Social Media Marketing Is a Two-Way Street

megaphoneguyBusiness owners often use social media as a low-cost, all-purpose advertising channel that sends barrages of information at their followers. This isn’t a great way to build a rapport with current clients and potential leads, and it might even damage a brand. Social media gives you the power to have a genuine conversation with your audience. Use these tried-and-true tactics to make your social media marketing plan a truly two-way affair.

1. Avoid Repetitive Self-Promotion
Relentless self-promotion can be just as tiresome as a hard sales pitch. If you use consumer-friendly social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter, carefully sprinkle promotional posts in between items that don’t directly concern your products or services. Your non-promotional posts might mention newsworthy events or studies that relate to your industry, funny videos that appeal to your target demographic and seasonal tips that subtly make the case for your business. To get your audience involved in the conversation, invite responses to all of these non-promotional overtures. Use memorable media-like striking photos, catchy infographics and humorous GIFs to make your points. These are sure to stick in your customers’ minds when it comes time to buy.

2. Don’t Simply “Tell”
Honda recently made news with an innovative campaign that leverages Twitter’s new Vine video-sharing app to drive sales at its annual summer clearance sale. The effort asks each follower to use the hashtag #wantnewcar in a tweet that details his or her need for a new car. The company responds to the “best” tweets with short, funny Vine video clips that subtly promote new Honda models without resorting to traditional sales tactics. While your business might not have access to a multinational car company’s advertising budget, it can certainly spare resources to issue witty responses to audience-originated social media blasts. After all, real conversations feature back-and-forth exchanges.

(Incidentally, check out our recent post about the top-of-mind marketing potential of Vine and the similar Instagram. These exciting visual media tools are here to stay, and they promise to revolutionize social media marketing for small businesses.)

3. Aim for More Than Just Words
It’s great to ask your audience to chime in about your products and plans via social media, but true customer engagement often demands an additional level of participation. Use contests, giveaways and sweepstakes to thank current customers and attract fresh leads. Make sure these jibe with the needs, desires and attitudes of your target audience. If your company provides B2B services, you may want to use LinkedIn to offer a free business lunch that mixes small talk with a soft sales pitch. If you own a takeout restaurant that’s popular with sports fans, use social media to announce free meal giveaways after a home-team victory. You can even use Facebook or Twitter to crowdsource ideas for future contests.

4. Solicit Feedback and Show That You Mean Business
Honda’s Vine campaign was so effective because it showcased the company’s ability to “listen.” More to the point, the effort gave a nearly real-time demonstration of Honda’s willingness to please its customers. Since everyone wants to deal with companies that acknowledge and respond to their customers’ needs, this isn’t a trivial point. You don’t have to solicit feedback from your social media users every day, but be sure to ask for comments or advice about new or popular offerings. When you receive any type of feedback, including unsolicited remarks, acknowledge it respectfully. If you choose to make a change as a result, make a social media announcement that includes evidence of it. Your thoroughness will earn your audience’s respect and keep your business front-and-center throughout the sales process.

If your business isn’t using social media to connect with prospects and create visibility for your brand, it’s already behind the eight-ball. Young, still-evolving social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter, Google Places and LinkedIn have already become valuable tools in small businesses’ marketing arsenals. Of course, great power demands great responsibility. To ensure that your social media marketing efforts produce real results, treat your audience as a true partner in the conversation.