HOW TO: Implement a Social

Social media Strategy for business

1. Don't be a social media spectator.
According to a new report from marketing research firm Demand Metric, almost two-thirds of organizations—64 percent of which are small businesses—are using social media analytics. Three-fourths of the study's participants say that their executive decision-making is influenced through intelligence gained via social media. Still, that means somewhere between one-third and one-quarter of small businesses are still leaving a lot of social media money on the table.

"Organizations that are essentially social media spectators—they make periodic posts and are doing virtually no analytics—are getting a fraction of the value from their social media efforts, " said Jerry Rackley, chief analyst at Demand Metric.

Apple recently paid more than $200 million for Topsy, a social media analysis firm that, among other things, analyzes Twitter sentiment. Before it was one of tech's latest buzzwords, sentiment analysis aided legal librarians in tracking content and, more recently, helped enterprises "do triage on customer-service queries, " said Matt Mullen, a senior analyst with 451 Research.

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The first step in learning from what people are saying about your business is to "take control of the consumer conversation, " said Travis Tillotson, managing director at Humanele.com, a Manhattan firm that specializes in human sentiment analysis accuracy.

To do so, companies should set up a general protocol on how to monitor and respond to social media threads. After researching which review forums your customers are spending time on—there's no reason to loiter on Twitter if your core audience flocks to Pinterest and Instagram—firms can use free tools, like Google Alerts, to monitor company and brand mentions or HootSuite to search specific phrases across a handful of social networks.

Unless a small business is monitoring thousands of comments a day, "you don't have to hire a company and spend several thousand dollars a month, " said Tillotson. "If you're relatively Internet savvy, you can manage it yourself, " tapping customer conversations like Sorge does to uncover important trends.

2. Encourage feedback.
Followers of a company's social channels may also make a good sounding board for testing out the viability of new product concepts. Jon Olinto, co-founder of the fast-casual b.good burger chain in Boston—the company, with more than $10 million in annual revenue and 13 locations in New England, is known for using locally sourced meats and produce—regularly reaches out to constituents on Facebook, Twitter and email to get feedback on items the company is thinking of launching.

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