I recently spoke at the Creative Freelancer Conference in Denver (part of the How Design Conference) and led a “Lunch and Learn” table discussion. I asked the attendees to write down their burning questions about social media marketing. As I suspected, most of the folks — who were predominantly graphic designers and web designers, with a photographer and traditional marketer in the mix — were at the very early stages of thinking about social media tools for marketing themselves to potential clients.
Below are the questions I received and the (paraphrased) answers I gave.
1. How do social media marketing tools work?
Many social media marketing tools — blogs, social networks or media sharing sites, for example — have similar functionality, such as providing for conversations between users, interaction within communities, collaboration and sharing. Many of these tools and allow users to set up a profile to establish their identity and interests, and to connect with others — friends, fans, followers, subscribers, contacts — and to interact with those connections.
Every site and tool might have its own proprietary terminology and some unique features, but in general, there are similarities between most blogging platforms and some recognizable features that all social networks share.
2. How can you best use social media tools?
When using social media tools and tactics, you first need an overarching strategy and plan. What are you trying to achieve? Who are you trying to reach?
When you market using social media tools and tactics, you are interacting in a “social” space where trust and etiquette are critical. Many tools may allow you to broadcast, but broadcasting should not make up the bulk of your participation in social media spaces. Instead, you should be looking to first listen, and then meaningfully engage in conversations with your connections.
3. What’s the best social media tool to start with? (Blog? Facebook? LinkedIn?)
Choosing the social media sites and tools that are right for you depends on your overarching objectives: What are you trying to achieve and who are you trying to reach? There are wider-reaching sites such as a blog or Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, but also more narrow or niche sites and tools such as social networks specific to particular industry or interest, such as Care2 for environment, animal and human rights issues, or Behance for graphic designers. If you had to start with one site to help you in business, a good place to begin is with a professional profile on LinkedIn.
4. How do I discern which social networks are best for my market?
To find your audience, start with a search on Google (s goog) for keywords specific to your audience to cast a wide net. You can also drill deeper by performing the same searches on specific general networks, such as Facebook or Twitter.
5. What are the big “don’ts” in social media marketing?
Never lie. Never spam. Never just broadcast a message out to your connections and call it good. Never be too promotional.
6. What are your social media marketing “must dos?”
You must listen first, respect existing online communities, enter conversations politely, start conversations, respond to others, be generous, share and provide value.
7. I’m involved in social media, but am not sure how to use it to grow my business (i.e. monetize it)?
Think of social media marketing as another tool in your marketing toolkit. Social media marketing is not currently a direct sales tool, but can lead to sales. Think of social media marketing more as a branding and loyalty tool. How do you quantify the value of brand building and loyalty building? Look at customer service as well. What are your cost savings in the area of customer service and customer relations because you’re getting to the heart of complaints and issues more efficiently via social media channels? There are clear and sensible ways right now to determine your social media ROI. Now is the time to set benchmarks, goals, and to regularly analyze your numbers.
8. How do you “vet” clients you meet or who find you via social media channels?
How do you vet clients that you get from other channels where you don’t have a common contact? You do your due diligence, which can start with a Google search of the person or entity’s name. With social media conversations, you can find out more about people, companies and organizations than ever before. But also see if you do have a common contact, even if they’re a few degrees away from you. LinkedIn is a great place to start to see if you know someone who knows someone who knows the potential client, but Facebook can be just as useful to glean some feedback.
9. Which tools are best for graphic designers?
There are online portfolios for graphic designers including Behance, design:related, Coroflot and and online communities on social networks such as Facebook and Flickr. Designers can showcase work on a Facebook Page, a Flickr account and a blog or even a microblog such as Tumblr.
10. How do I best get started using social media marketing, and should I focus on using it for myself first and getting comfortable with it before using it for clients, or should I learn for clients first?
Everyone thinks they can offer social media marketing services to their clients. However, it takes more than having a Facebook account and knowing how to tweet to provide quality and comprehensive consulting and services. If you aren’t even engaged in social media channels, hold off on trying to offer social media marketing to your clients to avoid damaging your reputation. You first need to start using the sites, tools and tactics for yourself, and even if you master them to market your own company, that doesn’t necessarily mean you can now provide similar services to others.
Stick to your core competencies and instead consider partnering with someone who is truly engaged in social media marketing consulting. Form a mutually-beneficial relationship where you can refer new business to one another and both work within your areas of skill.
What are your burning social media marketing questions? I’ll be sure to answer them here over the next few months.
Related GigaOM Pro content (sub. req.): The Dos and Don’ts of Social Media Marketing