One of the most annoying — and false — claims about social media as a marketing strategy is that it’s free. True, you don’t need to pay to open accounts on social media platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and YouTube. And it doesn’t cost anything to post content to these social media sites. But social media is anything but free.

The costs of social media come in the form of time. Time spent developing a social media strategy and goals. Time spent producing content: blog posts, Facebook updates, videos, Tweets. Time spent monitoring and contributing to social media conversations. Time spent measuring the results of your efforts. Who’s going to do all this work when you likely don’t have one person dedicated to social media?

It’s great if you can have a person or team devoted to social media marketing efforts, but many companies don’t have the resources to do this. Which means you have to come up with creative ways to implement a successful social media strategy. Here are some best practices we recommend for industrial marketers who need to use social media but are constrained by limited resources.

1. Be clear on your strategy and goals
If you do your upfront homework on strategy and goals, you’ll be able to apply your limited social media resources in a targeted, effective manner. You won’t waste time or energy on anything that doesn’t fit your strategy. Start with these questions:

• Why is your company using social media? What do you hope to achieve?
• What type of personality or tone is appropriate for your social media presence?
• What social media platforms does your audience use?

Once you answer these questions, you will be able to choose one or a few social media platforms to focus your efforts, and you will know what you want to achieve and how to approach developing content. For example, you may decide that your social media goals are to strengthen relationships with customers. Therefore, you might host an online discussion community for customers, communicate promotions and offer advice through a Facebook page, or produce video interviews with customers.

2. Enlist the help of others
Your company probably has some employees who are astute users of social media and are interested in contributing to your company’s efforts. These employees could be in any department. Recruit them, communicate your social media strategy and goals, and get them to contribute by writing blog entries, responding to mentions of your company in the social media, or Tweeting relevant news. If you can get a team of people to contribute in small ways, the result can be a significant social media presence without burdening any one person too much.

You can also look to your company’s partners or even customers to contribute guest articles and posts. Or consider using a freelancer who is familiar with your industry to contribute content and conversations to your social media efforts. To keep the “virtual team” approach from becoming chaotic, establish a schedule so that everyone knows what they are expected to contribute and when.

3. Ask a lot of questions
An effective way to get social media conversations jump-started and building their own momentum is to ask questions when you post social media content. If you write a blog entry, end with a “call to action” asking readers their opinions. Ask a question at the end of a video, putting it right up on screen. Update your Facebook page with a request for “best practices” from your customers about how they solve problems or use your products. Try tactics like “Question of the Week” or a weekly poll. Then you can share and talk about the results.

If you can get a social media conversation going, your audience will be producing most of the conversational content. That puts you in the position of moderator, prodding additional thoughts, asking follow-up questions, keeping the conversation going — which is more engaging and not as resource-intensive as producing all of the content on your own.

4. Post, Track and Monitor using Free Tools

You also want to consider a platform like HootSuite, TweetDeck or Seesmic that allows just you or multiple users in your company to post to your different social media channels and also monitor your mentions. These platforms all have free versions. A link shortening tool like bitly (also free) is useful for tracking the traffic from the links you share through social media.

There are also many free tools that are available to track and monitor mentions of your company, products and brand as well as key industry terms and trends.

Here are few to get you started:

Google Alerts
Google Alerts are good for picking up blog mentions for your company name and products and other industry keywords.

Social Mention
Social Mention is a social media search engine that searches by keyword – such as brand, company or product name – across social media platforms.

Technorati
Technorati is similar to Social Mention but searches more than one million blogs by keyword.

Twilert
For Twitter, Twilert will send you email updates when someone tweets about your brand, company or products.

Addict-o-matic
Addict-o-matic provides a snapshot of a brand’s impact across the social Web.

Ice Rocket
With Ice Rocket you can track mentions and keywords through blogs, the Web and social media sites.

Read this social media whitepaper
GlobalSpec recently published “Social Media Use in the Industrial Sector.” This white paper, based on the results of a survey of industrial professionals, reports on how your audience uses social media and provides practical social media recommendations for suppliers. Download your copy here.

As an industrial marketer, what are your best practices in your approach to social media? Share them in the comments section.
 

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