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posted: 5/20/2013 7:47 AM

Your social media initiatives should follow customers' lead

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Still uncertain about social media and your business? Your next step may be to ask your customers which social media platforms they use.

"Survey your customers," says Sue Kirchner. "If they're not big on Facebook or Twitter, there's no need for you to spend a lot of time there. If your customers all are on LinkedIn, ask how often they use it. Only 10-20 percent of LinkedIn users are active," says Kirchner, a Palatine social media consultant.

If your customers turn out to be active on social media, you should be there, too. "Social media is a marketing channel," Kirchner told a meeting of Itasca Bank & Trust Company's Women's Initiative earlier this month. "You need to be where conversations are happening."

To be successful with social media, however, you need a strategy. Interestingly, Kirchner's strategic approach is similar to a marketing strategy that might rely on more traditional media.

"What do you want people to know about your business?" Kirchner asks. "What information should you share? How should you engage your market?"

Fiona McLaren begins her social media campaigns by belonging to traditional networking organizations. Owner of McLaren Photographic LLC, Elk Grove Village, McLaren has discovered that "face-to-face is probably the way I will be more successful. Ninety percent of the people in my industry are men," McLaren says, "so I have to show people I'm professional, too.

"Once (prospective clients) meet me, they go to YouTube and LinkedIn to check out my work."

McLaren provides a variety of sophisticated photographic services, with manufacturing a primary target. She's learned -- and still is learning -- how to put social media into her marketing mix.

"Web pages are not the place," McLaren says. "YouTube is one of the most important places to show visual content."

McLaren's approach fits into Kirchner's admonition to know where in the social media world your customers hang out. "Social media is a communications channel a lot of people use," Kirchner says. "Younger generations are all about social media. They don't even email" very much.

How you use social media comes from the strategic plan Kirchner advocates. She likes blogs and, even with acknowledgment that younger generations are less likely to email, email. "Social media platforms, especially Facebook and Twitter, change the rules," Kirchner explains. "The blog is yours. The permission-based email list you build is yours."

Even if you're into social media as a marketing tool, a review of your goals and accomplishments likely would be a good idea -- just as it would be if social media had yet to exist. Among Kirchner's suggestions are to pick one or two social media and concentrate your efforts there. And use a timer.

"Social media can suck all your time away," Kirchner says. "I set my timer at 30 minutes a day."

• Jim Kendall welcomes comments at JKendall@121MarketingResources.com

2013 121 Marketing Resources Inc.

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