By Shannon Houde
Social media can be a social entrepreneur's best friend -- a fascinating, engaging best friend, but a demanding one too. How can a busy person make the most of it without becoming its slave? In my work as a sustainability career coach, I've learned that social media is the most powerful tool at my disposal to market my services and leverage my brand. It's definitely not optional. And while it's easy to use, using it well is not so easy.
Here's a little about my experience using LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and blogs to build a sustainability business. I'm no expert, but by sharing what works for me, maybe I can help you gain insight on what might work for you.
My social media story
A year after launching my business, Andy Cartland, Acre Resources' managing director, told me I'd better get on Twitter. My response? I was way too busy to be bothered with a little blue bird. I had a website, what more did I need? The answer was: Quite a lot. The website alone was not enough to maximize my online profile or gain the traffic through search engine optimization (SEO) that I needed. And so -- with some trepidation -- I joined the social media world, and slowly but surely and started to see results.
That was three years ago. Since then, it has become invaluable to my business for three key reasons:
- It helps me stay informed of what's new and hot in my sector to play on what others are interested in to stay ahead of the curve
- It helps me build my own brand credibility through my thought leadership, to get my voice out there
- It helps me connect with others to nourish my networks. Word of mouth is everything!
The benefits of reaching out to the world in this way did turn into growth in my client numbers, and I found myself spending more and more time writing blogs, sending tweets and posting LinkedIn updates. It was starting to take me away from the client coaching work I loved. So in 2012, I hired someone to help me manage the flow, and in 2013 took on an additional staff member to implement a more rigorous social media strategy.
We now produce four original content blogs per month that we promote through the major social networks. I've posted over 1400 tweets and gained 920 followers (which is a pretty good ratio!), and over the past 20 months I've had 30,000 page views on Facebook from 7,000 unique users. I write columns for Greenbiz, CSRwire, 2Degrees and, of course, Triple Pundit. These days, a social media strategy is your marketing strategy.
What I've learned
- Language is important. Use the words that will draw people to your services. My clients don't know they're looking for looking for a career coach, they are looking for jobs. So instead of blogging about coaching, I regularly post 'Hot Jobs', which comprise 25 percent of my site's traffic. I continue to watch the analytics of my site and blogs to see what key words are getting the most hits which helps me keep up to date in relevant content – the latest was “innovation."
- Monitor your traffic. The goal of social media marketing for me is to get people to come to my website and sign up for coaching. We track my site's traffic sources to figure out how to best target potential clients. Monitoring is crucial to a successful social media strategy so that you know what's working and what isn't. While it's not easy to track the number of directly converted clients, we can see trends, growth, hits and website referrals. There are great tools on the web to help you do this easily like Sprout Social.
- Manage your schedule. Managing your week in social media will make a big difference to your impact and your sanity. From developing a content calendar to coming up with blog ideas, writing, editing, posting and promoting, there's an awful lot to do. Be realistic about what you're good at and enjoy, and outsource the rest. Be organized though and have a system or catalog for filing great articles you have read or want to blog about in the future. I use Delicious.com that allows you to tag articles with key words and categories.
- Make use of online managers. There are many services out there -- paid for and free -- that will allow you to manage your various social media accounts from one window. I use Sprout Social to consolidate and schedule my content, Hootsuite to post, and LinkedIn tags to do group postings on content.
In summary, social media does work, but it's hard work too. You need commitment and patience. It can take 12 months to feel like you're getting traction, it requires planning and a strategy, it often means getting some outside help, and it definitely needs a strong monitoring regime to help you learn from what's working and what's not.
Do you agree with my social media strategy tips? What works for you? Let me know in the comments section below or contact me if you want more help building your social enterprise’s brand as a social entrepreneur. You can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to receive our latest updates.
Shannon Houde is founder of Walk of Life Consulting, the first international career coaching business focused solely on the environmental, sustainability and corporate responsibility fields.
Image credit: Jason Howie, Flickr