Friday, February 6, 2009

30-Day Marketing Challenge: Jumping into Social Media Marketing

This week, I've invited fellow writers to share their marketing tips and tricks, either as guest bloggers or by answering a few of my questions. Today, Jenny Cromie, who blogs about freelance writing at The Golden Pencil, answers some of my questions about how she uses the LinkedIns, Facebooks and Twitters of the world to build editor relationships. Her involvement in social media has yielded interest from potential clients and other real-world successes. You can follow her Tweets at @JennyCromie.

For the luddites in the audience, can you briefly explain what social media marketing is? What technology does it include and do you need to be a tech geek to get it?

Social media marketing is virtual networking. I know this is going to sound odd, but when I participate in social media now, I'm not necessarily thinking of it as marketing. Granted, I started out on Twitter because I wanted to find more people who might find my blog useful. And while I do still use Twitter to announce my blog posts, it's not the primary reason I'm spending time on Twitter anymore. I'm having conversations, meeting new people, and networking.

Having said all that, I think social media marketing means different things to different people, and there are many different ways to go about doing it.

When it comes to social media sites, I personally spend most of my time on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and a small handful of online writing communities. But there are certainly other social media sites out there. And no, you don't have to be a tech geek to get any of it.

I think the best way to figure it all out is just to jump in and experiment. Then after you've had a chance to play around a bit, you can step back and decide how you want to use social media as part of your overall business/ marketing plan.

I hear a lot of people talking about how confusing some social media sites can be at first. I can relate—I initially found Twitter confusing too. At first glance, it just seemed like I had walked into the middle of a bunch of conversations and mini marketing campaigns that didn't make sense or have much relevance for me.I remember setting up my account after a friend invited me and thinking to myself: Boy, this looks like a complete waste of time. Who has time for all this? Not me!

My account sat idle for a long time before I really started using it. Now I am a Twitter convert. Maybe even a Twitter evangelist. I have no idea what I ever did without Twitter. I recently wrote about my Twitter conversion on TwiTip in an article called 8 Ways that Twitter Can Grow Your Freelance Business.

I guess the bottom line is this: there is no right or wrong way to approach social media. So just jump in!

In a former career life, I used to be a technical training specialist. One thing I always emphasized with people is that exploring new technology can actually be a lot of fun. There's no way to break anything, and there is no "right" or "wrong" way to use any of it.

You learn as you go, and the journey—exploring and learning how social media can help you and your business—can actually be a lot of fun. Maybe a little too much fun for some of us. ;-)

I know you've successfully used social media to market yourself. Can you give us some examples of the successes you've had?

I think there are different ways to measure success in social media. Some people mistakenly measure success by the number of followers they have—like it's some kind of popularity contest.

For me, social media is all about connecting, building relationships, finding people with common interests, networking, expanding horizons, and learning new things. In my book, it's not about numbers. Does that mean that I have relationships with the 1,500-plus people who follow me on Twitter? Of course not. But there are some among that group that I have established relationships with or have identified as people who have shared interests that I might establish relationships with in the future.

Successes? Through Twitter, I have met a lot of very interesting writers, authors, freelancers, media professionals, publishing industry professionals, bloggers, business owners, entrepreneurs, and HR professionals whom I would not have met otherwise. On Facebook, I have connected with current and former colleagues, high school and college friends, clients, and others. Same thing with LinkedIn—I've increased my online networking activity there too.

So my biggest social media success this past year was simply connecting and reconnecting with like-minded people, and at the same time, building a nice online community of people who I now enjoy talking to online and off line.

Of course, this activity also has increased traffic to my blog at The Golden Pencil. But again, driving traffic to my blog is not the primary reason for my involvement in social media now. From a purely business standpoint, social media for me is a way to network online—like a 24/7 virtual chamber of commerce event. From a personal standpoint, social media sites like Twitter and Facebook give me the opportunity to build and nurture relationships that may or may not have anything to do with business.

How much time do you spend on social marketing a week on average?

I don't mean to hedge, but this is a tough question for me to answer. Most times, I'm not wearing my marketing cap when I'm on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or participating in one of my online writing communities. So I'm not really tracking my time on these sites and thinking: "I spent XXX amount of time on social media marketing today!"

That said, every morning after posting on my blog, I let people in my network know via Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn that I've written a new post. When I broadcast these updates, I'm not thinking about marketing per se.

I'm thinking: Someone may need to know about this.

I write the posts on The Golden Pencil to help other freelancers, writers, and people who are thinking about taking that plunge. Of course, more people do visit my blog as a result of my Tweets and my status updates on Facebook, but that's not the driver behind why I write the blog or tell people about it on other social media sites. I'd be writing about freelance writing whether I was getting paid or not. I was writing about freelance writing and how to build a successful freelance business before I started writing for and The Golden Pencil on my now-idle blog, The Productive Muse.

Here's what I've learned about social marketing:

The passion for the subject has to come before the marketing. Without a clear objective in mind when you log in, you can really spend a lot of time—too much time, in fact—on social media sites. The last I checked, there's no way to get paid to write clever Facebook status lines (if there is, please let me know!).

It's not about the time you're spending each day or week on social media sites--it's about the quality. What are the quality of the relationships that you're building by using social media tools? Stronger relationships eventually build more loyalty. As a byproduct of those relationships, you sometimes reap some business rewards.

Focus on adding value. People can tell if you're just hanging out on social networking sites to peddle your wares and services. That's not what it's all about. If you're thinking about jumping into the social media world as a way to promote yourself and your business, ask yourself:
  • How can you help people within your network and the online communities that you belong to?
  • What kind of value can you add to the conversation?What do you have to offer?
You have to set boundaries around the time you're spending on Facebook and some of the other sites. I recently talked about this in my post, How To Rein In Your Facebook, Twitter, and Other Social Media Habits.

How big a part of your marketing efforts is social marketing? Where does it fit into your marketing plan?

Again, this is hard for me to quantify. Social media is part of my marketing strategy--but only a part. The social media sites I belong to merely provide some more tools that I can use to reach a larger audience and a bigger network of people than I could if I were to simply rely on more traditional marketing methods (e.g. LOIs, cold calls, handing out business cards).

The tools I use to market my business, build a brand for myself, and keep my name out there in people's minds include:
  • A Web site. Like most freelancers and small business owners, I have a Web site that I regularly update.
  • Email signature. I have an e-mail tag line that I update with mentions of my latest blog post.
  • Updated social network profiles. I continue to update my LinkedIn and other online profiles with new information after completing assignments.
  • Networking with other bloggers: I write the occasional guest post for other blogs—something that also helps me reach a potentially wider and different audience. And when I write other online stories or am interviewed by another writer, I mention the fact that I'm the editor of The Golden Pencil.
  • Traditional marketing: I send out LOIs (or letters of introduction) to new clients, and updated LOIs to existing ones. I send out query letters. On occasion, I make cold calls to business that I think might be able to use my services.
But my overall marketing strategy is focused on reaching three primary audiences:
  • freelancers;
  • business owners, self-employed professionals, entrepreneurs; and
  • HR professionals.
Those are the audiences that I write for the most, so I'm always on the lookout for ways to reach out to those people.

If someone is looking to get started, what would you recommend they start with? Do you need to be on Facebook and LinkedIn, Twitter and others in order to have enough saturation to make a difference, or can you start small?

As I mentioned above, there's no right or wrong way to approach social media. I say jump in, go from there, and see what feels right for you and your business. Each social media site has a different purpose. And how I use a social media site might be different than the way someone else chooses to use it.

The important thing is:
  • Jump in and experiment to see what the different sites offer;
  • Think about what you hope to accomplish by using any social media site;
  • Use that objective as a guide when thinking about your overall marketing plan.
Social media provide the tools. But you have to develop an overall marketing plan or strategy before those social media tools can really make a difference for you and your business.

Speaking for myself, though, here's how I use three of the big ones:

LinkedIn is the equivalent of an online résumé with all your business contacts in one place. On my profile, I also have recommendations from current and former colleagues and employers. So if a prospective client wants to know more about me, I can direct her to my LinkedIn profile where she can read all about my work experience, see who's in my network, read over what others have to say about my work, and so on. I also have used my LinkedIn network as a way to source stories, get answers to questions, and inquire about freelance opportunities and assignments.

Facebook is a little more casual than LinkedIn, and there's more of a focus on sharing personal information. Someone in my LinkedIn contact list isn't necessarily going to know that I'm getting ready to take a walk. But chances are, my Facebook friends will know about my life on a more granular level. So it's a place where people tend to share information that's a little more personal than what you might find on LinkedIn.

Not everyone uses Facebook the same way that I do, either. Some people don't transfer their professional contacts into the Facebook fold. But I have chosen to do that. In my Facebook friends list, you'll find current and former bosses and colleagues, friends from all phases of my academic career (e.g. elementary school, college), and other people who I know professionally. What does any of this have to do with social media marketing? Sometimes, not a whole lot. But it does mean that I get to know people in my network a little better and vice versa. There is more of a comfort level there with people who may or may not be connected with me from a business standpoint now or in the future.

Twitter allows me to connect with some of the same people that I'm connected to in my other social media networks, but allows me to cast that net a little wider. On Twitter, I'm connected to freelance writers, publishers, HR professionals, marketing and communications specialists, IT professionals, literary agents, small business owners, and others. I use Twitter for a variety of reasons—some of those have to do with marketing, but many do not.

While there is some overlap, I'm not connected with the same people on every social media site I belong to.

What's the number one trap writers should avoid in social marketing?

It's very easy to get lost in a sea of social media sites and waste a lot of time if you don't have a clear idea of what you want to accomplish by joining up.

That said, I don't think you have to have it all figured out before you jump into the social media pool. Again, I encourage people to not have a plan at first, but simply to experiment and see what it's all about before making any snap judgments about whether it'll be useful to you and your business or not. Give various social media sites a whirl and see what works best for you and your business. Once you've taken the grand tour, be sure to step back, decide what your objectives are, and determine how social media sites need to fit into your overall marketing plan.

Anything else I didn't ask you that you'd like to add?

Related to all this, I think it's important to constantly reevaluate your marketing strategy and business plan—especially in this market. This may sound obvious, but it's not. We've seen the media and publishing industries shift dramatically even in the last six months.

The strategy that I was using last summer to reach potential clients is not necessarily the strategy that I need to be using today. And that impacts the tools that I choose to use on a daily basis. Six months ago, I was spending a larger portion of my time writing queries to magazine editors. Today? Not at all. My focus has shifted toward other areas that I think will make more sense for myself and my business right now. As a result, I'm focusing more on using Twitter than I am only e-mailing potential clients.

Also, I hear a fair number of freelancers and small business owners talk about how they don't have time in their already busy schedules for social media. My question is, how can they not have time? In the current economic environment, why wouldn't you want to expand your reach and try to connect with more people?

When people say they don't have time for social media, they're basically saying they don't have time to market their businesses and build their brands.

Old-school marketing techniques just aren't enough anymore. People are changing the way they market their businesses. If you're insisting on using a manual typewriter but everyone else is using a PC, you'll eventually get left out of the conversation because everyone is sending e-mail (except to you, because typewriters can't receive e-mail).

So if you subscribe to the manual typewriter way of doing business, and you keep doing what you've always done to market yourself and your business, you eventually will be without a business to market. But if you want to stay in business and remain part of the conversation, you have to keep speaking the same language and using the same tools as everyone else.

To stay in business, you have to maintain a willingness to to adapt, change, try new things, and challenge old ways of thinking and doing things. People who tell me they don't have time for social media marketing are basically saying that they're holding onto the manual typewriter business model and working diligently on going out of business.

Social media is not a fad. It's here to stay.

The tools may change and evolve, but the way we're communicating is in flux. And if you're in business (and want to continue to stay that way), you have two choices: change or die. Does that sound extreme? Well, maybe it is. I guess it's my way of taking some social media naysayers and trying to shake some sense into them. People who ignore this shift will be left behind and so will their businesses. And I don't want to see that happen to anyone.

Of course, anything new creates anxiety. But if you just jump in and see what all the fuss is about, you just might find it makes your job a lot easier than how you're marketing and running your business right now.


Richard said...

A great interview I really liked it

Jennifer Roland said...

Great interview. I'm dabbling in social media for marketing now, and I love getting the advice on how to tailor messages and what mindset to keep when using the tools.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this thoughtful discussion. I'm a freelance editor just getting started with Twitter. While I believe it holds a lot of promise, I also find it intimidating. It's easy to understand the LinkedIn model, but Twitter has defined an entirely new game. I think encouraging people to treat it like an adventure instead of "something you have to do right the first time" is most helpful.

Robin Riddell said...

As a self-employed media and marketing maven, I found your post to be a just-in-time primer for sharing with others. Kudos to my friend for sharing it...