The importance of social media is undeniable for any consumer facing brand in 2011. In 2010, companies spent close to $1 billion dollar on social media initiatives. In the past few years, a crop of fresh companies have popped up to measure these social media activities, in hopes of improving a company’s social media ROI.

One such company, Actionly, a San Francisco social media monitoring and “listening” platform, allows businesses to track keywords across various social media channels like Facebook Fan pages, Twitter accounts, YouTube, Blogs and Flickr. The platform’s integration with Google Analytics, means users can track their revenue stream and receive actionable insights to hopefully target and grow their social media campaigns.

Actionly, founded in 2010 by Alex Furtado, was built by a couple of committed, geeky, analytical folks trying to make social media monitoring actionable and affordable. I had the clever opportunity to chat with Sam Abraham, Actionly’s Marketing and Community Manager on today’s best social media practices.

CBM: If you only had 5 minutes a day to manage social media- what would you tackle in those 5 minutes?

Sam Abraham: Our framework for social media management consists of 3 essentials: Listen, Act and road runner 220x169 Best practices for social media savvy brands [Interview with Actionly]Engage. Listen, being the passive act of monitoring what people are saying about your brand or product. In social media tools like Actionly you can schedule reports or get snapshots of what people are saying, sentiments and even track volume of mentions over time, as that is something you want to grow.

Act, the next step is reaching out to users or clients and responding to them accordingly whether to thank them for their mentions or respond to questions or serve as customer service. Engage, is about understanding your community on Facebook, Twitter, etc. and providing them with useful information, tips, blogs, videos etc to truly connect with them. It also consists of the overall social media strategy – for example determining how to grow your audience or producing viral content.

CBM: What kinds of companies have to be on Twitter? Facebook? LinkedIn? etc.

SA: Social media is relevant to all organizations whether consumer facing, local businesses or online business-business companies. Consumers are online via their computers or cell phones and business need to connect and engage with them. Businesses need to have an active online presence whether it’s for customer service or marketing efforts.

Additionally, companies need to do a little research before they plunge into any dedicated social channel. They need to get a sense of where their core communities are and then have a strategy laid out on how to grow their communities online. Different social channels would be relevant for different businesses; Local business for example should focus on Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, Foursquare. Technology oriented business might want to focus on building communities in blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Quora, Hacker News, etc.

tweet phillie casablanca Best practices for social media savvy brands [Interview with Actionly]

CBM: What are the advantages of monitoring your competitors – and what are the best ways to react to competitors in the social sphere?

SA: Customers are vocal. And they are vocal in public online forums like Facebook and Twitter. Businesses need to monitor competitors especially if their customers are active in the social space. Businesses can monitor what their competitor’s customers are saying, listen for positive or negative reactions and see if there is an opportunity to develop that product better.

There are entire companies that are built around negative feedback for other companies and they use community forums to identify these opportunities. Monitoring blogs and press releases also help businesses track new products, research and see what direction or strategy they competitors are implementing.

CBM: Describe the best use cases you’ve seen on Twitter and Facebook.

SA: We are focusing on business use cases as that is what we observe for our clients on a daily basis.

For Twitter: Businesses have to be quite prompt when using Twitter as customers are used to very prompt online response times. Finding influencers for your business is incredibly important on Twitter and online monitoring tools like Actionly and Klout help businesses find and reach out to influencers, bloggers, PR, potential customers, etc.

Facebook: Promotions and Offers on Facebook are one of the major uses for brands as a forum for reaching out to their fans with new products or promotions – similar to email marketing. We also see lots of social media efforts directed at brand building on Facebook – this includes viral videos, games, contests on Facebook with the expected outcome being shares, likes, video views and not necessarily tied to any ROI agenda but more focused on outreach, awareness and brand marketing.

CBM: What are the most common pitfalls that brands fall into when using social media? And how can brands/companies avoid these pitfalls?

SA: Chasing Quantity over Quality: Most companies get into the quantity versus quality of followers or fans. Quality followers will engage with you, give you honest feedback and could even become your brand come on guys look 220x247 Best practices for social media savvy brands [Interview with Actionly]evangelists.

Too much self-promotion: Lots of companies push their own products or offers on social channels but the rate of response is quite low as it does not lend itself to true engagement. Social Media is an earned media channel, so companies need to think about how do I earn my following? They can do this by sharing relevant industry news, best practices, tips and resources and just sharing good information for their community.

Not understanding social marketing: Lots of businesses are new to social media and may not see any success immediately. It is usually because they don’t understand that Social Media is a viral channel and is different from traditional marketing channels that are more push channels.

In order for your Social Media channels to work you need to understand that Social Media is a viral word of mouth channel and you have to have engaged followers and share content that is relevant for your followers to spread the word.

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What are other best practices in social media that you’ve seen brands use and succeed with?