Time Online - Savvy Marketing or Waste?
Why are you even considering becoming more active online? Sometimes the answer to the savvy marketing versus waste question is in the clarity of your goals for becoming more active in social media. And ultimately, the proof is in social media’s impact on the results in your company.
The lure - more for your money, or no money at all
If you are like many small businesses, marketing is one of those investments for which the return on investment is sometimes difficult to quantify. And if you are hiring someone to help you, sometimes it’s difficult to know whether the outside resource that you are contemplating using is a good fit and worth the money.
Marketing online need not be an expensive proposition. If you are willing to commit some of your oh-so-abundant downtime, or at least some non-peak business hours, you can make your own space in social media. You can establish and manage a Facebook page, a LinkedIn profile, a Twitter ID, and even a YouTube channel – all with an investment of solely sweat equity.
If you want or need to delegate your online activities, there are a lot of local resources to help you do so, including other small businesses specializing in marketing online and social media. Or you might have a friend or “digital native” relative that would be willing to help you. Be creative about sourcing this.
The importance of clarity on your goals
Companies have a variety of reasons to become more active online. Some potential goals for your company may include:
- Boosting awareness of your brand
- Driving potential customers to your main website’s e-store
- Notifying the community about events and/or specials
- Building credibility as experts in your industry
- Keeping your company name top of mind
- Building a network of fans and referral sources
- Obtaining customer feedback
Your patience for seeing results from your online efforts will partly relate to your reasons for being there. If you are trying to drive direct sales by sending customers to your online store, you should be able to measure your results fairly readily in the volume of online sales activity. This doesn’t mean that you’ll see growth overnight, only that you will be able to measure it.
The status of the other online goals is a bit more difficult to measure unless you ask new customers where they heard about you and why they chose to buy from you. The reputation and awareness-building process can take months or even longer to accumulate results, and again, you won’t know whether your online efforts have had impact unless you ask.
Customer feedback and your online reputation
Potentially the most important, yet underestimated, goal for an online presence is the last one on the list – obtaining customer feedback. Social media can be a tremendous boost for your business, but it can also drive potential customers away just because of the speed and breadth of the communication. If there’s a problem, you’d better be monitoring it, or negative word of mouth could spread like crazy overnight via the megaphones that are Facebook and Twitter.
If your company finds out about a problem or disgruntled customer online, handle it quickly and post about the resolution that was made. Everyone messes up from time to time, and your prompt and conscientious recovery from the problem may attract customers that never noticed you before.
If you’re worried about online gossip that might not be true, make a point to post testimonials and positive comments that you receive from your customers. Online customers know that not every post they see online is, let’s say, credible. Even if there are a few wild hairs out there flaming about your business you can balance the message.
If you want to know what’s being said about your company without spending hours and hours online, subscribe to Google alerts. You’ll receive emails about online mentions of your company, and you can follow up on them.
Sticking to your knitting
Social media works best when you have established a purpose for your presence there and then stick to it. Sites like Facebook are full of opportunities for you to take a left turn and get involved in a bunch of comment-fests that bear no relationship to your business. Sometimes they can even lure you in because of a topical or emotionally charged issue about which you have an opinion that you want to express. Danger – don’t go there under your company identity.
If you like being part of social media, keep a separate identity for the game and recipe sharing aspects of your time online. And don’t confuse your company online time with your personal time. The cute kitten and heroic dog photo shares can quickly become a time vortex, and you can find yourself amazed that two hours have passed with no business productivity while you cruised online.
The importance of fans, friends, links, and followers
Your reach in social media, no matter your goal for being there, is only as great as your list of fans and friends (Facebook), links (LinkedIn and blogs) and followers (Twitter). You might be posting terrific free resource information online, but unless people are receiving your post, you are whistling into the wind.
You will need to ask for Likes on your company Facebook page, to request to connect with influencers on LinkedIn, and to follow in order to get reciprocal followers on Twitter. Once you reach a certain critical mass, your reach will start to grow without as much intervention, but you have to start the flywheel spinning.
Look for organizations in your industry, or online sites your clients might visit, and make your presence known there. Just like the “real world,” you hang out where they do in order to get to know them and open doors to business opportunity.