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A 24-Hour Social Media Marketing Plan for Your Startup

It's easy to waste time on Facebook and Twitter. Consider this game plan for new business owners in a hurry.

It only takes one day--24 hours--to roll out a social media marketing strategy that can boost your bottom line. That is, if you know how to spend your time.

The big three--LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter-- along with secondary social media sites like Foursquare, Groupon and ShareSquare, all offer once-unimaginable marketing tools. Real-time customer preference data, worldwide dissemination of company information and even the means to mass-distribute coupons … it's all available at our fingertips. Heck, these days you can even use barcodes to sell your products and services.

While marketing socially can be a road to opportunity, it can also lead to wasted business resources.

"Social media is what's happening; it's game-changing stuff," says Erika Brown, executive vice president of corporate strategy for Frost & Sullivan, an international consulting agency with a practice in social media. "But, it's far too easy for the inexperienced to spin their wheels and spend money and time on things they don't understand how to use effectively and measure properly."

To keep you from entering the social media time vortex, here's a step-by-step, hour-by-hour guide to designing, building and rolling out your own web 2.0 marketing plan.

Checklist: Before You Start
Dedicate the time.
A full day means a full day. Social media can be easy to use, filled with fascinating concepts and even fun--but it takes time. Plan on a full 24 hours to get your social marketing system running. It's probably best to invest roughly two hours a day over a two-week period.

Get to know your computer and smartphone. If you're just getting the hang of this online, smartphone, web software thing, selling with these tools is not for you--not yet, anyway. First, you should be comfortable with logging into online software, installing mobile apps and accessing the web in complex environments.

Know your brand, customers and potential customers.
Social media marketing is moot unless you can clearly communicate what you do. It's important to know who buys from you and who might potentially buy from you.

Ready? Begin!

00:00 - 02:00
Create a simple Web page
We know, this is supposed to be a social media guide, so what's a static web page doing here? The fact is, no matter what social media webs you spin, your business still needs a single, easy-to-find web space that defines your brand message, matches that brand to basic search terms customers might use to find you and provides clear and accurate contact information.

Tools to use: Do not bother with pricey web designers or developers. Basic website tools like those from Google Apps, Windows Live and Intuit Websites offer powerful low- or no-cost web services that work perfectly well.

Timesaving tip: In the age of Facebook and Twitter you don't need a complex, multipage website filled with dynamic content. A single-page site that scrolls down can be just the virtual brochure you need. Leave the heavy lifting to social media.

02:00 - 06:00
Connect with your customers on LinkedIn

LinkedIn may not have the social media hip factor of Facebook, Groupon or Foursquare, but it does have one thing those services don't: all the information on your best customers laid right out where you can find it.

Tools to use: LinkedIn is a very powerful tool, but it has a lot of extraneous features (e.g., LinkedIn Answers). All you need is a solid personal profile touting your experience, why someone would want to do business with you and about a half-dozen recommendations. Then, qualify your contacts into legit sales leads by ranking them in terms of how much business they do--or are likely to do--with you. Next, one at a time starting at the top of the list, request a connection with each and every qualified lead. Sure, it will take some time to rank your connections, not to mention for them to respond, but you have a full four hours for this, so fear not.

Timesaving tip: Do not create a separate company presence on LinkedIn. That's what your website and Facebook page are for. Your LinkedIn presence is about you. So get a professional head shot taken for your profile.

06:00 - 12:00
Professionalize your Facebook image

Overall, Facebook is miserable for running your business. It's not secure and it basically forces your employees to fool around. What it is fabulous for, though, is posting an up-to-the-minute log of what you and your business are doing.

Tools to use: You will need a personal Facebook profile and a business page. Once you set up a personal profile, creating a business page is a breeze. Just click on the "Ads and Pages" link on the left-hand side of your personal page and click the "+ Create Page" button. When creating your company profile, don't be shy about recycling your branding info from LinkedIn and your website. Then add fresh links, posts, images and branding information right away. Go back to your personal page and pull off any unprofessional photos or info that may hurt the image of your brand. Slowly what will emerge is a coherent, up-to-date personal and professional image of you and your company.

Timesaving tip: Think of Facebook as good latté--keep it light, sweet and short. Remember, it's called Facebook, not Crankybook or Boringbook. Keep your posts upbeat, useful and informative.

For Entrepreneur's best Facebook practices, visit entrepreneur.com/FBbestpractices

12:00 - 14:00
Go real-time With Twitter

With a solid website to show users who you are, the means to connect to your best customers on LinkedIn and a platform to post your latest work on Facebook, you are ready to add in the fast-twitch marketing muscle of Twitter.

Tools to use: Start with a personal, rather than a company, Twitter feed. The goal here is to follow your customers, tweet about what's relevant to your business, retweet content that's interesting to your customers and offer short, concise thoughts--140 characters or less--on your market. Remember, it's about getting your finger on the pulse of your current customers and offering useful information to potential customers. A few tweets a day is more than enough.

Timesaving tip: Go mobile. Twitter is great, but it's not worth sitting at a computer tweeting all day. Get Twitter's mobile client and tweet directly from your phone. Note: Though it might seem like a timesaver, don't set your preferences to automatically place Twitter content on Facebook and LinkedIn--they're unique tools and each requires its own messaging.

14:00 - 18:00
Tinker with some cool stuff

Before you go live, take a few hours to test-drive some of social media's cutting-edge tools. Here are a few to be aware of.

Foursquare: For retail and sales, a well-thought-out, geo-targeted presence on Foursquare makes sense. The goal is to reward loyal customers with preferential treatment and discounts.

Groupon: The king of social discounting, this tool lets you offer a deep discount on a single day for a single product to drive awareness and business. But be careful, your operation may be flooded with deadbeats who have no intention of ever returning to pay full price.

ShareSquare: Truly the cutting-edge of social media, ShareSquare uses customizable barcodes that can be loaded with company information and placed into business cards, pamphlets or other printed materials, where customers then use their smartphone cameras to capture the encoded info and automatically connect to everything from company images to sweepstakes. It sounds crazy, but it works.

18:00 - 24:00
Test. Adapt. Update. Repeat.

You're in the home stretch. You have a static, search engine-friendly website to help customers find you both on- and offline. You have a qualified community of current and likely customers via LinkedIn. You can socialize with customers on your cleaned-up Facebook personal page, while maintaining an up-to-the-minute running résumé of your work on your Facebook business page. You have the means to track your customers and attract potential ones via Twitter. And you are targeting your message geographically using discounts or other new technologies with Foursquare, Groupon or ShareSquare.

Now comes the critical part: learning to keep things manageable. Considering the power and potential of even one of these tools, it's easy to get distracted by the sheer vastness of it all. You will see people with 1,500 Facebook friends, 15,000 Twitter followers and 500-plus LinkedIn connections. Don't sweat it. You only need to serve a few new customers.

Start with your best leads on LinkedIn and look at your established connections. They also have connections, so search them for potential clients. Poke around on Facebook, Twitter and the other platforms to see if your connections there have pages and feeds. If your business offers a solution for them, start following them on Twitter or even make a friend request on Facebook. If it feels like a match, ask for a formal connection on LinkedIn. Be sure to support your first pitch with solid tweets, an excellent image on Facebook and the proper incentives on other platforms. If you do this, your customers should be happy to connect you.

Most important, move slowly and limit your time invested. Spend no more than two hours for each new customer, which keeps your virtual marketing platform from being hyperactive (and you won't be accused of spamming your connections). Scale rarely translates into money in social media. Keep your virtual marketing platform lean and up to date, and it will help make you money in the real world.

Jonathan Blum is a freelance writer and the principal of Blumsday LLC, a Web-based content company specializing in technology news.

Like this article? Get this issue right now on iPad, Nook or Kindle Fire.

This article was originally published in the June 2011 print edition of Entrepreneur's StartUps with the headline: Get Social.

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