[[ This is a chapter about getting started in social media from my book Traversing the Jungles of Social Media. If you are struggling to create an online presence, this might help ]]
What is not started today is never finished tomorrow. – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
If you are running a business today, especially a small business, you wear many, many hats. You might not have time to pick up the latest book you’ve wanted to read. You probably missed the release of summer movies you knew you would enjoy. Your mother doesn’t hear from you nearly as much as she would like, and you have nieces and nephews starting kindergarten that you have yet to meet. You are working hard over long hours and might still be wondering where all the fish are.
So now you find yourself on the internet chasing down business because someone somewhere said it would be a great way for you to expand your customer base. Twenty years ago that might have meant a web site. Ten years ago it meant adding a shopping cart and getting ranked on Google above your competitors. Now it is about social media. Breaking down the phrase, “Social Media” is: being “social” on different “media”. That media includes video, chat, blog, and networking sites. And that social piece… well…. it’s what you wish you could justify doing in real life if you weren’t working so damn hard.
So here’s the usual outcome of the above scenario – Small Businesses are networking as fast as they can or not at all. Mr. Speedy is stabbing out a barrage of incredibly desperate looking posts all in caps without caring which forum they are posting on, if anyone is listening or if they are annoying their few potential clients by posting every five minutes. They might as well stand in the street and yell at the top of their lungs for all the good they are doing online. That isn’t being “social”; that is being a town crier.
Mrs. Nowhere has a profile picture up (that she halfheartedly took of her shop with her cell phone), but she didn’t complete her company info section, has a misspelling or two in her initial “hey everyone I have a new fan page” post, and hasn’t been active since March of last year. At networking meetings, when social media comes up, she maintains that “it just doesn’t work for her type of business” .
We all can identify these characters and probably can list a half dozen or more off the tops of our heads. We groan when we see yet another “SUMMER SPCIAL!!” post or cringe when we stumble upon a fan page that is dying a slow death and giving off a bad vibe about the professionalism of the owner.
But we can also list some of the businesses that are flourishing in Social Media – those folks that always seem to stir up comments, post the greatest pictures or have the post savvy to sell their products without SELLING their products. How do they do it? How do they know what to write without turning into Mr. Speedy and then getting frustrated and turning into Mrs. Nowhere? How do you convert sparkling conversation, eye contact and social grace into the land of the 0’s and 1’s?
It is definitely worth exploring, wouldn’t you say?
Getting clear on your digital message.
Before moving forward, it is a big help to get clear on your message. Here are a few ways you can get to the essentials and right to the essence of your business’s online presence.
Identify your target audience.
This doesn’t mean everyone; this means – who are your favorite clients or the clients that represent the majority of your income? If you are changing your business – who are you striving to attract? If you are trying to be everything to everyone you’ll make yourself crazy online, especially if you are just starting off. We are looking for quality, NOT quantity, here.
Highlight or write out the selections that apply to your IDEAL clients only.
- Male, female or both?
- Young adults?
- Young families?
- Seasonal markets (back to school or holiday shoppers)?
- Home buyers?
- Home sellers?
- People downsizing / empty-nesters?
- Growing families?
- Health conscious people?
- Dieters or people with food allergies?
- People with pets?
- People that travel for business?
- Stay at home moms?
- Car buyers?
- Unemployed individuals?
- Online shoppers?
- People looking to make additional income?
- Home business owners?
- Possible employees or sales reps for your company?
- Artists or crafters?
- Music lovers?
- Movie enthusiasts?
- Couch potatoes?
- Online gamers?
- Stamp collectors?
- Book lovers?
- Day traders?
- Adventure travelers?
- Sports fans?
- Rock stars?
(Start writing out your own list for reference.)
Ok, you get it. The list goes on and on and when you start really thinking about it, but your target audience can be refined and refined again until you have some very specific details. When you stop saying “everyone needs this” and you start really looking at who you want to reach, you will be much more successful with your posts. They will be tailored to target your ideal audience faster and with less effort. Cut yourself some slack – instead of trying to canvas the whole internet, look at where best to spend your time. Work smarter, not harder, right?
Now from the list above, let’s say you selected “online shoppers”, “women”, and “music lovers”. What do we know about these groups? Do some digging online if you need help.
Online shoppers are comfortable following links, exploring product information, comparing prices and using shopping carts. So with this audience, you wouldn’t ask them to call you to place an order. You wouldn’t ask them to stop by your physical store. You wouldn’t bother with free consultations, in-person demonstrations, sales events or shows, and especially not “home- parties”. Online shoppers want the info in writing, at their fingertips any time of the day or night and the ability to just get what they want without taking time out of their busy day.
So now we add on the next identifier – “women”. How do women shop? They want to see testimonials, compare items, view options. While men might want a direct link to the item in question, women want a link to that section of the web site so they can see what else you have. As women have traditionally been the shoppers for their families, they look hard at quality, guarantees, return policies, and value.
Finally add “music lovers” to the mix. The amount of online groups, fan pages and discussion boards is staggering and will provide a great place to not only meet potential clients, but learn more about them. Hopefully, your product has something to do with music, otherwise you will walk a fine line in these groups as an intruder or spammer. If you don’t find some legitimate connection between your product/service and the musical topic being discussed, you should probably keep business out of the mix and just listen for a while. No fun being blocked as a spammer or looking like a jerk.
So what do you need to build into posts?
Once broken down, we have a very clear idea of what to include, how to say it, and what our presentation needs to include to make that sale or prove our point. Distilled, the info from our target audience brainstorm session gives us:
- Include links to the shopping experience for fast access
- Be sure your customers can purchase or schedule with you via internet (not just through traditional phone / office hours)
- Include PRODUCT images or video that will give our audience a “shopping” experience
- Include testimonials, guarantee info, and brand comparisons
- Take advantage of interest groups and fan pages to poll interest or discover new clients
Yes, these are quick generalizations – but even generalizations will help you focus your attention and get your message out faster to those you need to reach.
Ok, so now some don’ts…
While a lot of social networking can be learned as you go, here are a few basics to keep in mind as you make your way through the chapters covering post ideas.
- Make your post longer than a few sentences. Anything more is a blog entry.
- Forget to make mention of what your business is. Posting in a group that you are offering a discount has no impact if you don’t say what product or service the discount is on.
- Forget to include a way for people to get more info- a link to your site or blog is appreciated.
- Limit yourself to “speaking” to potential customers. Power partners, investors and distributors might also be “listening”.
- Underestimate the power of spelling and grammar.
- Forget to respond to other people’s posts. This can attract more attention through friends- of- friends visibility.
- Forget to Introduce yourself to new members of an online networking group or people you don’t recognize that like your business page.
- Limit yourself to only posting on your own profile page. Find other areas to make contributions.
So that covers the framework needed to really solidify your position before getting involved. You now have a much clearer picture of who you are, how you want to direct your energy for a greater response and some general guidelines for upcoming posts.
[[ Hope it helped! Traversing the Jungles of Social Media: an Idea and Etiquette Field Guide for Small Businesses is available on Amazon.com in ebook format ]]