Social media. It’s a moving target. Master today’s tools and you’re already behind on the latest, greatest invention in tech tomorrow.

MediaBistro logoAnd forget online research for social media best practices. It’s downright overwhelming – and usually contradictory from article to article.

I needed to do some homework to get my head around all of the moving parts – with special consideration paid to those tools and platforms that make the most sense for Altitude’s tech-oriented B2B businesses.

So I headed to Mediabistro.com, the go-to source for social media, traditional media and creative professionals looking for industry news, as well as continuing education in the latest strategies, developments and tactics in new and traditional media. At last count, Mediabistro had more than 37,000 alumni and provides hundreds of different media-related courses each year.

Among those courses, I found a social media certificate program that I was able to complete in less than a year.

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Sure, there have been new tools added to the social ecosystem since I completed the certificate late this spring, and yes, contradictory information is still running rampant in online search results, but there are nuggets that remain timely and are good reminders for any business looking to go social.

What follows are my top six takeaways that every business involved in social media need to keep in mind as they get their social strategy rolling, all courtesy of Mediabistro’s social media certificate program.

1. Define goals and metrics.

Depending on your business and industry, your goals for using social media will be different making how you measure success a very individual thing.

For example, Altitude’s goals across social media include:

  • Driving traffic to our website
  • Positioning Altitude as a leader in the tech-oriented B2B marketing space
  • Gaining new followers/fans and engaging current followers/fans
  • Illustrating our corporate personality

With those goals in mind, we’re able to take a look at our Google Analytics to see if we’re succeeding in reaching them. And we’re able to look, specifically, at website traffic, number of clicks, likes, shares, etc. to make sure we’re providing content that’s valuable to our followers/fans.

2. Promote Facebook posts that are already doing well organically.

It’s not news that Facebook is continuing to change its algorithm to make it harder for businesses to reach their fans and followers organically. The company is putting pressure on brands to invest in advertising on Facebook in order to stay viable on the platform.

And while Facebook advertising does enable businesses to focus in exactly on their audience and target demographic, there’s one trick to the trade that I learned during my Mediabistro coursework that makes total sense, but isn’t well publicized: Put money behind posts you’ve made that are already doing well organically.

So, in Altitude’s case, we posted an open position in our Emmaus office a few months ago. I watched how well it did and noticed that its organic reach was five times what our other posts were receiving. As an experiment, we promoted the posts – and targeted folks in our geographic region. The post’s reach grew exponentially.

The result? We picked up a couple of new followers on our Facebook page, as well as a couple of shares and very likely a handful of resumes from people who otherwise wouldn’t have known about our job opening.

3. You limit your reach by starting a tweet with “@.”

This hint I knew before my Mediabistro course, but it’s so important it’s worth repeating.

If you’re replying to a tweet or mentioning a user on Twitter and you start your tweet with “@,” only users following both you and the person/organization/business you’re replying to/mentioning will see your tweet.

To make sure everyone can view a particular tweet on his or her feed, add a character before the tweet. In the image to the right, Comcast adds a period before @Oxygen and @Ryan so that everyone can see those tweets. If that period was left out, those tweets would be served up to followers of @Comcast, @Oxygen and @Ryan, respectively.

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 4. If you have a strong blogging presence – or plan to begin one – you need Google+.

Let’s face it: in the world of search marketing and preferred web browsing, Google all but owns the world. And so, as a result, Google makes the rules.

If you want your small business to earn favor with Google – and gain a little extra SEO love – you’ve got to create a Google+ page for your business. On that G+ page, you can post like you would any other social media platform and link to your blog. By key-wording appropriately – and by just being active on the platform – Google will give you bonus points and are likely to see a positive impact on where your biz shows up in search results.

One thing to note: Make sure you’re setting up your G+ page as a business page. By ensuring you’re doing that, you can work with your SEO/SEM provider to link that page to your Google Places for Business, better your chances of showing up in Google’s Local Carousel and landing you a right-hand listing on the search results. (See below.)

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 5. There’s (most likely) a tool for that.

Need to shorten a link for Twitter? Want to be able to schedule posts to go out at a later time or date? Interested in knowing when most of your followers are online? Need to know when your business is mentioned in social media?

There are tools for that.

Again, online research can be overwhelming, but in this case, it’s a good place to start. A few tools that were mentioned during the Mediabistro coursework – all of which were favorites of particular instructors – include:

  1. TweetDeck – A Twitter product (that’s free) enables users with more than one Twitter feed to scan, search and monitor accounts from one interface. (www.tweetdeck.com)
  2. Mention – This service enables businesses to listen to social media and be alerted, via email, when their brand or business is mentioned by someone else. (www.en.mention.com)
  3. Sprout Social – This tool enables you to measure the success of your social efforts, schedule posts for Twitter, G+ and Facebook ahead of time, learn more about new followers and more. This is the tool we use to manage the social presence of our clients, too, and it’s extremely helpful in keeping everything in one place. (www.sproutsocial.com)
  4. Bitly – This is a free link-shortening tool, but it also enables you to track stats of who is clicking the link. (www.bitly.com)

6. ABE.

That stands for “Always Be Experimenting.” As I mentioned in the intro to this blog, if you ask three social media practitioners about the best days and times to post to various social media platforms you’ll likely get three very different sets of recommendations.

The golden rule in social media is ABE.

What works for your business may not be the same thing that works for another. And that goes not just for the timing of your posts, but also for the content, how you phrase things, images you include or not include, etc.

You have to be sure, too, that it looks like a real, live person is posting to your accounts – even if you’re using one of the above-mentioned tools to preschedule content.