Contributed Column

Online Tactics

Developing a social media strategy for your business

We are reading more about the growth of social networking and blogging and user-generated content online and how it will result in better marketing. We read that traditional advertising is dying out and that online methods are growing exponentially. From nightly news to local newspapers engaging with social tactics such as tagging and video blogging, the advent of “social media marketing” is all around us.

Today’s businesses are often left wondering if the traditional methods are gone and how to manage this new world of marketing. It begins with building a social media strategy that focuses on gaining knowledge, keeping your target market in mind, focusing on an integrated approach and evaluation of success.

1. Know the media channels that are available and become familiar with them. The first step in developing a social media strategy is to know what the social media are, and how they are being used.

Set aside time to read about RSS, blogging, social book marketing sites such as Digg and NewsVine, social networks such as MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Each one has the potential to support a business’s marketing strategy, but because they are new and continually evolving it is imperative to keep up.

2. Keep focused on the target market. Traditional marketing methods rely on knowing who the target market is and what media they are consuming. This hasn’t changed, except a marketing strategy must now take into account all the options, including more traditional media such as TV, radio, newspaper, and magazines, and online media such as search engines, MySpace, Facebook, specialty blogs and portal Web sites.

While it may seem overwhelming, if the target market is not using social networking sites, then there is no reason build a presence there. Conversely, if the target market is engaged more online than with traditional TV, radio and newspapers, then it’s time to reach them where they are.

3. Follow an integrated approach. As people divide their time between traditional and online media, it is crucial for marketers to build integrated approaches that bring together all media options. Today’s marketing plan must include both traditional and online methods that carry the same branding across all platforms.

Promoting an event will require more than one news release in the local paper; it must now include online options as well, from banner ads to event postings in social networks. An integrated approach to utilizing all media, whether traditional or online, is going to be the hallmark of marketing success.

4. Evaluate, evaluate, evaluate. When utilizing online media channels, it is important to track how successful they are. Set clear goals and measure often to see if the goals are reached. Using Web analytics provides clear measurement and conversion rates when evaluating a website, ad campaign or blog.

Tap into news alerts through sites such as Google, Yahoo! and MSN in order to track online mentions and be sure to link traditional marketing and online marketing. In print ads drive people to the website. On the website, offer coupons or other incentives to engage. In this way a business can track its success in many ways.

When considering social media, it is important to start with the knowledge that the traditional methods of marketing are not going away and that, even in the flurry and flash of the so-called “new media,” the basics cannot and should not be overlooked.

Knowing what the options are, keeping focused on the target market, following an integrated approach and evaluating success — these set the foundation for a well-balanced social media strategy. •

Elaine J. Young is an associate professor, marketing and e-business management, at Champlain College.

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