricatures or icons. Use them only if they really are an essential part of your branding.

And by the way, for many of you reading this, your avatar should be your logo. But don't just do it mindlessly. Think about who is actually doing the feed and whether a personal photo would be better instead. You can place the logo somewhere else on the page.

The vibe should carry through in the copy as well. Lang Lang's Twitter bio might include the music conservatories he studied at and the orchestras he has performed with. Mick Jagger's, not so much.

Most important, the feel and vibe of your brand should come through strongest in the actual feeds you post. Your feed should be congruent with who you are. If you follow Joel Osteen, you expect inspirational tweets; if you're reading Bill Simmons, you expect occasional doses of snark. Make sure your social media posts are in line with the messaging (and feel) you send through all of your other channels.

3) Engage, Don't Broadcast
There is a reason it is called social media not broadcast media. So stop broadcasting at people and start talking with them. Nobody wants to follow a feed for any business that is nothing but pitches. But if you make your feed valuable and relevant, people don't mind you making an occasional offer for your products or services. Even so, it's always better to present these in the context of the problems they solve for your followers, not the features of what you're selling.

The greatest benefit social media offers is the relationships it allows you to develop with your tribe. Offering real value through your posts is one sure-fire way to make that come about.

What "real value" is will be defined by who you are and what you offer. If you're a home builder, people who follow you would probably love seeing construction and remodeling tips. If you're Bill Maher, real value is probably defined as witty quips.

Post solid content, insightful observations, and intriguing conversations. Engage with your followers, share posts, and be a part of the community.
Here are a couple examples of how you can do just that...

Let's suppose you're an appliance retailer and you have a new model refrigerator for sale. Most businesses would simply start broadcasting sales pitches like "New model X KitchenPro refrigerator available" or start the race to the bottom with discount offers like "Save $100 on the model X KitchenPro refrigerator."

But what if you did a blog or YouTube video about lowering your electricity bill and highlighted the energy savings the new KitchenPro refrigerator offers? What about getting a local nutritionist or chef to write up something on the benefits of eating healthy and mentioning the temperature-controlled crisper drawers, ample storage space, and other benefits of the new refrigerator? You can then do posts linking to the blog, providing something of value and selling your new product at the same time.

Suppose you're a website designer. Sure you can send out some posts announcing that you build websites. But what if you wrote a blog or video instead, providing some case studies of the clients you work with and how they increased their reach and profits with the websites you designed?

You could highlight some of the specific features you created design-wise that helped with search engine optimization, user functionality, or other benefits. Providing tangible case studies and value like this positions you as the definitive expert in your space, and will end up getting you more business.

Yes, an ice cream parlor, pizza place, or yoghurt shop can use social media to trumpet a new flavor. But how much more powerful would it be to create a social media campaign where the customers got to suggest and vote on the flavors they really want? (I get real-time feedback from my followers on social media whenever I write a new book, and the manuscript is always stronger as a result.)

Remember when the Internet was first blowing up, and everyone was talking about the three "Cs" of content, community, and commerce? It's not really that different today. If you write stuff people care about, they follow you. And if you demonstrate that you are part of the community - by conversing, sharing, and offering value - the commerce will naturally happen for you.

If you have a large business, it's likely you will need many different social media accounts managed by different people. An airline might need one Twitter account for customer service, another for elite frequent flier members, a different one offering bargains and specials, and one for flight updates. A university might have one from the dean, a couple dozen from professors, one from the administration, and others from the various sports departments.

4) Know Where to Plant Your Flag
No one can keep up with all the social media platforms out there. Search key words and terms to see where your prospects are having conversations. Look at your best customers and see where they are spending their social media time.

Pick the one or two platforms you like best and concentrate on those. Then, let your tribe know where you spend your time. If you post a YouTube video once a week or once a month, tell them. If you just check Facebook first thing in the morning and then not the rest of the day, put that right in your profile. As you let people know when and where you hang out, they will follow you there.

5) Monitor Your Brand.
Use a third party app like Hootsuite and set up a column that tracks whenever you or your business is mentioned. You'll know what delights clients and be in a position to reward the employees responsible. You'll also know right away when bad things are happening and can jump in to fix them. Such instant feedback is invaluable and provides a roadmap on how to improve both your process and service.

People are going to talk about you on social media whether you want them to or not.
Not listening to them is insane. It never ceases to amaze me how many companies spend millions of dollars on market research and focus groups but are completely tone deaf to social media, where they could get even better information for free.

When a brush fire breaks out in social media and you don't respond to it, it quickly turns into a wildfire and becomes anti-social media for you. When you see a problem early and work to solve it, you can easily turn adversaries into raving fans.

6) Be Real
This comes into play with social media in two ways: Who is making your posts, and the practice of automated or aggregate posts.

Make it absolutely clear who is posting on your account. If we follow a Twitter account or Facebook page for Taco Bell, we assume that the marketing department is writing the updates. If we're following Richard Branson, we expect posts to be from him unless we're told otherwise.

This is a delicate balance to maintain for some CEOs and other public figures. Sir Richard, for instance, has more than three million followers. He can't be expected to reply to every direct message and question. (But don't expect the person who asks a random question to understand that. And Richard actually manages to engage in a remarkable amount of interaction with his followers.)

If you are a public figure with a huge following, model what other public figures like President Obama and singer Keith Urban do. Their feeds are maintained by their staff, but their personal tweets have their initials after them. This type of arrangement works great, because it allows someone's staff to post announcements, upcoming events, or promotions, but also still gives that public figure the ability to connect personally with the followers.

What doesn't work is when an individual sets up a social media account but tries to farm it out to someone else. For example, some tech-shy CEO feels left out because he doesn't have that Twitter thing his grand-kids are talking about. He has his secretary set up a page and post tweets for him. (Probably insipid inspirational quotes.) Because his posts aren't real, there's no connection, and rarely does anything good come from this. Which leads us to auto-posting...

There are tools that allow you to post to multiple platforms at once and schedule updates for later. That's not necessarily a good thing.

Be aware that when you use a service that sends your posts to multiple platforms, you are likely limiting its reach. Sites like Facebook assign posts from aggregators a lower ranking, making them much less likely to appear in the feeds of people who follow you. And people who use these services often aren't mindful of the differences in culture and format between different platforms. Facebook is more personal oriented; LinkedIn is not. Not many posts work well over all the platforms. And lots of content that works great on Facebook is cut off with the character limit on Twitter.

As far as auto-scheduling posts, this is kind of like sending a robot to hand out your business cards at a Chamber of Commerce networking event. It's probably efficient, but is it really likely to produce the results you are looking for?

A dear friend of mine, whom I followed on Twitter, died last year. Unfortunately, I received a number of auto-scheduled tweets from her for three weeks after her death, until her family finally got the account shut down. Those tweets just made me feel the pain of my loss all the more.

That doesn't necessarily mean you should never auto-schedule posts. It may make sense to have certain promos or announcements scheduled at certain times. But a fully automated account is nothing but another broadcast channel blaring at followers, and they'll soon tune out. That auto-scheduled tweet from an airline asking people to vote for their favorite new uniforms for the flight attendants is cute 99 percent of the time. But if it comes out an hour after one of their planes goes down, it makes that company look inept at best, heartless and insensitive at worst. So even when you have innocuous updates scheduled, be mindful of when they may need to be interrupted.

7) Infect Your Advocates
Artists like Jimmy Buffet, Skrillex, and DeadMou5 cut out the middleman and connect with their tribes via social media. Another case study is Aussie teen heartthrob Cody Simpson, who is conquering the world, one tweet at a time. He was discovered by his record company after posting his performances on YouTube. He told USA Today, "Music can only get you so far. My career was built online using Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram, and I find it important to keep up the content and keep my fans hydrated." Cody's seven million followers can't get enough of his music, merchandise, and concert tickets.

Katy Perry is another public figure who uses social media in a powerful way. Last year during the iTunes Festival, she was urging her 43 million-plus Twitter followers to get her latest release to number one, and in exchange she would play a new song they had never heard that night. That is simply brilliant marketing.

Social media allows you to develop relationships with your tribe in a way no other platform does. You can create a connection with the people who love what you do and galvanize them to be evangelical advocates of your brand all through cyber space. Talk with them, listen to them, and ask for their help. You might be amazed by what you start.