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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?

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.

Facebook for Small Businesses

Facebook provides a huge wealth of opportunities for small business owners – so long as you know how to use it.

Once you’ve done the basics – created a page and built a fan base – what else can you do on Facebook to improve your business?

Here are four ideas to get you started…

1. Hook Up with Other Business Owners

Facebook is a networking tool so it’s ideal for meeting new people – as long as you know where to look.

Facebook is becoming an increasingly popular place for business owners to network with one another.

You can use Facebook groups to meet up with other entrepreneurs, share business ideas, and promote your business.

How can you find the right groups for you? Three ways:

  1. Use Facebook’s search. Use a simple search such as “business networking”, the name of your industry, or simply the name of the city where your business is located. You’ll find a ton of options to get started.
  2. Join email lists of entrepreneurs. Two of the best groups I’m part I was only invited to because I joined an email list.
  3. Create your own group. Invite your entrepreneurial friends to be part of it, and get them to invite their business networks. The advantage of your own group is that you’ll already have a connection with many of the members – so trust comes as standard.

2. Reach a New Customer Base

Are all your customers in their 50s and 60s? Do you want to reach out to a younger audience?

Some 84% of Americans under 30 are on Facebook. And 79% of Americans under 50 use the network (that compares to just 45% of over 65s). Stats here.

What’s more, the average American spends 40 minutes a day on Facebook.

In other words, Facebook is where younger people spend their time. If you want to reach out to under 50s, it’s the place to be.

3. Low-Cost Recruitment

Finding good quality staff members for your business can be a huge drain on your time and money.

You want to find people with the right skillset, attitude, and who care about your business.

Once you’ve built up a following on Facebook, then recruiting can be way simpler. Just share your job opportunity with your Facebook fans. They’re people who are passionate about your brand, so they’re already half way to being a good fit.

4. Test New Business Ideas

Start-up businesses typically look for customers before they build a product, or at a very early stage of product development.

Why? Because without customers, you don’t have a business. On the other hand, if you can find customers who want what you’re planning to create, you know you’re good to go. And once you’ve created it, they can provide valuable feedback.

Want to test the waters of a business idea? Set up a Facebook page for the business, and see if it proves popular. If your product is a hit thanks to Facebook marketing alone, then you know you’re onto a winner.