Most of us have no trouble using social media in our personal lives, but making it work for our small businesses is often difficult. Are those two “worlds” really that different?
Business and personal have always been totally different worlds. Personal is about you; business is about your audience. You see it all the time on social media—most people continuously post about themselves and their world. When you think about business social media strategies, you needs to think about why your audience would care about what your business is posting.
You’ve written that a website is the center of every small business social media “universe.” What are three characteristics a website should have?
- Specific calls to action. So many businesses throw a bunch of information on to their website and hope people will be miraculously inspired to contact them or fill out an information request form. “Hope” is not a great form of marketing, so offering simple things to walk a prospect through next steps exponentially will increase your odds of a prospect getting the information they want and take the action you want them to take.
- Intuitive navigation. Too often, businesses get caught up in their own language and understanding of their business to help visitors find the information they are looking for. A perfect example is a service business that has named its services, then leverages those names in the site navigation. Many time prospects are searching for their problem, not the solution.
- Begin every page with the customer/client in mind. While your website is about your business, it is meant to be found easily, get people the information they want in the fastest way possible, and get prospects to know, like, and trust you from the first time they visit. So in a way, your website is about your visitors, and conveying how your products and services benefit them.
You’ve also written that formulating a social media branding strategy begins with yourself, and having a vision of the future. Can you elaborate?
Always begin with the end in mind—how do you want to be perceived? What do you want people to do from you social profile. You need to show your credibility and get people to know, like, and trust you. You do this by being authentic. Like most things in life, that end-vision provides the structure for the how things are going to get done. It provides the roadmap on how you are going to get from where you are now to where you want to go.
What are the consequences of not having this end-vision?
Businesses fail in social media because they got involved for the wrong reason and didn’t have a plan. Ultimately for a business the end goal is to create a life-long loyal customer. In order to do this in social media, a business owner needs to get in front of the right person at the right time with the right message. This involves a strategy that takes a visitor/prospect through certain steps:
visitor -> social connection -> email subscriber -> lead/prospect -> client/customer -> raving fan of your business.
Social media success also hinges on determining where your current/potential customers are. What are some ways to find that information, particularly if you’re just starting out and have no customers?
- The first step would be to have a clear picture of who your target market is. When I ask this of business owner, too often I get “Everyone needs my product or service!” I’m sure they do, but let’s get a little bit more granular and find the people that have an imminent need for what you have to offer. So in looking at social media, we start with the broader audience first—are you selling to businesses or consumers?
- Once we know this, we can decide between the top two social media properties, LinkedIn or Facebook. From here developing a strategy to target your market on those sites gets a bit easier, as both platforms offer advertising solutions where you can get in front of the right people at the right time. Facebook has developed one of the most robust and laser focused advertising platforms today. Use the tools and choose who you want to be in front of.
That said, are there certain social media platforms that most small businesses should focus on?
Stick with what works and where your audience is. Unfortunately, there is no magic bullet; it is trial and error with every marketing initiative. The better you know your target market and the better you align the information to make an emotional connection with them, the better the chance you have of converting fans into customers.
What are some ways to evaluate how much your use of social media channels turn into actual sales?
While many people will say you can’t track sales from social media, that’s not necessarily the case. Leveraging specific landing pages on your website is a great way to start understanding how many people are clicking your links in your posts, and how many people are taking action from your social activity. Because landing pages are not in the navigation, the only way to get to them is that have a specific link to that page. Landing pages are designed specifically to continue the momentum and train of thought of the visitor. They also provide a very specific call to action, be it filling out a form or purchasing something. This will give you great data on what your social connections are doing and how effective your social strategy is.
What are some considerations for using social media as a customer service/customer care tool?
Since social media is about your connection and relationship with your audience, it is a natural fit to connect with your customers. It provides a platform for them to speak with you and ask question, sing your praises, or slam you when there is a problem. This also gives you the space to publically display customer service.
For those customers with problems, any tips for dealing with them on social media?
First, never engage an angry customer in social media. Take it offline, apologize for any inconvenience, and ask that they reach out to a specific person at a specific phone number. This puts the ball in their court, and shows that you are on top of it and care. Arguing back and forth just makes the situation worse and does it publicly.
A good way to attract attention on social media is to have others refer their customers/followers to you. What can you do to get this cycle of referrals started?
The fastest and easiest way to get others to refer you is to pay it forward—refer potential referral partners first. This plays on the Law of Reciprocity; in most cases if done properly and the referral gets business from it, they will feel they owe the business that referred them. Be strategic, speak to the other business first, and let them know what your goal is—to mutually increase each other’s businesses.
Every social media strategy will require some investment of time and resources. How can an owner do by his/herself, and when is it time to get help?
With all the technology that we have and continue to develop, we don’t seem to have more time to get anything done. Certainly cell phones, email, and social media have the promise to make things more efficient and help people stay connected, but they tend to be more distracting and time wasters. When using social media for business, stay strategic and schedule time in the week to check profiles, post regularly, and respond to connection. This is an investment in a relationship. It’s time to get help when the business owner has no idea how to create or manage the funnel that will convert fans into customers, not just social connections.
What are some tips for choosing a social media consultant (e.g., questions to ask, capabilities to look for, potential concerns, etc.)?
Just because a college kid knows how to use Facebook, it doesn’t mean he or she knows marketing, your target audience, and how to connect with them in a way that will generate sales. Choosing a person to handle social media is about experience and strategy. Ask what they have done before and what they plan on doing for you specifically. This strategy should be specific. What are they going to do to attract new fans and followers? How do they plan on getting them to your website or on your email list, and, ultimately, how will they get them to become customers.
How can working with a SCORE mentor help a small business owner craft and evaluate a social media strategy?
SCORE can get you started with honing in on your target market. From here, you can determine where to start your social media strategy, which properties to focus on, and how to develop a specific strategy to turn fans into customers.
What social media tools and platforms will become increasingly important in the next two-three years?
While it’s great to look ahead, if you are not currently leveraging what is here and now, it doesn’t matter what comes in the future. The key here is ingenuity and new skills. Developing the mindset of adaptability, test and measurement and the willingness to shoot and miss are the most important skills for any platform or tool that will emerge in the coming years.
That said, the best way to know what will be important for your business specifically is to ask your customers or clients what they are seeing. Every business is different, and they all use social media in different ways. Follow your customers; they will decide what platforms and sites will be crucial to your business.