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).