Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Using Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. to Grow Your Small Business

Understanding the options and uses of the various social media channels is a challenge for any small business.  In this area pretty much anyone from my generation (those over 35 to be sure) would strongly agree that younger folks have an advantage.   Those (damn) kids grew up with Facebook so they know how to use it.  For anyone who’s a little older, no matter how long we’ve been on we always feel a little like we’re visitors in a foreign land.  (this is actually good, and I’ll get to why in a minute).  Here’s the thing.  The biggest mistake any small business can make is to ignore this important new channel.

If the bridge to success in new world marketing is connection with customers, social media channels are the elements on which these bridges are built and sustained.  Most of today’s small businesses get this.  The problem is figuring out how to pull the strings to get the results you seek.  Many make the mistake of simply putting up a quasi promotional Facebook fan page and establishing a pithy twitter ID and then wonder why no one cares.  

The biggest thing to understand is that the connection that occurs when social media is used best is not a connection between a customer and a business.  It is a connection between people.  Businesses post quasi advertisements on Twitter all the time promoting specials, new products, etc.  While in very rare cases these announcements may have an impact, in most they won’t and so the business decides that Twitter doesn’t work.  That’s a little like deciding a cordless drill doesn’t work when you try to use it with a dead battery.  You did nothing to ‘charge’ the audience and so the audience doesn’t respond when you attempt to connect.

To build an initial following it is a much better idea to enlist highly connected customers as your allies.  If you are releasing a new product, release it to them first.  Get them to tweet about it if they love it and then re-tweet their love for your product.  These ‘tweets’ (after while you get used to the vocabulary) will inevitably spawn questions from others and the power of your social web increases dramatically if you are vigilant and transparent in responding to those tweets, not as THE COMPANY, but as an individual connected with the company.

Some restaurants are beginning to learn how to use this to their advantage.  Imagine a customer’s surprise and pleasure when after tweeting that they are headed to the restaurant that night for dinner, the restaurant responds and lets them know that their favorite table has been reserved for them.  (and imagine what that says to everyone who follows either the restaurant or the individual).  The same can be managed in a connected world of Facebook where an image of a newly purchased pair of shoes from a local store can be followed up with a comment from the store letting the customer know how much they loved seeing the customer.  

Note that in neither case would I recommend following up the initial comment with a promotional offer of any kind. Doing so is a pretty major violation of the unwritten etiquette of social media.  You are essentially hijacking their comment and that’s a no no.  However, dropping them a note on their thread as any friend might changes the dynamic of your relationship.  You are no longer a faceless business.  You are their friend.  It is on these connections that social media gains its real strength.

In my next post I’ll give you some tips on effective ways to manage all of this (so you have time to actually run your business).

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Social Media for Business. Demystifying a Powerful Channel

There are a lot of folks who purport to be experts in new world advertising.  There are few who really are.  The reason for this is simple.  Saying that you’re an expert can get you paid a lot of money by people who are trying to figure it out, and, no one has really ‘figured it out’ yet.

There is no question that for any business the process of getting your message across has become a much more complicated thing than it used to be.  When I first started in marketing, advertising was a pretty simple equation.  We used variables of reach, frequency and CPM to determine whether our message was getting to the people we wanted to hear it and we used tracking variables such as unique phone numbers, promo codes and sales incentives to determine whether the people we wanted to hear the message were moved by the message.  On that basis we could pretty easily determine whether we were making money or losing money on our advertising dollars.

Then came the internet and then came social media.  The internet by itself didn’t change much.  In fact, for savvy users it made things even easier.  I no longer had to rely on consumer behavior to know if my adds were working, I could track clicks.  And then came social media.

Personal recommendation is the true power of social media and engagement is the fuel that drives the bus.  The trick is that in most cases the way engagement is driven must be subtle and active.  Consumers should be invited to participate but they should never feel forced to participate and any sense of manipulation is death.

In order for social media to truly work, companies must establish an online personality and they must interact with consumers in their (this is to say, the consumer's) chosen media.  When a consumer complains about poor service via twitter, respond.  When a consumer posts an image of a favored product on Instagram, respond.  Encourage consumer information sharing and story telling via heavier media such as blogs.  

The real key to engagement is a sense of connection.  Connection is fed by acts of transparency.  Transparency is fueled by authenticity.  Trust is built through consistency.  For these reasons it is just as important for companies to “fess up when they mess up” as it is to celebrate when something is great.  Frankly, it’s MORE important.  What is really interesting about the emerging communications marketplace is that consumers understand that companies are going to mess up.  They’re even willing to forgive when it occurs.  In my experience, companies give consumers too little credit. So it isn’t whether or not you are perfect, it is how you engage when you are not.  I was always fascinated by the fact that I gained far more twitter followers when things weren’t well than I did when things were good.

Over the next few weeks I will be posting a series of social media oriented how to’s designed to help small businesses understand the value, nature, and use of today’s media channels.  Please feel free to ask questions, debate, etc., directly on my blog.  After all, that’s engagement, right?