Businesses are not ready for social media, unless ….

By now, you all have heard enough about social media this, social media that – folks in your office saying we need to create a business account on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and the other zillion social media sites out there.

But are businesses ready for this. My answer is No. Vast majority of businesses are not ready for it, period.

What businesses should actually be spending their time first is on an  SEO and content strategy first (SEO = search engine optimization) before they start worrying about social media. Here is a simple diagram that I use to explain this to anyone who would listen – yes I do get drowned by all those voices who say – but we can do that later, why don’t we create a business page on Facebook in the mean time. If we build it, they will come. NO THEY WON’T COME, unless they FIND YOU on the internet.

Social Media

Starting from the left, you have your products/services. On your website, you need to have information on these products/services. The first question a business needs to ask itself is the following:

Is our content (easy to read product brochures, white papers, case studies etc.) useful for our target audience? Is it written in a language our target base uses? If yes, is it Search Engine friendly so that they will find it?

If no, forget about social media and  spend the time getting this in order.

Now how do you do that? First of all, understand what your target audience is searching for and then determine which of these search keywords are relevant to you and the content you currently have – the free Google keywords tool is a good place to start. You may not necessarily have to go after the high search volume keywords,  since they will be highly competitive and you would likely be competing against those who have larger wallets than you do. I am not an expert on all the SEO tips, but there is a ton of good content on SEO on the web.

If you do not have enough content that will be useful to your audience, then create it and optimize it for the selected keywords. One way to generate content is to start a company blog and create Google juice – new fresh, relevant content.

Once you have created the necessary content and your site is getting found by the search engines for the keywords you have chosen to compete for (give it 4-6 weeks to see results), then start spreading the word on the social media outposts. As you create new content, post it on the social media outposts. Yes, you need to use social media to listen to your prospects, but without SEO friendly, relevant content, IMHO you don’t have a prayer.

So here are the steps as I see it:

1. Create an SEO strategy – why do I need SEO? (increase awareness, get more visitors to my site, convert a percentage of them to customers etc. – what do you really want to achieve?)

2. Figure out the keywords you want to optimize for.

3. Repurpose or create content that will be useful to your audience based on the selected keywords. If you have no content and have no idea of what your audience may be interested in, interview your customers or prospects and understand the problems for which they turn to the internet to find answers. These problems may not necessarily have anything to do with your products/servies. But if you make your customers successful at what they do, you will build trust with them. Once they get to your site, you can think of ways of getting them to look at what you have to offer. It is similar to how you go to say Home Depot to buy the one thing you wanted and you end up buying other stuff that would solve other problems you have. OK, B2B technology purchases are not that implusive, but you get the idea.

4. Get it on your website

5. Evaluate progress over 6-8 weeks to see where you stand in the search engine results for the selected keywords. If you are not moving up, iterate your SEO effort. It is not do it once and forget it.

7. Once you are ready, now start building a presence on social media sites like LinkedIn, Facebook etc.

8. Use these media to lightly promote your content – this will create traffic to your site. Keep mining these channels to search for what your customers may be saying – what problems have they had, are they bad mouthing you and/or your competition. Reach out to them, make connections, help them solve their problems and then create more content on your website that addresses these issues so that other folks who have these issues can find you.

So why do you as a software product manager need to care about this? Should’nt this be done by product marketing?

Yes, product marketing should own this, but …. guess who in a company knows (or is supposed to know) customers and prospects the best – you the software Product Manager!.  Product Marketing usually does not. So if you have established customer/prospect relationships, then take the lead to help marketing find answers to what customers might be interested in. If marketing does a poor job of this and fills up your website with marketing buzzwords and other gobbledygook that your target audience does not understand or if your target audience cannot find you, then your product is not going to sell. I have seen marketing stats that say 92% of B2B businesses use the internet to look for solutions. Product managers can no longer sit on the side and not have a say in how their products are messaged and marketed on the web. In many smaller companies, a marketing person may not even exist and the Product Manager may have to step in and take the lead.

All of this takes time and commitment. But then nothing fruitful and lasting gets done without effort. Remember Rome was not build in a day!

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