Contrary to what naysayers may nay-say, social media is not a passing fad populated by farming games and notices about what your high school classmates or favourite celebrity had for lunch. In reality, social media is transforming the way many sectors do business, because unlike traditional marketing that pumps out a message in one direction only, social media fosters active two-way communication between business and customer. Successful marketing strategies now depend heavily on those connections, and on the reputation you build for yourself and your business online.
Despite the power of social media to bring business and customer together, a Ipsos Reid survey released at the end of February noted that only 41% of Canadian small businesses have a dedicated website for promoting their enterprise, and only 39% use social media.
Seems to me, many small businesses are missing the boat.
You are in your business for some very good reasons. That means you have a story to tell, possibly many stories, about your enterprise or brand or project. Social media (whether Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest, blogs or one of the many other “platforms”) offers you excellent outlets for sharing those stories, so that customers can feel a connection with you.
As you are exploring options for getting started, do keep a couple of things in mind.
Not every “platform” is right for every company, and it’s not uncommon for some people get overwhelmed when first starting out, by thinking they need to have accounts everywhere. Better to start small and build than to take on too much all at once and give up within a month. It’s true that social media takes time to maintain, but it doesn’t have to take a lot of time; even 10-15 minutes a day can be enough to keep your presence fresh with your online community and potential customers.
Social media is about people talking to people, and people doing business with people. There can be a lot of jargon in the field, and it can be off-putting to a lot of people. You can ignore the jargon, and in fact, you would be making the Internet a nicer place if you did. Some words are helpful for reminding us what social media is about: connection, communication, community-building. Ignore all the nonsense of gurus and ninjas and buzzwords: just be yourself, because your personal voice is what matters on your sites.
Keep your online reputation in the hands of someone level-headed and experienced. We’ve seen some pretty spectacular disasters when business owners didn’t pay attention to what’s happening online. Maybe your sister-in-law’s nephew is a wiz at World of Warcraft and seems to know social media because he tweets all day; that doesn’t mean he will be able to respond with calm maturity when one of your customers wants to discuss in problem with you online (and they will, and that’s a good thing).
Above all, interact. That’s where the “social” part comes in. Without the interactions, it’s just old-school marketing, putting out a message and hoping someone pays attention. Start a discussion. Invite feedback. Offer expertise. Comment constructively on posts. Share information from other people’s posts that you find interesting. Ask questions. Answer queries. These social interactions humanize you with your customers. And a well-maintained online presence can give you an edge over your competition, who might still be lagging behind.
Lisa Nabieszko is a professional writer, editor, and online communications strategist. As the owner of Your Story Here – Social Media Made Simple, her goal is to help businesses use social media in the way that makes the most sense for them, and to help craft engaging online content for regular people. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.