Are you new to social media? Want to learn the lingo, but feel lost in a mountain of technical terms and obscure language?

In this article, I provide a quick guide to the basic principles of social media. Learning the fundamentals will provide a strong foundation for creating some superb social media campaigns.


What is social media?

A group of Internet-based applications that facilitate interactive dialogue between organizations, communities, and individuals. It allows the creation and exchange of user-generated content.

What is the real impact of social media?

Even before the invention of the internet, people have always been talking. The difference now is that the conversation is increasingly moving online. The global scope of social media means information travels across the globe at a rapid rate.

The following features set social media apart from its predecessors:

  • Global reach
  • Rapid spread
  • Easily/quickly modified
  • Low cost accessibility


How can you use social media?

  • To talk to prospects and existing customers – Social media enables you to broadcast updates about your brand, share useful insights relevant in your niche, and communicate directly with consumers.
  • To listen to your customers – Social media enables customers to talk to companies directly and provide feedback. Through social listening, you can see what customers are saying about your brand, even when you are not in the conversation.
  • To enable your customers to talk to one another – Real conversations about your company can arise on social media. Use it to find out what consumers really think of your brand, products, and services.

 
Consider how you can utilize these methods to maximize the potential of social media.

What are the benefits of using social media?

  • Build brand trust. Social media provides a platform for a more authentic representation of your brand and deeper engagement with customers, helping to build trust.
  • Boost brand awareness. These powerful networks enable you stay in touch with existing customers and reach new consumers from around the world.
  • Gain customer insight and feedback. Listening to what customers think about your products is a great source of inspiration for product development and continued improvement.
  • To keep ahead with your customers and competitors. They are increasingly using social media. To avoid falling behind, you need to be too.


What are the different types of social media?

Social media is much more than Facebook and Twitter. There are a whole host of channels to explore. Whilst not all will be relevant for your company, you should take time to consider the opportunities for promotion beyond the major networks.

  • Social networking sites (MySpace, Facebook, Faceparty)
  • Creativity works sharing sites: Video sharing sites (YouTube); Photo sharing sites (Flickr); Music sharing sites (Jamendo.com); Content sharing combined with assistance (Piczo.com); General intellectual property sharing sites (Creative Commons)
  • User-sponsored blogs (The Unofficial Apple Weblog, Cnet.com)
  • Company-sponsored websites/blogs (Apple.com, P&G’s Vocalpoint)
  • Company-sponsored cause/help sites (Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty, click2quit.com)
  • Invitation-only social networks (ASmallWorld.net)
  • Business networking sites (LinkedIn)
  • Collaborative websites (Wikipedia)
  • Virtual worlds (Second Life)
  • Commerce communities (eBay, Amazon.com, Craig’s List, iStockphoto, Threadless.com)
  • Podcasts (‘‘For Immediate Release: The Hobson and Holtz Report’’)
  • News delivery sites (Current TV)
  • Educational materials sharing (MIT OpenCourseWare, MERLOT)
  • Open Source Software communities (Mozilla’s spreadfirefox.com, Linux.org)
  • Social bookmarking sites allowing users to recommend online news stories, music, videos, etc. (Digg, del.icio.us, Newsvine, Mixx it, Reddit)


Top tips for using social media

  • Decide strategy before tactics. NOT tactics before strategy (a common mistake).
  • Share valuable resources with your audience. Post interesting and relevant material, not spam.
  • Be transparent. Don’t lie or pretend; it will be found out and will spread rapidly.
  • Be authentic. Be a part of the community, rather than being there to overtly sell yourself.

 
Most importantly, social media is not a sole strategy. To be effective it should be utilized alongside other marketing mechanisms. The key word is integrated marketing communications: attempting to coordinate all elements of the promotional mix (advertising, personal selling, public relations, publicity, direct marketing, and sales promotion) to produce a unified customer-focused message and, therefore, achieve organizational objectives. In short, it involves ensuring all your channels convey the same message. For example, Marks and Spencer had a TV ad, in-store promotions, and online marketing campaigns to support its ‘get set for summer’ theme.


When used wisely, social media can provide valuable promotion to your business. But with a haphazard approach, disaster is inevitable.

Learning the fundamentals of social media will help you get started. What next? Developing a smart social media strategy is crucial. It will set you on the right path and ensure your social strategy complements your other marketing activities.

Follow me on Twitter @laucocos for regular updates on marketing and business.

Photo credit: mkhmarketing via Foter.com / CC BY