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The Social Media Handbook: Five Tips For Entrepreneurs Looking To Leverage The Internet As a new business, it is vital that you get to grips with how to harness social media to drive awareness, brand affinity, loyalty, advocacy and most importantly, commerce.

By Ema Linaker

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

You're reading Entrepreneur Middle East, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.

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Social media: two words, which have become loaded with meaning, misunderstanding and momentum over the past ten years. As a new business, it is vital that you get to grips with how to harness this essential business tool to drive awareness, brand affinity, loyalty, advocacy and most importantly, commerce. In the Middle East, we are in a unique position both geographically, but digitally speaking as well. The region, although highly diverse, has quite a few "common' traits that you should be aware of before embarking on any social media strategy. But before we get to them, let's start by talking about you and your business.

Consumers in MENA are mobile-first Firstly, your consumer is mobile. 70% of all traffic to any social channel is on a mobile device, which means that your messaging needs to communicate to a mobile generation. It needs to be relevant, highly visual, entertaining or very useful and informative.

Status-ology People in the Middle East like to show off their own individual style, know-how and status using social media. That's why Twitter is so popular here in the Gulf, especially in KSA where 10.8 million tweets are shared every day.

Being connected is a default With a population that is mostly aged way below 40, the Gulf is rife with what we marketers call millennials, a generation that has grown up using their mobile as the window to their entire life, and where Snapchat has replaced Facebook as the place to share and exchange life moments with friends.

Short-form video storytelling Snapchat, Vine and Instagram are extremely popular in the MENA, because they appeal to the highly visual storytelling population here. Most people under 25 in the Middle East chronicle their life experiences now on these platforms.

This particular consumer behavior pertinent to the MENA region means that businesses trying to be relevant and communicate to such savvy, hyper-connected people have challenges lined up in front of them if they insist on investing in traditional ways of communicating to their target audience.

Social media marketing is the process of building awareness about you, your products or services through the various social media channels. The ultimate goal of any social media marketing campaign is to drive traffic to a website, increase the visibility of a product, create a community of loyal and passionate customers that defend and promote your brand across the digital web, and finally, find more customers. If you follow these five simple steps listed below, you will be on your way to leveraging one of the most powerful forms of word-of-mouth marketing techniques there is.

1. Understand social media's purpose for your communications

The first thing I advise any client wanting to embark on any communications strategy, whether it be digital or traditional communication, is to fully understand the purpose of communicating. What is it you really want to achieve on social? It's only when you can fully answer this question that you should even think about embarking on launching a Facebook page or a Twitter handle.

2. What do you want to be famous for?

Once you know what you want social media to do for your business, you can focus on creating and articulating why anyone would want to follow your Twitter feed or sign up to your LinkedIn group. Far too many businesses fail to understand that good social media requires a brand or company to give something back to the people that have given them their attention, time and loyalty. Social media has to be viewed as an everevolving relationship that requires investment, time, and dialogue. As Simon Sinek famously said, "People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it."

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3. Listen!

I was once asked what qualities do the best salespeople have. I immediately jumped into the obvious ones like expertise in the field, understanding of human behavior, NLP, etc., but the first and most basic skill I completely missed out was listening. If you want to sell effectively, it's imperative to invest time listening to precisely what your customers really want- how they want it, and when.

Time and time again I see businesses failing on social media because they don't invest enough time in paying attention to what people are telling them day in day out on the social web. There is such a wealth of information that customers around your business, your industry and your category are talking about on Google+, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook that you need to know before embarking on any planning or any content. Listening to what people are saying will show you where the gaps are in their knowledge of your business, or where the industry is failing them and how you might be able to solve that issue. Further, it will inform your content strategy because what they say and how they say it should impact what you say and how you say it on digital and social media. It should inform your entire digital or social strategic thinking. And yes, there are tools to do just that- the best ones out there for Arabic right now are Synthesio, Sysomos and Socialbakers.

4. Understand which platform is right for your business needs

There are probably over 20 core platforms you need to be aware of, but for the sake of simplicity and ease, I am going to briefly talk about only my six top ones. Each of these has a different purpose, which can be another article altogether.

> Facebook is the big daddy of social media here, with over 80 million people actively accessing the network every month. And over 66% of those people access from mobile devices- this means that anything you want to say to your customers has to be compelling on a screen size of 5.5 inches. This is vital in knowing where to focus your attention when creating for social. Also, now that Facebook has added video content to its feeds, you can pretty much focus all your eggs in one Facebook basket, if consumer engagement is critical to you, and you have a fairly hefty content production and media budget to invest as well. If not, then you might consider some of the other opportunities that lie outside of Facebook.

> Instagram is massive in MENA. It's grown over 60% in just one year in terms of its usage, and towards the end of 2015, we will see Instagram start monetizing its platform and offering advertisers the chance to deliver beautiful advertising. Instagram is a great platform if you're looking for a connection between the camera feature on your smartphone and all your social profiles. Not only will it allow you to share via Twitter, Facebook, and the Instagram website, you can choose from a variety of photo filters and invite people to comment on your photos or ideas.

> While there is much doom and gloom around the global news surrounding Twitter, here in MENA, this platform is alive and well if you want to do certain things. Twitter is phenomenal for activating offline events, distributing news or connecting with influencers. Perhaps the simplest of all social media platforms, Twitter also just happens to be one of the most fun and interesting. Messages are limited to 140 characters or less, but that's more than enough to post a link, share an image, or even trade thoughts with your favorite celebrity or influencer. Twitter's interface is easy to learn and use, and setting up a new profile only takes minutes. What's more its lead gen cards allow you to collect customer data and sell through the platform- it's a definite must-try.

> LinkedIn is one of the only mainstream social media sites that is actually geared towards business. LinkedIn is to cyberspace what networking groups once were to local business communities. It's great for meeting customers, getting in touch with vendors, recruiting new employees, and keeping up with the latest in business or industry news. If it matters to your company or career, you can probably do it on LinkedIn.

> YouTube has to be a focal point for any brand wanting to improve their search results and ensure that your products and services can be easily found by the millions searching on Google in the region. Video content is expensive and does require investment; however, the payback is big and ensures that you can easily be found by some of the world's most researched and informed consumers– those found in the Middle East. YouTube's catalog of billions and billions of videos has become known as "the world's second-largest search engine" in some circles. The site has everything from first-person product reviews to promotional clips and "how-two" instructions on virtually any topic or discipline. Users have the ability to share, rate, and comment on what they see.

> Snapchat is a surprisingly addictive app giving you the ability to take a picture, add art and text if you'd like, and then send it to recipients for a set amount of time (after which the photo will delete itself and be removed from the company's servers). It's useful to brands through its Snapchat Stories and Snapchat Live Stories features. Users can use Snapchat's Live Stories to share photos and videos of a live event, whereas Snapchat Stories is a curation of all your snaps over 24 hours and provides brands with a powerful storytelling medium that millennials in MENA love.

5. Participation is the secret sauce

When deciding what to say and how to say things on social channels, the best piece of advice I can give you all is that you must focus on allowing the people who are giving their attention and their time to you the chance to participate in the story. What that means is that you need to expect (or even explicitly ask) people to share their point of view with what you're saying. Social media has to be a two-way conversation between your business or brand, and the people you're trying to connect with. Traditional "push' communications techniques do not deliver this, so always think of these four parameters when judging whether what you're saying or showing on social channels is good or not:

  • Does it pass the "why would I care, why would I share' test?
  • Does it actively request the person reading or viewing what I'm saying to share their point of view with me?
  • Will it entertain, inform or resonate with people?
  • Does it have a clear point of view?

So there you have it: five simple guidelines on how to get your social strategy started. It's important you take the time to consider these steps, so that when you start publishing your content and your brand stories, they should take into consideration what your audience thinks about your industry, your business, your services on the social web. It also requires an understanding of where your audience is most receptive to receiving brand information like this- it might not be Facebook; it could be Snapchat or LinkedIn. There needs to be a clear value exchange between your brand and the people you want to subscribe to your channels in that your channels have a clear purpose in mind for what they want to achieve. Finally, always remember that storytelling is social by nature, and should allow for conversation, dialogue and shared experiences with your audience.

Ema Linaker

Regional Director, Holler/Leo Burnett

Ema Linaker is a digital native who has been working integrated communications for leading brands and agencies for over 20 years. She has worked at Google, Nuance, Ogilvy & Mather, and now heads up Leo Burnett’s team of social, mobile and digital experts working on multinational brands like McDonalds, Samsung and P&G.
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