This week I’ve been working with a Drupal developer to make some improvements to Collectivator. One of the changes we will soon implement is the addition of “Like” “Tweet” and “Pin It” buttons to every item webpage. For some of you, these buttons are familiar necessities for any online presence. You expect that every bit of information you consume online – no matter how serious or trivial – will be easily sharable with your social network. For others, these buttons are internet fads connected to websites that waste time at best, and promote group think at worst.
As a small business owner you have to be aware that social media takes time and effort to maintain. If you decide to promote your business through social media you will be bombarded by new websites, and every time you turn around a social network will be demanding more of your already divided attention. Is social media really worth the effort? In my experience, yes. You must educate yourself but with a few rules and limitations, you can make social media work as a tool for your business. It is not a strategy, and it is not a solution, but it can be a great tool.
So let’s start with the basics. Social Media is all online media that connects people together and promotes dialogue and creation of new content. As opposed to old styles of media, for instance television, you do not just receive information. You receive information, respond to it, and create your own. Social Media is everywhere and includes websites such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, LinkedIn, WordPress (the very website I use to write this blog!), and Delicious. Social Media for business works in two ways: it promotes your business for you and it facilitates interaction with your customers. The first part of that equation, promotion of your business, is as easy as putting a button on each webpage you want to promote. Look at the bottom of this blog entry and you’ll see I’ve enabled a selection of social media links. Why wouldn’t I? It’s free and easy to do. If enough people “Like” this article I could even go viral across different social networks and become as popular as an adorably hilarious LOLcat!
The second use of social media for business is to facilitate interaction with your customers, and this is more difficult. This side of social media would include your company’s Facebook page, your company’s Twitter feed, and any other site you monitor and build that promotes your business on social media. Many businesses do not know what to say in these forums. They create accounts only to ignore them for fear they won’t use them correctly. It can feel too personal from a traditional business standpoint to use social media. What should a plumber tweet? Why does a consignment shop need a LinkedIn profile? Who wants to spend time maintaining these pages when there’s real work to do and real bills to pay? These are all good questions! When contemplating social media for your business consider the following:
1 – Social Media creates personal introductions to your business: Think about all the ads we see everyday across all forms of media. Most ads are ignored but we place higher priority on those messages that come from people we know. It used to be we trusted brand names but we’re moving towards trusting individuals who share our values. If my friend “Likes” a business on Facebook, I might see it on my Facebook wall, and the connection between my friend and that product becomes an implicit clue that I will like the product also. An introduction has been made between me and a business by someone I trust. That’s very valuable advertising, and it is free on most social media websites.
2 – Use Social Media not just to find customers, but to keep them: This is crucial. Most people do not return to a company’s Facebook page after the first introduction. This is because many companies do not fully realize that the point of social media is not to sell, but to create and encourage dialogue. This is “social” media. It’s supposed to fun and interactive. Ask people questions, answer inquiries, and find creative ways to make your visitors create content themselves. People want to communicate on social media, and if your business does not facilitate communication people will quickly look elsewhere. Encouraging this type of communication is a challenge in Collectivator’s social media. It is where I place most of my efforts, and where I need the most improvement.
3 – If a particular type of Social Media doesn’t fit your customers, DON’T USE IT. Your time is valuable and social media is not free because it takes your time. The best question to ask yourself is “will my customers want this?”. Will a plumber’s clients want to read his or her tweets? Probably not. But they will want to see reviews of that plumber’s work on a social media website like Homestars. Google your business and see what forms of social media your competition uses. If you simply cannot understand how a website could help you, no matter how popular it is, don’t use it. Spend your time on those sites where you see the best return for your efforts.
4 – Link your Social Media together for greater strength: When you have decided to embark in this strange new world of social media, remember the cohesive business image you will be presenting to the world. Business website to Facebook page to Twitter account to Pinterest photos to blog (plus or minus any number of other social media sites). Try to keep the branding consistent, create links between the pages (which will in turn help your search engine ranking) and remember that different social media sites have different levels of professional etiquette.
These are my tips for dipping your toe into social media for your business, and I am happy to share my successes and failures in future posts. You might be surprised how many people want to engage with you, so feel confident to introduce yourself and get started!