Hard to believe, but Twitter is now five years old. With more than 300 million users, it’s the fastest growing medium in history.
For SMEs, the opportunities that it and other social media networks present are enormous. But there’s plenty of scope for problems too.
Part of the trouble is that you might have hundreds or even thousands of customers using social media to discuss your brand, but to engage and interact with them on behalf of the business there’s only you and your staff.
Thankfully, there are new technologies (and more in the pipeline) that will help you to get a handle on social media.
Here are a few that might be useful:
Post everywhere at once
One of the problems of social media is its diversity. Individually managing a Facebook page, a Twitter account and a Google+ profile is hard work.
Autopost services such as Posterous are the solution, allowing you to share content across multiple social media accounts simultaneously.
Measure your impact
Understanding how and where your social media investment is working is key to achieving results.
When sending links in your tweets, one way to measure how many times people are visiting them is to use the bit.ly URL shortener. You can append a ‘+’ symbol to any link it generates to see how many clicks that link has received, at what times and from what sources. If you’re going to post a deal to your followers, it’s an easy way to measure the reaction you get.
To maximise your exposure, you might also consider using a service like Tweriod which will analyse your followers’ timelines to tell you the most effective time to tweet.
Control your message
Gaffes are not uncommon in social media, and some businesses worry about allowing staff to post updates on their behalf. At the same time, a vital aspect of social media is its immediacy and responsiveness, and sharing responsibility amongst a team of responders is way to achieve this.
A soon-to-launch service that is promising to help out here is Bleeply. It’s set to put all tweets on a short time delay, allowing them to be stopped by reviewers if need be.
Get a Social CRM
Social CRM has been a big topic in 2011, with many vendors of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platforms trumpeting social features.
Exactly what Social CRM is depends on your business, but the essential idea is to integrate social media into your customer relations tools, whether through following (and intervening in) online conversations, or by fielding service and support requests.
It’s about allowing customers to set the agenda and putting them in control of their relationship with you.
Common features of Social CRM software include being able to moderate your Facebook, Twitter and YouTube pages, as well as identifying your customers across social networks and determining who are the most influential.
SMEs are in a particularly good position to maximise the potential of Social CRM because much of its utility requires business flexibility, especially in regard to roles and responsibilities.
Social media is changing the way that businesses and customers interact. Gone are the days when businesses could tightly control their image. Today, image is in the hands of customers, and social media tools and technologies are trying to keep up.
If your business isn’t already, kick off 2012 by investing in the processes and platforms that will make you part of the conversation. If there are any tools you can recommend, why not share below.
Dave Stevens is MD, Brennan IT
(This blog post was first published on the SmartCompany website on December 22 2011).