It’s important for modern employers to know whether or not their marketing employees and other managers should be spending much company time on social media. If you pay someone say $200 per day, you will want to know if $50 of that is well spent if they spend a quarter of their time posting, liking, +1ing, retweeting, favoriting, repining or asking, answering or upvoting questions on Quora.
A number of articles have tried to quantify, for instance, the use of Twitter in terms of expected direct sales resulting from a tweet linking to a landing page or ecommerce site page.
I would suggest that this is not the best way to measure “Social Media ROI.” Social media is more about establishing relationships with would-be and current customers and partners, not about direct sales conversion.
There are 5 main reasons to have employees use social media in the service of your cause. Before I go into them, let me say three things:
Tips for Successful Employee Social Media Engagement
First, you should ask employees to post at least half (if not most) of the time from accounts that your company can keep if they leave – you should know the passwords to the accounts.
Second, if you’ve got a product or service to sell, you should insist that your employees never discuss politics, religion or gender issues on any account that links to your company in any way. In the recent American election season, I’ve been stunned by the amount of business people who act online like they believe that half the American population is stupid and that all their potential business partners would be among the allegedly non-stupid people who think like they do politically.
If you or any of your key marketing employees must make political comments online, it’s not hard (but sadly getting harder) to do this anonymously. If the comments under a controversial news story are Facebook comments that require you or an employee to use a real name, you should all refrain from giving an opinion altogether except maybe to tell the site moderators to bring back anonymous commenting.
Third, nothing I’m about to say should imply that employers mess with the private lives of their employees more than the latter are comfortable with. It’s just been my experience that most professional marketing employees will understand and happily adjust to the social media realities I’m about to describe.
Anyway, here are the 5 main reasons why you and your employees should use social media on company time (just not the majority of your time):
Why Employees Should Use Social Media at Work
1) The SEO effect – To the search engines, a real company is a relevant company. A real and relevant company will employ various people who have a clear interest in furthering their employer’s position on a given market. If Google or Bing find individual “authors” are producing great content and that more than one good content producing “author” works for the same company (social media profile link), that company will be considered more relevant for its industry keywords.
The more popular a social media account is among quality followers, the higher the quality of its backlinks to your website. Make sure the profiles of your employee accounts are filled with relevant keywords for search engines to define them properly. Having multiple employees share, like, repin, upvote and retweet each other is a good way to make each of them look good to people on the outside who will then positively interact with them and, thus, with your company.
Most important: For SEO purposes alone, be sure that your employees have accounts on the 6 major social media platforms all of which link back to various pages of your corporate website. They should have great, keyword rich, profiles on LinkedIn, Google+, Twitter, Quora and Pinterest. Their Facebook page should at least have a valid link to your company page at the top. This can be seen by everyone even if the Facebook page owner refuses to let the public see their wall posts.
On LinkedIn, all of your employees including the maintenance staff, should have great looking profiles with photos, be connected to one another (even if they hate each other), be properly connected to your well-designed LinkedIn company page and, where it says “Company Page” in their profile…the employees should write their own keyword rich anchor text describing your company page. They should be happy to use their allotted 3 links to present your site, their company related blog and 2 other company related websites or another social media profile (preferably your Google+ company page because that has the highest SEO value). Obviously, if your employee has agreed with you beforehand that they can moonlight in another business, you will be OK if they use one of their 3 allotted “company page” links to present a site that is not related to your business. The point is, you should be aware of how important all these employee social media parameters are to your company’s SEO position.
Be sure your employees who log on to Facebook at work have a proper link to your corporate Facebook page as their place of work under their main photo. If they are going to log on at work, it should be understood that, if they are using Facebook on company time, they will like all the company posts, comment now and then and share on their own walls now and then.
All of this should be done for the SEO effect alone.
2) Direct interaction with potential strategic partners & key influencers – The 2nd most important reason why your marketing employees should use social media on company time, is the opportunity for them to interact with specific targeted and strategic individuals at important companies you want to do business with.
When you and your people interact with key individuals online, you should mostly not attempt to directly hard sell your company’s products or services. Occasionally a good salesman can start immediately with a hard sell, such as gaining a LinkedIn contact by directly telling that person that they are a key target for doing business, but the main idea is to introduce yourself and develop relationships with key target individuals while you share your targets’ material and like them and make relevant comments on things they’ve written.
When you or your employees have become a known social media “friend” to a key individual, it will become much easier to arrange a meeting to discuss doing actual business.
Because this method of social media interaction is so effective and often better than cold-calling or cold-emailing, I cannot overestimate its value to your company.
3) Giving potential & current customers a feeling that support is handy – Even when all support questions should go through a special support team, potential and current customers want to have the feeling that informal support is just a tweet or comment away.
4) The direct brand advertising effect – When you or an employee follows or circles someone, that target will take a few seconds to look at the timeline of the account that just followed them. The impression will be similar to a targeted advertisement. Often potential customers will only see the latest post or the blurb that your employees wrote in the “profile description” of their accounts and will follow or unfollow your employees based only on that input. Therefore, make sure that these descriptions are compelling and the profile photos are attractive or professional. As they are using social media on company time, you have every right to make suggestions on how best to optimize their profiles.
Remember: When you or an employee follows someone, you are serving them a targeted ad. Don’t blow it. Not on company time.
To maximize this brand advertising effect, your marketing employee accounts should be following dozens of new potential customers per day and they should periodically unfollow everyone who isn’t following back and who isn’t a known paying customer of your firm. If someone looks important but isn’t following back, you or your employee can unfollow that person while simultaneously liking or sharing something they posted (to show there are no hard feelings and to be sure they pay attention one last time).
Remember: Social media follow limits will eventually force you to unfollow non-followers. If you and your employees are not approaching follow limits, you’re probably not doing business-related social media right.
Back in 2009, some bloggers were saying that it was OK to follow someone on Twitter without them following back. These bloggers were just trying to justify the fact that they didn’t like following people back themselves often preferring to make themselves look popular at most everyone else’s expense. If anyone is a potential paying customer of your firm, you probably shouldn’t diss them on social media. Try to at least follow everyone back who looks like they may have money to spend on you.
Remember: Not following back may cause a negative direct brand advertising effect if you have a particular product to sell. Non-spammers take it personally when another individual seems to take no interest in them. In fact, since the definition of a spammer is someone who doesn’t really expect specific individuals to react to them, the definition of a non-spammer is someone who actually does expect you to respond to their attempt to draw your attention.
When someone follows you, if they are professional and understand social media, they are indeed trying to get your attention and they would hope for a positive reaction (you following back and hopefully sharing or liking their content).
5) The direct traffic to your site from first-time viewers of a social media profile with an intent to buy – This is rare and hard to measure because, if you and your employees have followed the above advice properly, extremely qualified, targeted traffic will often come to your site directly from a social media account and you won’t be able to tell if this was the result of a relationship you slowly developed with one of your readers or if someone new decided to look at your site the moment they found a social profile linking to it.
Now that I’ve described the 5 reasons to use social media for business, let me provide some more platform-specific social media advice:
Guidelines for Employee Use of Social Networking Sites
Quora: Quora is an important Question and Answer site that is now more important than Yahoo Answers or About.com. You will need to join Quora and keep track of new “Questions” people are asking about which companies in your industry are the best. If you and your employees don’t keep track of such Quora questions, you risk having your company left entirely out of the discussions. It would be particularly embarrassing if someone loads a Quora question by asking “What’s the best company to buy X from, A or C?” when your company is B. Not only will key decision makers read Quora questions and answers and find no mention of your company, but journalists and analysts writing about your industry may end up not knowing your company even exists. Even worse, a Quora question can end up with higher Google position for your main keywords than your site itself has. It will be your own fault if you and your employees weren’t tracking your industry there.
Don’t just join Quora without filling out a keyword-rich (but not keyword-stuffed) profile. The same is true for Twitter, Pinterest, Google+ and LinkedIn.
Twitter: Your Twitter accounts should be following dozens of new targeted people per day and cross following the followers of your other accounts while periodically unfollowing those who have refused to follow after a month of you following them. It is ridiculous to wait until people somehow find your Twitter accounts and follow them on their own. Most such followers will be spammers anyway. So be proactive. It’s mostly a waste of time for you or an employee to tweet on company time to an audience of only 200 people, most of whom are nobody important. If your Twitter profile descriptions are not keyword-rich, you won’t be taken seriously by many of the most important people who won’t follow you if they don’t see the magic keyword they’re probably looking for. It’s idiotic to tweet to people who are not following back…unless you are prodding certain people to check your timeline because you are regularly retweeting or favoriting some of their posts.
Pinterest: Learn how to use this popular social media site that has DoFollow links and that is, therefore, great for SEO. By all means, don’t be one of the 9 out of 10 people on Pinterest who have foolishly failed to fill out their profile with a keyword rich description and who have left the default board titles such as “Great Books to Read” in place. Such board titles are meant to be changed just as the words “Company Page” on LinkedIn profiles are meant to be edited. On Pinterest, board titles are effectively HTML header (H1) tags that are begging you to put relevant keywords in.
Google+: If you care about getting better Google positions more than getting better Bing positions (75% of the search market vs 25% of the search market), then you should be at least three times more active on G+ than you are on Facebook and Twitter combined. Bing has an exclusive relationship with Facebook and Twitter for their “firehose” meta data while Google knows everything about your activity (and others’ response to it) on Google+.
Google+ is, therefore, the *most important* social media platform to make posts on. Be sure that everyone in your company knows this.
Facebook: Be very sure that your employees properly link to your Facebook company page from their Facebook personal profiles. There is little that is really private about real name Facebook personal profiles (as compared to anonymous fake profiles where true free speech can reign). None of your employees should be saying truly controversial things on their private but real Facebook pages that could make your company look bad, especially if they login on company time. Because you want your employees to be liking your company profile posts, you should value those employees who let the public see that you have well-rounded fun and interesting people working for you. Your customers and potential business partners will often ask your employees to accept them as friends on Facebook. This can be awkward to someone, like me, who would prefer to limit Facebook friends to real friends and relatives, but it shouldn’t hurt too much to accept a few company customers as your Facebook friends either. Such is the drawback of presenting yourself publicly as a friendly and interesting person off-hours as well as on. If your marketing personnel are properly making relevant comments under articles in industry blogs, many potential customers will find your employees’ personal Facebook profiles and the link to your company Facebook page that way. Many potential customers will also find your employees’ Facebook pages via cross links from their other social media profiles.
That said, neither you nor your employees need to discuss business much on your personal Facebook walls. Just be sure the link to the company page is at the top of the personal pages and that those who have personal pages regularly like and comment on the company page posts.
LinkedIn: I’ve noted above that everyone in your company should have an SEO optimized LinkedIn profile with a good photograph and be linked to each other. Your company page needs to have a header image and proper keyword rich description. But here is even more critical advice: Everyone should be checking to see who has viewed their profiles and reporting interesting prospects to your salespeople. You can quickly analyze the footprint and professionalism of most people by checking to see how they present themselves on LinkedIn, Google+, Twitter, Facebook, Quora and Pinterest altogether.
You should not refuse to connect with anyone professional who requests a connection as long as they aren’t a competitor (and even if they are a competitor if they seem to have integrity).
Finally, don’t be a coward about asking someone to connect with you on LinkedIn. You’d be surprised how much business can result from not being shy.
Allen MacCannell is VP of Sales & Marketing for Web CEO Limited, an international leader in SEO software development.
Image courtesy of jscreationzs / FreeDigitalPhotos.net