For retailers, the holiday season is the time of year that many make the most money. For some, it is the only time they turn a profit (thus the term “black Friday.”

In the 21st century, merchants must use every tool available to drive up business during this crucial season. Kenneth Hitchner, director of public relations and social media for Creative Marketing Alliance, is an expert on how to do that. He has used social media throughout his career, and even used it to influence the U.S. president. Before joining CMA, Hitchner was a spokesman for NJ Transit and deputy press secretary for the governor of New Jersey in 2005 and 2006. He was also chief content officer for the Professional Service Group of Central New Jersey, where he launched a social media campaign that allowed the group to meet with Obama’s secretary of labor in Washington. The meeting resulted in Obama asking 300 CEOs to sign a pledge relaxing hiring practices in regards to the long-term unemployed.

Hitchner will give a talk on social media tips for the upcoming holiday season. His presentation, “Know Me, Like Me, Pay Me,” will take place at the Coffee Talk networking group on Friday, October 7 at 9:30 a.m. at CollaborationCore at 3150 Brunswick Pike in Lawrenceville. Free for Coffee Talk members, $15 for nonmembers. For more information, visit www.coffeetalknj.com.

Below, Hitchner gives a preview of his social media advice:

Word of mouth has always played an important role in driving business, especially during the holiday season.

But today, word of mouth has a new name. It’s called social media marketing, which is a business practice for people who actually expect a return on their investment. (Please don’t confuse it with “social media,” which is for hobbyists.)

In today’s world, there are essentially no more telephone calls or catalogs vying for your interest every waking moment. But there are high-speed internet connections, a ton of mobile devices, and the millennials — the first generation to have never written a letter without the help of a keyboard — that have forever changed the buy cycle.

No matter what you are selling — a product, service or personality — the buy cycle sounds like this: Know Me, Like Me, Pay Me. You must be everywhere, all the time, on demand. The internet has changed everything, even the way we think about our relationships. (If my “friend” is someone whom I have never met, then who is a stranger?)

And that’s why you must leverage your social media channels this holiday season … and throughout the year.

Here’s a couple rules that you must consider before you plot your next social media marketing campaign: 1) People always buy your story before they buy your stuff and 2) Involvement equals commitment.

From a business perspective, think about your social media channels as distribution channels that segment your audiences and drive traffic to your website in a cost-effective manner.

Be strategic. If not, you will not fare well in the digital age. There are more options that call for more efficiency to make things more effective. When encountered with a task, most people begin at the beginning, which makes sense, right? Well, strategic people begin at the end and work their way back to the beginning, which ensures that every step along the way leads back to the desired outcome.

Know your keywords. Research tells us that when people search online, they use no more than five keywords. So what are your keywords? What words do your customers and prospects use when they search for a company like yours. Create a short list of keywords that will serve as the foundation for your content marketing strategy. So when people search for keywords associated with your business, your brand will pop up on the screen.

Share. Based on research, valuable content fulfills at least one of three needs for your audience: Education, Entertain, Empower. So if you are wondering what you should post on your social media channels, remember the three E’s.

Be social. Social media is a lot like life. The more you put in, you more you get out. If you want others to like, share and follow your company, you need to do the same. Make sure that interaction is built into your content strategy.

Make it “snackable.” I use the “Lasagna Strategy.” When you make lasagna, you make it in layers: pasta, meat, cheese and repeat. When you want someone to retain your messages, you give it to them in layers or bites. For example, your company just won an award. So here are a handful of social media posts in sequence:

You post a press release on your website.

You post the headline with the link back to your site on Twitter.

You post a portion from the press release and post a picture of your award-winning senior executives on your LinkedIn company page.

You post one paragraph in a narrative form with a picture of your award-winning employees on Facebook.

You post a picture of your award-winning employees with tagged caption on Instagram.

You write about how your company won the award (new techniques, talent, etc.) on your blog.

Listen to data. The difference between social media and social media marketing is due diligence. In other words, data talks. The only real question is: Are you listening? Leverage data to create your content strategies and then use data to adapt your strategies and tactics. Why? Because the market it always right…maybe not always fair…but it’s always right. So that is how you get valuable data.

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