How to Market Your Business with Social Media -- Our Top 6 Tips!

This interesting powerful business guest article is courtesy of the "Internet Marketing Center". I hope you'll enjoy.

If you want to have a successful online business, you can no longer afford to ignore social media.
Whether you're talking about sites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, or the millions of blogs, forums, and groups that exist online, social media continues to dominate the Internet landscape.
If you want to be a part of the conversation then you need to know how to use these sites effectively to engage with your audience and build authentic relationships with them.
In this article, you'll learn our top six tips on how to do just that... But first, let's talk about why a social media presence is so important to your business.

What You Need to Know about Social Media
According to Nielsen Research, social networking has become the fourth most popular online activity -- surpassing even email!

In fact, an incredible two-thirds of all Internet users regularly visit social media sites.
Check out these stats:

* Social networking sites and blogs are the #1 most visited category of websites
* As of February 2010, Facebook had over 400 million registered users
* Twitter users send over 50 million tweets a day to each other.
* In December 2009, global users spent five and half hours on sites such as Facebook and Twitter -- an 82% increase from the same time last year.
* In the U.S. alone, 142.1 million unique visitors went to a blog or social networking site in December 2009
Because of their growing popularity, social media sites have become an especially attractive marketing tool for both online and offline businesses.

By engaging with customers through a blog or Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube, businesses can spread the word about their business to their target audience, manage their online reputation -- and cultivate a deeper relationship with their established customer base.

And the most amazing thing? Most social media users welcome a closer relationship with the businesses they enjoy.

According to Cone Research and Insights, 85% of social media users want their favorite businesses to actively engage with them through social media.

But here's where it gets tricky.

There is a right way to engage with people on social media sites -- and there is a wrong way.
The right way will help you cultivate a meaningful relationship with your audience, and convert interested visitors into lifelong loyal buyers. The wrong way will inevitably drive people away... and could even provoke them to badmouth your business to others.

Yikes!

To help you avoid that fate, here are our top six "rules of engagement" on how to use social media the right way...

Rule 1: Do Your Research

Before you dive into the world of social media, do some research to discover which sites are most popular with your audience. Are they spending time on Facebook or on Twitter? Are there any popular forums or blogs they tend to visit and comment on?

All the major social media websites have search tools that allow you to search on your keywords to find users and groups talking about the things you're interested in.

To find forums and discussion boards, enter your keywords into Google with "discussion" or "forum" tacked at the end. Google will point you to groups where your market might be hanging out.

Then plug your keywords into Google BlogSearch to find blogs with content relevant to your business. Once you discover some good ones, remember to check their blogrolls -- the list of other blogs they link to in their sidebar, or on a separate page on their site -- for more great spots to check out.

Make a list of the places where you find the greatest representation of your target market -- and then you're ready to get started.

We recommend you spend some time checking out the discussions already in progress, joining relevant groups, following and "friending" interesting folks you meet, and building up your identity as a trusted participant by providing solid ideas and information (without a pitch!)

And don't worry about joining every single group you discover -- start with three or four to help you get your feet wet, and then expand your presence from there.

If you try to become involved in too many communities at once you might find yourself overwhelmed before you even discover the potential of social media for your business!

Rule 2: Create an interesting, memorable profile

Now let's talk about how to set up an engaging presence that builds trust in your potential customers right away.

In your profile on each social media site, be sure to include:
* a friendly picture of yourself (or your company logo)
* a pitch-free description of your business
* your website URL
* ...along with some non-salesy information about your interests and passions to confirm to potential new connections that you're a real person worth getting to know!

In fact, we recommend you use the same information and photo or logo for all your profiles -- that way, people who meet you at one site will be able to easily connect with you at another!
As you start to engage with people on a social media site, make it your goal to maintain a warm, helpful, professional stance. By offering friendly advice and tips, and pointing them to places they can find more useful or interesting information, you will gather a loyal community of people who value your input and trust your recommendations.

Rule 3: Listen before you talk

When you sign up for a social media site, blog, or forum, take some time to listen first.
If you jump into the conversation with a sales pitch, and start blasting people with messages about how great your product is, they're going to react in exactly the same way that people would if you started handing out business cards and trying to score new customers at a friend's casual dinner party.
Spend some time reading posts, messages and tweets -- and while you do, ask yourself the following questions:

* What are people most excited about?
* What topics come up again and again -- and why?
* What are the most common problems people are facing?
* What problems aren't being solved by existing products?
* What are your market's biggest frustrations?
* What products are they talking about -- for better or for worse?

By listening first, you'll get a feel for the tone of the conversations already in progress, which will help you strike the right note when it comes time to join in.

You'll also send the message that you value the information and opinions people are sharing with one another... and that you're not just there to do a “drive by” sales pitch.

Now, if you find people speaking directly about YOUR product or service, it will undoubtedly be tempting to jump in right away and respond to them.

If their comments are positive, feel free to offer a quick “thank you!” or note of appreciation.
If their comments are negative, however, respond politely and briefly to let your customer know you want to provide them with a positive experience -- and then take the time to write an email or send a private note offering assistance or support.

Disputing their account publicly or engaging in a war of words will only make you and your business look bad -- which is exactly the opposite of what you're trying to do. 

Rule 4: Engage with your market -- don't just try to sell to them

To understand the true value of social marketing, you need to understand why people spend time hanging out at social websites.

Generally, they're seeking diversion and entertainment, or pursuing information about their passions and interests. Popular activities include...

* corresponding with friends and family
* meeting and socializing with online friends
* watching funny or informative videos
* recommending interesting articles to fellow readers
* listening to entertaining podcasts
* playing addictive real-time games
... In other words, they're looking for FUN -- and not for something to buy.

And they can smell a "pitch" a mile away.

If you're planning to waltz into an online community and start talking about your product and how great it is, you'll likely end up getting nothing but the cold shoulder in response!
Instead, spend time observing how people interact with each other, and tuning into their conversations -- and then follow their lead. Make it your mission to provide lots of useful free advice and interesting information, and you'll generate a much warmer welcome from your new online friends.

Rule 5: Give them information they WANT

Once you've done some listening, you can start sharing information with your market through social media -- as long as you focus on providing value above all else.

Here's what we mean...

* Give expert advice: Establish your expertise by answering common questions about your industry, and offering valuable information in related discussions and groups. That doesn't mean, however, that you should answer every question by pointing to your product, even if it seems like the most obvious solution!
You want to earn trust first... and let that lead naturally to sales.
* Share thoughts about your industry: Share your own ideas about what's happening in your industry through blog posts, microblogs and group posts. Start discussions that matter to you, and invite other people to share their ideas alongside yours.
* Be transparent about your company information and mission: Share who you are, how you got started in your industry, and your passion for what you do and why you do it.
* Spread public relations-style information: Put the word out about new product releases, new product features, press mentions or awards you've received.
* Provide great customer service: Post common problem solutions, product bulletins, problem solving, best practices, training and tips for using your products. Don't be scared to solve a customer's problem publicly if they post it publicly. It's not a bad thing for customers to see that you stand behind your products, and that you're eager to solve problems!
* Tell customer stories (with permission!): Share stories of people who have had positive experiences with your products, or have overcome difficulties as a result of using your products.
* Have a little fun: Post games, contests, and interesting pictures or videos related to your products or industry.
* Offer special deals: Create offers just for your social media "friends" -- but not with a heavy pitch, please! Just a link with a discount code will do -- let your site speak for itself!
* Encourage feedback and research your market: Questions, polls and surveys targeted towards your community or customers can be a great way of getting great market research data, product feedback, and information about the right direction for your business to head in future.

Rule 6: Participate!

If you want to build up a loyal community on social media sites, you have to focus above all else on being someone worth knowing.

People are drawn to those who care about what they have to say, and who contribute in valuable ways to the conversations that matter to them. If you respond promptly and politely to people, and provide great information, they'll love you.

On the other hand, if you only participate sporadically, and neglect to offer information people find entertaining or helpful, you'll find yourself hard-pressed to establish a connection.
Above all, when you communicate with your audience on social media sites, the most important thing is not to sound "spammy." It's perfectly fine to let people know what you do and what you offer -- but not to hit them over the head with a sales pitch.

Few people head to social media websites looking directly for items to purchase -- but they do appreciate coming across people who provide great information and great service. And if they are looking directly for product or service recommendations, your active presence and solid reputation will put you at the top of everyone's list.

That's the power of social media!

If you want to learn more about how to master this powerful source of free traffic and word-of-mouth advertising, next week's issue of StartUp features in-depth strategies on how to build a loyal community using social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
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