Posted 12th March 2012 | By Nick Evans, Chairman

Businesses that want to keep up with their competitors need to embrace social media as a channel for communication with customers and prospects alike.

Here are 9 top tips to help you integrate social media into your marketing planning.

Social media is everywhere and growing fast - and your competitors are using to create an advantage in the marketplace. How are they doing that? By using their clients' and prospects' own social networks to distribute their message to people they do not know and would normally not engage with. If your business is not using social media, you are missing a significant part of the online marketing mix - a part that is becoming increasingly important for a complete and integrated strategy.

So how do you set about this strategy of integration?

Tip One: Make a content plan.
Having chosen which social media you intend to use, that are suitable for your marketplace (for example, Facebook and Twitter for B2C, LinkedIn and Twitter for B2B), set up a content plan which will feed those media with stories, case studies, offers, information, news and anything else that will grab people's attention and make them want to share it. Where does this content sit - because you'll want to link to it from your social media? It could be a news item on your website, a blog post, even the posted version of an email you have just sent (the "posted" version as opposed to the "sent" version is the one you link to when you click the "View this mail in your web browser" link at the top of the email).

The key however, is that you have planned this all well in advance - at least three months ahead. Look for topics that are likely to arise as a consequence of developments in your business area, questions that clients frequently ask, solutions that people maybe don't know about, special deals and promotions and so on. Plan ahead!

Tip Two: Link different social media platforms together.
If, for the sake of argument, you have a Twitter account, a Facebook company page and a LinkedIn company page, you can link them together so that, when you post on Twitter, the same post appears on both Facebook and LinkedIn simultaneously. Check out the Settings in each of your media or search on Google for the best method of linking.

Tip Three: Build a zingy company page and profile.
I just mentioned company pages - don't use your personal account, even if you are a sole trader. Mixing personal with business will not work. Within Facebook and LinkedIn you have the option of creating a company page. Populate with brief but keyword-rich information about your company and its products and services. LinkedIn allows you to highlight your staff and to put in banners for up to three of your offerings. Make sure it's well-branded and that the company profile is complete and up-to-date.

Tip Four: Connect. Connect. Connect.
Once you have those social media accounts up and running, take every opportunity to connect to everyone you know. The more people you connect to, the more people you will be offered whom you may know. On Twitter you can follow to anyone you like, without knowing them. On LinkedIn and Facebook, you should only connect to people you know or your company has done business with.

Tip Five: Seek recommendations.
If you are connected to former clients, get them to recommend you for work you have done by completing a recommendation in your Services area in your company page on LinkedIn. The more recommendations you get, the better you look to prospective customers.

Tip Six: Discover specialist groups, join them and then contribute.
On LinkedIn, the Groups menu option lets you find groups associated with your area of business and interest. Join them. And once you are joined and accepted, start discussions (not product puffs or you'll be barred!) and get involved with other people's discussions to show you know what you are talking about.

Tip Seven: Maximise your exposure with social bookmarks.
Social bookmarks are those little inks you often see on web pages, as in the picture accompanying this article. Why are they there? To allow people to tell other people in their social networks about an interesting page they have found.

Tip Eight: Cross-link social media with all the rest of your online and offline activity.
a. When you send an email, make sure you have links to your social media platforms in high profile.
b. Embed social bookmark tags in your emails to ensure people can share your mail with their network.
c. Make links from your website to your social media and back again.
d. Always embed links in social media posts, to drive traffic to your website or blog.
e. In print and advertising, always put your web address, your Twitter tag, your LinkedIn name and your Facebook company name.

Tip Nine: Don't forget all the other social media.
There are countless social media services that may or may not suit your needs. Get a Youtube channel, for example, and post videos of your promos, demonstrations and other useful stuff up there. It gets a wider audience - and you can embed them in your blog or website. Why is Youtube a social medium? Simply it can receive feedback and build comment threads for any video you post.

Nick from ExtraMile Communications Ltd in Eccleshall, Staffordshire.

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