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Featured Article from The ATA Chronicle (March 2011)

 

Using Social Media to Boost Your Language Services Business
By Nataly Kelly
(Reprinted with permission from Common Sense Advisory, © 2010.)

Social media platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter are no longer merely “phenomena.” Within the space of just a few years, they have become essential components of many firms’ marketing and public relations plans. However, social media are notoriously difficult to monetize. How can language services providers (LSPs) leverage these platforms for maximum benefit? The following offers several important guidelines to follow, as well as some pitfalls to avoid.

Use Social Media Platforms with a Strategic Purpose in Mind
Your company’s social media profiles are a window for the rest of the world to learn more about you. Increasingly, your most recent tweets or status updates might be among the first search results potential customers find. In other words, their very first impression of your company may come through one of these platforms.

Most LSPs agree that a social media presence is important, but very few stop to consider what kind of presence they want to create. Before putting your company “out there,” consider these questions:

“Are our customers actually here?” Many companies assume they need a social media presence even before they have actually conducted the basic research to discover a target online market. As a company owner, your first step is to find out if the decision-makers and influencers you really want to reach are using social media? If so, which ones? What type of content are they looking for and how can you provide something better than what others offer? Random thoughts on a wide range of topics will not make you the go-to source of expertise. Find out where your customers are—the groups to which they belong, what pages they have become fans of on Facebook, and which companies or individuals they follow—and then tailor your content to fit those platforms.

“What do we really want our brand to convey?” Social media platforms are not necessarily a place to adhere to strict guidelines for developing a brand voice. In fact, many of these services require that you keep entries precise and flag topics so that other users can find them more easily. (For example, in Twitter, the # symbol—called a hashtag—is used to mark keywords or topics in a tweet as a way to categorize messages.)
Although there are no strict guides, you still need to come up with some basic rules regarding what type of image you want to convey. Is the person who controls your brand presence on social media familiar with your most salient marketing messages and brand attributes? Review your company’s last 30 status updates and tweets. Is there a common theme, or is it scattered? Does the company put forth an image consistent with its marketing goals?

“What type of information will we provide?” One of the most common mistakes
LSPs make is to use social media platforms as soapboxes to brag about themselves. While an occasional “Hooray for us!” update is not harmful, a steady stream of self-centered updates will turn people away. Instead, focus on what the company can deliver that is valuable to customers. What kind of information can you provide that will be helpful to customers in their daily work? Make sure that the resources to which you link are worthwhile for customers and prospects. Do not link only to sources on your website, as this will be seen as the overt self-promotion that it is. Link to your own website properties only when you really have something valuable to share.

“What is our network growth strategy?” Social networking is about building networks of individuals with shared interests. What are those interests? Are they stated clearly in your profile or description so that potential contacts can find you easily? Do you conduct a daily search for new contacts with the same interests? Do you state these interests frequently in your status updates? Do you re-tweet items frequently from “social media celebrities” (individuals who specialize in your fields of interest and boast the largest number of contacts)? Many LSPs focus on content exclusively but ignore contacts, which usually means that while their updates are good, their network size fails to grow.

“Are we engaging our employees and partners?” Invite your staff, including your network of freelancers, to become fans of your Facebook page, connect to you, or follow your company. Set a goal—can you get 50% of your employees connected to your social media platforms in the next six months? Launch an internal campaign to get as many individuals connected to your company as possible, thereby increasing your reach and making you a more sought-after contact in the process. Encourage employees to use the company hashtag. If necessary, set up a quick internal webinar to teach them how social media platforms work, and use this time to communicate the goals of your company’s social media campaign. Consider offering a prize for people who build their networks with the company’s interests in mind. For example, give an incentive to the first person to connect to 20 localization managers in a given industry.

“Are we a contact worth keeping?” Do not forget to give people a reason to connect to you and stay connected. As mentioned earlier, content alone is not necessarily sufficient. Action and interactivity are more important. For example, do you have periodic giveaways, raffles, or contests? Are you planning a local get-together? Are you offering a free webinar on a topic that will help the people you most want to reach? Do you provide an interesting brainteaser or something else that will entertain people and keep them coming back? Make sure whatever information you provide is of sufficient quality to get your contacts to return.

Additional Considerations for Social Media-Savvy LSPs
Has your company already covered many of the fundamentals? If so, ask yourself the following questions:

“Are we using the right tools?” If you find yourself struggling to keep your Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn profiles updated constantly, chances are you are failing to take advantage of tools that enable you to send out the same messages across multiple platforms automatically. The mechanics of keeping a prominent place in social media streams are becoming easier all the time with tools such as Brizzly, Buzzom, HootSuite, Seesmic, TweetDeck, and TwitHive. Today, you can easily populate your Facebook and LinkedIn pages using your Twitter feed with such tools. In fact, they are essential for ensuring a consistent brand presence across multiple social media networks.

“Is our social media content aligned with SEO?” What search terms and keywords are you using on your web pages and in your press releases? Are you using the same terms in your social media messaging? Many companies fail to recognize that much of the same work they are doing for search engine optimization (SEO) and marketing can also yield positive results with social media campaigns. If you are not already in close contact with your webmaster about these issues, you need to be. Find out which pages of your website are most popular and what search terms most frequently bring people to those pages. Make sure you are integrating this information into your social media marketing work.

“Are we setting micro-goals?” One of the best features of social media for marketers is the ability to track specific information and tie it back to specific campaigns or objectives. Make sure to set micro-goals, which could include achieving a set number of members on a LinkedIn group, a high number of re-tweets, reaching a specific number of views or embeds of a YouTube video, or an expanded following on Twitter and Facebook. You can also use unique URLs to track which channels are most successful.
Micro-goals should tie to other specific goals, such as an increased number of online subscribers eventually leading to an increased number of actual sales leads generated.

“Are we engaging younger generations?” Do not overlook the power of Generation Y when building your networks. The individuals you sell to today are likely to be in their 30s or 40s. But are you reaching the 20-somethings who will be your customers a few years from now? What about the freelancers who might still be in college, but could be among your most talented and trusted resources in the years to come? Think creatively to find ways to engage younger generations. Conduct outreach to translation and interpreting programs at universities. Join social media groups for students in the areas that commonly produce individuals with localization manager titles. You should find ways to reach these important contacts earlier in their career paths so that they will already be familiar with your brand (and have positive associations with it) when they are in a position to hire your services.

“Is it time for a social media policy?” For better or worse, most organizations have to develop social media policies at some point. If they do not, they risk their brand being associated with the random electronic mutterings of employees regarding everything from their favorite soccer team to their spats with family members—none of which will help a company accomplish its business objectives. Who will be allowed to represent your brand officially through social media channels? Will anyone review your employees’ messages prior to posting? What happens if they leave the company—will you gain control of their public profiles, or do they retain them? Are your employees encouraged to re-tweet, share, or repurpose your messages? If you do decide to leverage your employees’ social media presence, provide them with detailed examples of what type of behavior is appropriate and inappropriate in these platforms.

“Are we overdoing it?” It is fine to get excited about new ways to reach your target markets. In many ways, social media platforms are a marketer’s dream, but they can also turn into the target audience’s nightmare. Beware of bombarding your contacts with too many messages. A steady stream of useful information is great, but if you are not careful, your constant updates could be easily regarded as spam. Take care and enlist others to obtain feedback about your social media presence. Ask some of your contacts and followers for their suggestions—not just regarding the content, but regarding the frequency of its distribution.

Part of a Larger Picture
Social media is definitely fun, interactive, and dynamic, but too many LSPs take the plunge without developing a strategy or thinking about how social media will help advance their larger marketing objectives. Too often they have “joined the conversation” without thinking about what they really want or need to say. To build a social media presence that will help your company grow, remember that social media platforms are just part of a much larger marketing strategy. Make sure to keep your overarching marketing goals front and center to determine how social media can help you achieve them.

Nataly E. Kelly is the chief research officer at Common Sense Advisory, a Massachusetts-based market research company focusing on the language services market. She is a certified court interpreter, a former freelance translator, and the author of Telephone Interpreting: A Comprehensive Guide to the Profession. She researches a variety of topics, including community interpreting, domestic multiculturalization, and terminology management. Contact: nataly@commonsenseadvisory.com.