You can’t afford not to use what social media can offer. Social media affords you or your organization opportunities to build and maintain relationships among people who share the same interests, activities, or personal contacts. Not only is the take-up of this media exponential but it’s also increasing. Facebook US, for example, gained 100 million users from January 2009 to 2010, which represented a 145 percent growth rate in one year. By 2012, that number had increased to 300 million. Here are some of the ways that you can make the best use of what social media sites can offer your organization.

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1. Embrace social media–it’s here to stay.

Social media is not a fad. And it affects all areas. Take, for example, politics. In 2012, President Barack Obama was seeking re-election as President of The United States of America. At that time, President Obama had 25 million Facebook fans. His (likely) challenger, Mitt Romney, had 1.46 million Facebook supporters. At the time, Forbes Magazine said that Romney needed to improve his voter engagement via his Facebook page and in his use of social media, in general. (This was shown to be the case in more than 70 percent of the seats contested in the House of Representatives and the Senate elections.) And, as an indication of the ‘spread‘ of social media, a 2011 study claimed that stay-at-home mums in Australia spent approximately 70 percent of their time online, usually engaged in social media. In whatever area you operate or function, the message is clear: when done right, social media can grow your business faster than any other means. In the world of social media, it’s not what you know or who you know, but who knows you.

2. Get started.

Don’t wait until you have the world’s most comprehensive email marketing system in place before initiating a campaign. Make a calendar of campaigns and stick to it. When initiating an email marketing campaign: 1. Be patient. Give the email marketing campaign time – a few months. 2. Use every opportunity to build a list – you need to have people to send your emails to. Use networking opportunities to build that list. But the general rule-of-thumb applies: unless the person wants to hear from you, do not email them. 3. Build a list respectfully. Always ensure that you ask for permission to send people information. How do you usually respond to unsolicited offers? For that reason, buying an email list may not always be a good idea.

3. Choose a site.

It’s time then to choose which social networking site, or sites, would best fulfill the requirements of your strategy. Most sites can be categorized according to the different purposes they serve. There are ‘social sites’, ‘professional sites’, and ‘industry-specific sites’. Check-out how others use chosen sites.

4. Sign-up.

Read the rules of your chosen site and take note of the provider’s commitments to privacy: you don’t want to be spammed. Employees become key advocates, so be sure to inform and include them wherever possible.

5. Combine and save.

Save time, energy, and reinforce your message. What appears on your Facebook page, for example, can be adapted to become a blog, newsletter, and a tweet– and feature on your website. Time-efficiency acknowledges your’s and your followers’ limited time.

6. Post updates.

Your targeted audience (‘friends’, eventually) is going to check-out whether or not they want to follow you, so, make sure you have content that encourages them to follow. Your selected social media can provide the ideal vehicle to stay in-touch with selected and potential clients. Keep in mind that creating and growing a tribe takes time and ongoing commitment.

7. Find and engage friends and followers.

Use your chosen site to stay in touch, keep people informed, build trust, target specific groups, and engage with potential customers. For example: • On Facebook, share friends’ and followers’ links on your wall and/ or comment on them. And birthdays are big on Facebook. Why not offer a discount coupon for a birthday treat via Facebook? • On Twitter, retweet friends’ and followers’ stories and comment on them. Reply to each and every message. Keep the conversation going. Get them to trust you. • On Google+, create circles of certain people you want to target for different reasons. It makes it easier to post certain promotions to one group over another. • On LinkedIn, engage with potential customers by joining industry groups and starting group discussions.

8. Use your site to promote company or product.

As your confidence in using these media grows, use your social networking site(s) to promote your company or product. Try to make any promotion benefit-based. Talk about new or uncommon features and how they can be used. Include details of discounts or savings or limited-time offers that invariably attract customer attention.

9. Stay alert.

When people engage with you via your social networking sites, have alerts sent to your phone to enable you to respond quickly.

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