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unusual business social media

Social networks is a great tool for promoting your brand.

But you can do way more than that with social media.

Here are five ways to use social media you might be overlooking

1. Make a Splash in the Newspapers (Public Relations)

Want to make a splash in the media? Getting your business featured in a news story no longer means writing press releases and pushing them out to journalists.

Instead, you can just share your news on social media.

As PR expert Maggie Patterson explains:

Journalists rely on Facebook to source stories and Facebook itself actively promotes the platform as a “Rolodex” with 1 billion contacts for reporters.

Where your company may have relied on a press release in the past, you can now share your story on Facebook. It provides a low-friction way to report the facts in the case of breaking news or to provide comment on emerging issues that will help get your story to the media and your public faster.

To give the news you share extra oomph!, it’s worth building up relationships with journalists on social media. That way, you can point them to your story when you’ve got something you want them to see. Here’s our primer on finding journalists.

2. Find Out What Your Customers Think (Market Research)

To be effective in business, you need to know your customers. You need to know their likes and dislikes, their wants and needs, their pressing problems.

You also need to know how people view your brand, and get opinions on what you could do to improve your products and develop new products.

Getting this information requires market research. Just a decade ago market research was an expensive endeavor. You had to set up online surveys, or send out researchers to interview your target customers.

Social media completely changes that. As long as you know who your customers are, you can tap into their thoughts and feelings using social media.

You can use social media to:

  • Monitor what your customers are talking about, so you know their everyday concerns and passions.
  • Ask questions directly to your customers.
  • Listen to what people are saying about your brand.
  • Learn the language of your customers, so you can write better copy.

3. Keep Your Customers Happy (Customer Service)

Did you know that nearly three quarters (72%) of customers who make a complaint to a business on Twitter expect to receive a response in under 60 minutes? That’s according to research by Lithium Technologies.

If you’re not monitoring what people are saying about your brand on social media – and responding to complaints – then you’re contributing to the negative image of your brand.

As Anthony Leaper explains over on Forbes:

Irritated Customers have supportive Friends. They may have a few; they may have thousands. The dangerous fact, though, is this: it almost does not matter how many friends they really have. A single Facebook post that describes a jaw-dropping failure on the part of your company may, if stupefying enough or if told in a funny or snarky manner, be repeated, retweeted, “liked,” and “shared” innumerable times.

For an example of this, check out Ryanair’s middle gimp debacle. That’s exactly what Leaper is talking about.

By contrast, if you’re willing to help your customers online, they’ll respond in kind by recommending your brand to their friends and family.

Leaper again:

If you can discover and address an Irritated Customer’s concerns quickly and effectively, then you have a singular opportunity to convert an Irritated Customer into a Delighted Customer. Their delight, particularly if seen by many in the social media world, may move thousands of people into the column of potential customers who are now predisposed to consider your services—when they may have been on the fence before.

4. Uncover Your Business Persona (Brand Development)

Social media is all about building relationships with your customers.

That means you’ve got to be relatable.

Social media isn’t the place for corporate stuffiness. Act standoffish to your followers, and they’ll give you the cold shoulder in return.

Jeff Mancini, director of digital strategy at Interbrand, says people see brands they love in the same way they see friends.

In a Forbes interview, Mancini said:

We feel for brands similarly to the way we feel for friends. The reason we advocate brands in our lives are the reasons we advocate friends in our lives. That is, we genuinely like them.

Making friends with your customers means you must develop a brand persona. Social media is the perfect opportunity to do this. Don’t worry if you’ve not got it all sorted when you start out on social networks. You’ll discover your voice through talking with your customers.

If you need a bit of extra help developing your brand’s person, check out our 72 questions to help you uncover your brand’s persona.

5. Create a Vision Board (Strategic Planning)

Do you yawn when you hear the words “strategic planning” or “business plan”?

Developing a business strategy can be an incredibly dry process. But it doesn’t have to be.

Why not start out by creating a vision board of where you’d like to take your business?

Pinterest is the perfect tool for this. It gives you access to millions of stunning images, and allows you to group them into pinboards.

You can even create several vision pinboards, covering whatever aspects of your business you want them to. Here are some examples to get you started:

  • What you want to do for your customers
  • The types of products you want to sell
  • The mission and vision of your business
  • Your business’s ethos and values
  • The lifestyle you want to have while running your business

Over to You

What are some of the more unusual ways you use social media in your business?

Twitter Influencer

Twitter influencers are the people who make a difference. When they tweet, everyone listens.

Wouldn’t it be great if you were a Twitter influencer?

I’d like to let you into a secret…

You’re probably a Twitter influencer already.

Here’s a simple quiz you can use to see whether you really are a Twitter influencer.

The Twitter Influencer Quiz

  • Do you tweet every day? It’s tricky to be an influencer if you’re not using Twitter on a regular basis.
  • Do you share useful stuff? Yes, it can be fun to share a photo of your adorable cat now and again. But mostly, your followers want you to be useful. Don’t show away from the challenge.
  • Have you completed your Twitter bio? Without a bio, chances are you’ll be ignored.
  • Do some of your Tweets get retweeted? Then those tweets have a BIG influence. So much that your followers want to share them. Notice which types of content get the most retweets, so you can repeat your success.
  • Have people favorited your tweets? Again, this shows that your tweets are touching lives and making a difference. You’re an influencer!
  • Do you use hashtags? Hashtags scatter your tweets far and wide – beyond just those who already follow you. The more frequently you use hashtags, the greater your chance of having an impact.
  • Have you developed a brand personality? People will engage more if you’re likable – so you’ll have more influence.
  • Is your follower count growing? If yes, then you’re on the up in terms of your influence.
  • Do other users tag your @username in tweets? That’s a sign of respect. They want your attention – because to them, you’re influential.
  • Do you take part in Twitter chats? They’re a great way of meeting other Twitter users like you and growing your influence.

So, how did you score?

If you scored at least 5/10, then you’re on the right road. And even if you only got 1/10, then you still have some influence on Twitter.

In a previous article, we said how being a Twitter power user doesn’t always mean having tens of thousands of followers. It’s about using Twitter in a way that achieves your goals.

The same is true for influencing.

You might not be a BIG influencer. You might only influence a few people. But if those people are the right people, then you’re a Twitter influencer.

Keep planting seeds, every day. Some of them will grow.

You’re already changing more lives than you imagine.

Dark Social

Think about this for a moment.

When you’re browsing through your Twitter feed, you’ll likely see a ton of links. How many do you click? Maybe one or two out of hundreds, right?

Now, think about emails you receive from friends and associates. These aren’t marketing emails. Not emails you receive because you subscribed to a list. But emails a friend took time to send you.

If a friend emails you a link, how likely are you to click it?

My guess is that you’re pretty much certain to click.

Am I right?

Then maybe it’s time you joined the dark side…

What is Dark Social?

Let’s say you’re a typical website or blog.

If that’s the case, then a serious chunk of your traffic comes because people like something they’ve seen or read on your site, and they share it with their pals.

That’s social sharing. It’s what this blog is all about.

A lot of social sharing happens on Twitter, Facebook and other social media websites. When people find your blog or website through social media, you can track where they came from. As such, you can see how much traffic Twitter and Facebook send your way.

But social sharing is only the tip of the iceberg.

The majority of sharing is dark social sharing.

Dark social happens whenever you share a link with a friend via email, or using an instant messaging service such as Skype or Google Talk.

This kind of sharing is difficult to track. Yet by some estimates, it accounts for 72% of social shares.

What does all this mean for your social strategy?

How to Make the Most of Dark Social

Dark social sharing is actually older than social sharing. Sharing happened via email and instant messaging before any social networks were even conceived. It’s a practice that’s here to stay, so it’s vital that you incorporate it into your social media strategy.

According to the digital intelligence department at PriceWaterhouseCoopers, only about 10% of brands are paying attention to dark social at the moment. So by jumping on board now, you’re ahead of the game.

Here are our top tips to make the most of dark social.

Add “Share via Email” to Your Sharing Options

People are using email to share, so encourage it! Make it as easy as possible for readers to share your content.

WordPress plugins such as AddToAny can be installed to your site with just a few clicks, and at no cost. These plug-ins add email sharing on all your blog posts and pages.

Create Freaking Awesome Content

Yes, we’ve been preaching this sermon for years now. There is no way to “game” social media. There are no special secrets.

The best way to encouraging sharing is to create freaking awesome content that people can’t wait to share with their friends.

Alexis Madrigal, the deputy editor of The Atlantic who coined the phrase “dark social” put it this way:

The only real way to optimize for social spread is in the nature of the content itself. There’s no way to game email or people’s instant messages. There’s no power users you can contact. There’s no algorithms to understand. This is pure social, uncut.

(We disagree on the power users part, but more on that in a moment).

On the flip-side, if your content sucks, then whatever social strategy you employ to promote it will fail.

Of course, none of us can create a viral hit every day. But you can pour your heart and soul into everything you create.

Get Smart With Your Tracking

Dark social doesn’t have to remain dark – at least not to you.

There are tools you can use to shine a light on dark social, to give you a better picture of where your traffic is coming from.

Some dark social traffic is a result of people using third party apps, such as TweetDeck, to click social media links. You can configure Google Analytics to pick up this traffic for you. They’ve created a handy tutorial on how to do so over at Social Media Examiner.

You can also get a picture of how much traffic is coming through dark social by looking at direct traffic as a referral source.

When people click a link they’ve received via email, they’re likely to get bundled in with direct traffic. Any long URLs in direct traffic are likely to be the result of dark social sharing – because it’s unlikely that people actually typed those links into an address bar.

As Ginny Soskey of Hubspot explains:

If you see long, complicated URLs […] in your direct traffic that is most likely dark social.

Start Sharing via Email (Especially with Influencers)

When you create content that you want to go viral, be bold and share it via email. In particular, target influencers who you know would be interested in what you’ve created.

Why do this? Because dark social sharing works. As we’ve established, you’re much more likely to take an interest in a link you receive via email than in something that pops up in your Twitter feed.

When something’s in your inbox, you have to deal with it. When it’s in your Twitter feed, you can just wait for it to pass by.

Want to find out who the influencers are in your field? Then check out our Google Ripples tutorial.

Whatever You Do, DON’T Try to Block Email Sharing

One of the worst pieces of advice we’ve read online about dark social is to “try disabling” email sharing. The theory is that if you block email sharing, people will share through other channels.

How it would even be possible to block email sharing, we don’t know. But even so, it’s terrible advice. People who share via email want to share via email. So if you take away that option, they’ll just stop sharing.

Over to You

Do you have any other ideas for making the most of Dark Social? Let us know in the comments section, below.