By Jason Woodford, CEO SiteVisibility.

Social media gained enormous recognition as a marketing tool for businesses in 2011, with an increasing amount of companies now gracing Twitter and Facebook news feeds with their latest news alongside the usual gossip from our nearest and dearest.

While the importance of engaging in such social media for marketing purposes cannot be under-estimated, it’s crucial to measure just how effective your presence on such sites is to ensure it is really worth the investment. The internet is a wonderful thing, but what makes it so great can also be its biggest downfall when it comes to using it as a marketing tool. It’s used by all types of people from all walks of life, so businesses need to tailor their online presence to ensure their message reaches the people that matter the most to them.

A good social media strategy begins by taking a step back from the computer screen and establishing not only who your target audience is but also gaining an understanding of how they behave and why they are or should be your customer. By gaining a better idea of your target audience you will also be able to gauge on which social media sites you’re likely to find them. It’s all very well setting up a Facebook page, for example, but is this where your target audience hangs out, or would you be better off investing more of your time maintaining a Twitter or LinkedIn account?

And don’t forget to check out the competition; find out what their online activity comprises and don’t just emulate it, better it by identifying any gaps in the market and filling them.

It is also crucial to understand the difference between social media and social networking. Social media is a way of transmitting or sharing information with a broad audience, while social networking is an act of engagement with groups of people with common interests.

Above all, social media is about engaging with an online audience and not simply bombarding them with a relentless stream of sales messages, which is likely to have a negative impact, with ‘followers’ and ‘friends’ being lost along the way. The goal in social media engagement is to influence your audience to have a positive impression of your company through factual, verifiable contributions from your staff, who should quite rightly be heralded as experts on their subject matter. In this way you can position yourself as a thought leader within your sector or industry, rather than just talking specifically about your own business.

To properly engage through social media you should establish an online personality and think about how you brand yourself online. In this way you will become a trusted source of information and advice as well as developing a reputation for having a ‘personal touch’. Given time you will become a ‘go to’ source for the very people you are trying to attract.

The key to success online is to keep it relevant, important and interesting to your audience, with a careful mix of self-promotion and targeted content and to make sure you update your page on a regular basis to keep that interest going. As well as keeping your target market front of mind it’s also important to tailor your message or content for each social media you are using, as each attracts a slightly different user. For example, LinkedIn is often regarded as more formal, whereas Facebook is far more informal but can help you reach a far wider audience.

With your target audience established and your message conveyed in the most appropriate way it’s time to measure the success of your social media campaign. The beauty of social media sites is that they make this extremely easy to do. You only have to note the number of followers and fans you have accumulated over time on Facebook and Twitter to see just how effective your online investment has been.

But don’t forget to also measure your own level of engagement and the number of people who are ‘liking’ your posts and ‘re-tweeting’ your messages. Finally, check your trends and statistics; who is visiting your website directly from social media websites? Once these measurements are in place you will have a better idea of which social media methods work best for you and your business.

For more information visit www.sitevisibility.co.uk

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