Making social media work for an online business

A lot has already been written regarding social media strategies and ideas to increase customer loyalty. However, it’s always a great idea to go over the basics to double check your social media strategy is still ticking the right boxes.Listen before talkingSocial networking is as much about listening as talking, and this is where a lot of companies come unstuck. Use the search engine on each social networking site to find out who is talking about your company. The Twitter search ( is incredibly powerful and can really give an amazing insight into your brand, products and customers.I also like to extend my searches to include competitors or people of interest in your field of expertise. What is being said about their products or services and what are they currently promoting? Can you learn anything from them?EngageThe real power of social networking is engagement; getting close and personal is the name of the game. If you find someone talking about you or your products then befriend them. Get chatting, ask questions and listen to the feedback. This is incredibly empowering process for your customers. No matter how big or small your company, we all like to feel that someone cares.A great example of a company doing brilliant things online is the US cable company Comcast, a brand that has been synonymous with poor customer service for years. However Comcast in 2009 is a completely different animal, so how did it turn itself around?One way has been to embrace social networking. Comcast has a presence on all major networks (Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook, etc.). This presence allows it to pay attention to its customers. A quick search for examples found hundreds of satisfied customers. In fact I had to really search hard to find a dissatisfied one. Two years ago this would have been inconceivable.Be polite and relevantWhile it’s great to engage closely, it’s also important to remember that a person’s online social space is a sacred thing; respect it by being smart and polite. Barging into a conversation with blatant advertising is a fast track to achieving the opposite of what you intended. Instead join in the conversation and offer advice that’s relevant and of interest to your audience.Use toolsWhile most people now have some sort of online presence, the biggest objection I come across while talking to business owners is the lack of time argument. I totally understand this; depending on your business and the social networks you intend to have a presence on, some things will fall through the cracks. It’s impossible to be connected 24/7. However, it is worth trying some of the free tools like TweetDeck for Twitter to narrow the signal to noise ratio to an acceptable level.ReviewTo conclude, it’s worth remembering social networking is all about one thing, engagement. If you’re just starting out, or already have an established presence, it’s always worth reviewing to make sure your strategy is hitting the spot.