Screenshot from an Old Spice commercial featuring "The Man Your Man Could Smell Like"

This is a repost of an article we were asked to write for the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce weekly newsletter.

We’ve all heard the buzz. We all know the two words that strike fear and uncertainty in the hearts of companies everywhere: “social media.” But these new online community outlets needn’t scare you if you know how to utilize them properly. Here are two strategies for making social media work for you.

1. Converse with your customers.

Have you seen the Old Spice commercial featuring "The Man Your Man Could Smell Like"? If not, go watch it.

All set? Now, imagine that The Man Your Man Could Smell Like sent you a personalized message. Think you'd tell your friends about it?

Three weeks ago, Old Spice launched one of the most effective social marketing campaigns ever run by a national brand. They told people to submit questions on Twitter and other online communities, and promised that their charismatic spokesman would answer them.

What followed was a conversation with Old Spice's potential customers: People asked all manner of questions, and the Man Your Man Could Smell Like answered them via personalized videos on YouTube.

Over three days, Old Spice produced more than 180 videos starring spokesman Isaiah Mustafa. Every video was addressed to an individual, and each was less than 60 seconds in length.

Here are some of our favorites:

The great thing about that last video is that it resulted in a web site where you can create your own customized Old Spice voicemail greeting. But here’s the kicker: was not created by the Old Spice team. Rather, a group of unpaid fans from conceived and built it on their own time, at no cost to Old Spice.

Did it work? Besides fan-created sites like a sign that a brand is making its mark--32 million people watched the videos on YouTube in a single week, and Old Spice sales were up 107% in July.

2. Be interesting and useful.

kissmetrics screenshotAnother company using Twitter well is KISSmetrics, an organization that offers web analytics that "Keep it simple, stupid."

KISSmetrics' customers are web developers, online marketers, and online business owners. But for its Twitter feed, the company asks itself what might be of interest to potential customers, and then posts links to topical articles five to ten times a day. If you’re a web developer, chances are you’ll find value in following KISSmetrics on Twitter, even if you have no interest in using their products.

There are two important things to note about KISSmetric's Twitter strategy:

  1. Only a small portion of KISSmetrics’ tweets are about themselves. Instead, they focus on being a resource to their audience in hopes of building brand equity. That way, when a follower needs web analytics, they think of KISSmetrics first.
  2. KISSmetrics writes very little of this material. They find relevant content and use Twitter to point to it. This strategy should be comforting to those who are overwhelmed by the task of content creation.

So what does this mean for you?

Remarkable content is the key to successful social media campaigns. Best selling marketing author Seth Godin defines remarkable content as content that people will remark about. Is what you have to say entertaining, interesting, or useful enough to be worthy of being discussed?

Old Spice's content is remarkable because it is witty and features an incredibly charming, entertaining, and engaging spokesman who interacts with an audience. KISSmetric's content is remarkable because it’s useful to their intended customers.

Generate content that will be of interest and use to potential clientele. If you’re a tax lawyer, write about the latest changes in personal income tax deductions. If you work in a nightclub, post pictures of your crowded bar on a Friday night.

If writing content is intimidating to you, consider using video instead. The Internet has made video production easy and inexpensive. The $150 Flip video camera and the iPhone 4 allow you to shoot hi-def video and quickly share it on the web.

Focus on quality rather than quantity: Keep your articles and videos succinct. It's better to make three short posts than one long one. Try to cover only a single topic per post. Many Twitter applications, such as HootSuite, allow you to set timers on your posts, so you can write several at one time and automatically mete them out over the course of a day or week.

Finally, social media is also about trial and error. If at first you don’t succeed, post and post again. You’ll get the hang of it and discover what works for you, your company, and your customers.

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