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Developing a social media presence starts with the right platform

Picking the best social network for your business requires careful planning and knowledge of customer preferences, but doing it right can help expand your company's social media presence in major ways.

This is part two of an article on social CRM strategies. Part one covers driving customer connection through a social media engagement strategy.

Companies want to be where their customers are. Today, that means companies need to develop a digital presence. Whether it means using a company website to offer customers help or investing in new technology that opens communication channels such as live chat or video chat, companies have to view their customer service offerings as starting online.

With customer service becoming digital, companies must be ready to interact with customers on social media. Customers can express affinity or disdain for brands on these networks, and it's up to companies to maintain a social media presence to control conversations and address customer concerns in a timely manner. Social CRM is quickly becoming table stakes for companies today and organizations overlook a key component of customer service if they lack a cohesive social media strategy.

But deciding which networksto maintain a social media presence on takes consideration. Companies can choose from myriad social media platforms today and new ones are emerging all the time, so choose a social network wisely. Don't try to establish a social media presence if you don't have the resources to actively maintain it. You need to choose a social network that caters to your customers' preferences and your business goals.

Choosing the right social media platform

With customer service becoming digital, companies must be ready to interact with customers on social media.

Just as a corporate website can be the digital face of a company, a company's social media page can be a barometer for how customers view the brand based on the conversations and interactions they have with it. Find out which social networks your customers use most and maintain as strong a presence as possible on those channels.

Post relevant content regularly; an orphan profile page will leave customers wondering whether you're still in business, while having an active social media presence will build credibility and improve customer relations. Each social platform is unique and their community is there for a reason. Learn how to communicate there for success in your social media engagement strategy.

Platform: Facebook

Description: The largest member population of any social network.

Reason to use it: Facebook has more than 1.4 billion users. The population of the world is 7.3 billion. You have a 19% chance that your customer has a Facebook page and a 58% chance if they live in America. Creating a Facebook page for your business allows for the highest possibility of making connections with customers through social media.

Facebook allows users to post articles, photos, videos and other information that open the possibilities for a company to initiate a diverse content strategy. Facebook also uses hashtags and organizes them by showing the trending tags, as well as dividing them up topically so companies can see what current issues customers are talking about.

Which companies should use it: Facebook offers the largest visibility of any social network, so most companies will benefit from a profile page on this platform. With the ability to post many different content types, companies can easily keep their community up to date. This visibility can also be detrimental. If the profile page looks abandoned, it will actually degrade your perceived social presence. Take extra time when setting up the profile to create the precise experience you want. If you don't have the resources to maintain the social presence, include links and resources in the "About Us" section so customers can find you on the channels you prefer.

Platform: Twitter

Description: Mixture of personal and public interactions.

Reason to use it: Think of Twitter as a platform full of short, personal emails that can be read by the public. This medium encourages fast and concise communication, given its 140-character limit, so the platform is a "reactive" space where people instantly comment on breaking news, social issues or cultural events. hashtags are a key component of this platform, as conversations are often driven and organized by people using them.

Companies with thriving Twitter campaigns respond to customer interactions within 10 minutes. If both the customer and account follow each other, direct messages can be exchanged to provide one-on-one attention to cases. Responding to a negative interaction makes a customer feel validated, while responding to a positive interaction will generally increase a customer's loyalty. Tweeting at a person, or tagging his username in a tweet, can make customers feel valued because they are participating in a direct communication with a company.

Which companies should use it: This platform is for any company whose services are based on things happening now. Twitter encourages in-the-moment communication and, if used well, customers who are active on it will look to your account to join in on conversations and read news that affects them. Some companies use this for broadcasting time-sensitive content to large communities. Game developers will send tweets to initiate and update server downtime to their gaming community, for example. Other companies use it to initiate service tickets. Delta uses this model for assisting their customers and, in turn, encourages social engagement.

Platform: YouTube

Description: People are here to learn or be entertained.

Reason to use it: Video site YouTube is becoming the library of the Internet. Google owns YouTube, which means any credible result from YouTube will rank very high on Google search results. Companies can use YouTube as a visual aid for customers and can create "channels" on the platform to showcase how-to videos, tutorials or other content to engage consumers. If companies can strike a balance between informing and entertaining, they will drive customer engagement.

Which companies should use it: Any company looking to build a visual instructional resource or entertainment community should consider YouTube. Video is an effective form of communication, and having the added benefit of monetary return with high view counts can also mean this platform can perpetuate itself with enough success. Companies in competitive markets need to understand that their content will be displayed along with their competitors due to the way videos are promoted on this platform. Similar content will appear at the beginning, in the boarding sections, and even at the end. This might drive your market to a competitor if your content fails to excite them.

Platform: LinkedIn

Description: A virtual, business-to-business (B2B) professional networking platform.

Reason to use it: With LinkedIn, the marketing roles are reversed. Customers are on this platform to find employment or network with colleagues. Don't venture here if you're trying to build brand image or if your image is highly stereotyped, such as a brewery. People will follow or interact with you only if your image aligns with what they want to be professionally associated with.

This is perhaps the most important platform for B2B marketers and is not as important for business-to-consumer companies looking to enhance their public images or gain new customers.

Which companies should use it: Most organizations will benefit from a presence on LinkedIn because it takes far less effort to maintain than other social networks. By creating an account, potential employee candidates and "fans" can link to your company name. There is potential to start conversations among followers and post in professional groups to foster engagement, but only if your content contributes to customers' jobs, either by educating them about the industry or helps enhance prospects. It is also very rare to receive bad comments on this platform. Unless a company does something overtly egregious, the typical backlash effect ubiquitous on other social media sites, like Twitter or Facebook, is rare.

Platform: Instagram

Description: Photos and videos. Much like Twitter with more of a focus on visual media.

Reason to use it: Instagram is primarily a mobile platform, so expect that customers will view content predominantly on a mobile device. Pictures can be highly stylized with different filters and 15-second videos, which replay on a loop, can be posted via a mobile device.

Instagram has a whopping 2,200-character limit on posts and users can include up to 30 hashtags per post, but that doesn't mean companies should take advantage of this freedom. Customers often scroll quickly through their Instagram feeds, so posts need to be efficient, relevant and visually appealing to have maximum impact. Customers can also seek out content based on hashtags similar to Twitter.

Which companies should use it: All companies whose products and services lend to visual demonstration, but especially those that want to appeal to a younger demographic. About 37% of 18- to-29 year-olds use the app, so it is imperative that businesses with that target market post content regularly to their pages. It helps to display your brand as fun and exciting, while showing off your customers' content that features your products to appeal to a younger audience. Being the hybrid of Twitter and YouTube, keep communication concise and include call-to-action links for better engagement.

Next Steps

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