Every entrepreneur has heard about social media and business. Fewer understand it. Fewer still utilize it. Very few are really good at it. Most are losing business because of it.
“I am not a geek. I’m not an engineer. I’m not a social media expert. I don’t get it. I don’t have the time.” Most entrepreneurs fall into these verbal / cognitive traps. They give up before they start. It shows. I recently looked at the Twitter activity of a number of small businesses that I have been following. The majority of them started an account sometime in the past two years, made a few tweets and then fell off the Twitter world, never to tweet again. They can raise their hand to say they are officially on Twitter, that they have links to their web page to Twitter, and their print ads and business cards have the Twitter symbol, but their activity conveys only one message – they don’t care about their customers who are active on Twitter.
Facebook, repeat above. Pinterest, repeat above. YouTube, repeat above. Google, repeat above.
Entrepreneurs who neglect social media don’t care about their customers who do use social media. Why? More than half of all Americans now own smart phones. This number grows every day. Sit down in a public place and see how many people are using them. Some of them may be trying to learn about where your business is located, what brands you carry, read customer reviews and discover today’s specials. Pew Research reports that “as of January 2014, 74% of online adults use social networking sites.” Further, 90% of 18 – 29 year olds, 78% of 30 – 49 year olds, 65% of 50 – 64 years old and 46% of those 65 and older used social networking in September 2013. Thus, ignoring social media in your business is snubbing, at a minimum, half of your customers, both current and prospective.
It should be obvious that social media must be part of your marketing strategy. The issue commonly reverts to… “How do I effectively do it? I am not a geek. I’m not an engineer. I’m not a social media expert. I don’t get it. I don’t have the time.” Answers follow:
Concern: How do I do it? Answer; It’s not rocket science. Being committed is the greatest challenge. There are numerous professionals who provide great tips online… On the exact social media sites you are on! Sign up, get on, and explore.
Concern: I’m not a geek or an engineer or a social media expert. Reply; Neither am I. I know very little about computer science, but I can operate a computer. At one point in my life, I didn’t know how to drive a car either. Again, there are numerous examples on the social media sites you are on. Watch what your competitors do. Follow some experts. Follow some entrepreneurs that are good with social media. Then be led by their example.
Concern: I don’t get it. Reply; I didn’t get it at first either. You won’t ever “get it” unless you want to get it and do something to get it.
Concern: I don’t have the time. Reply; this is a legitimate apprehension. Entrepreneurs are seldom blessed with too much time. It’s about prioritizing. Marketing often gets pushed to a lower level by busy people. Put together a marketing strategy and make room for it as a higher priority intended to boost your business and make more money. Your local ISBDC business advisor will be happy to help you do this. There are a number of ways to have a regular social media presence without spending that much time actually online:
- Hoot Suite is a free social media manager tool that allows one posting to be delivered to multiple accounts. It also allows one to make scheduled “timed posts” so that messages are delivered at a prime time when your customers are watching. An example is for a restaurant to schedule daily specials for the entire week each Saturday. Then on Monday, just before lunch time followers will see that the day’s special is the Mega Meal for only $4.99. On Tuesday at 11:00 AM, the post will announce that the kids eat free with an adult purchase, and so on. It would take only 15 minutes a week to create this once per day special posting. Here is a blog about six HootSuite competitors.
- Have direct messages, mentions, and pictures sent to your business delivered as a text message or e-mail so that you can instantly view them and react as needed. This way you don’t have to be logged in to an account to catch timely posts. There’s nothing more disappointing than not replying to a customer’s needs.
- Be active on social media accounts that your clients are most responsive to. You don’t have to be on everything. Do one or a few social media accounts well instead of many of them poorly. Close accounts that you are not active on to avoid the appearance of your business being closed.
- HootSuite and Twitter both allow you to create “lists” of specific people you want to follow, thus making it easy to filter their comments from others.
Some general rules for getting your business started on social media:
- Pick one social media format to get started and get comfortable to learn how it works. After you’ve mastered one, you’ll see that they are all very similar (just like cars). I encourage newbies to start a Facebook account and just interact with close friends and family members to get comfortable. Then progress to a business Facebook Fan page.
- After determining what social media sites that your customers frequent (hint: you can ask them), lay out a strategy to interact with them on a regular basis. Find and follow your current customers and other potential customers. People are flattered when you follow or like them. They tend to re-pay the compliment. See who follows your competitors too. If your customers love the neighborhood restaurant, “like” the restaurant and follow the people who follow the restaurant. Offer free meals to the restaurant as a prize package. There are many good things that can come from this kind of interaction, the least of which is developing a relationship with the restaurant owner.
- Be grateful. Thank posters for saying nice things about your business and for following you.
- Be responsive. Occasionally someone will say something about your business online that you may dislike. Readers want to see how you handle tough issues. Sometimes just saying “I’m sorry you’re not satisfied. Please DM (direct message me) so I can make it right” goes a long way. This is a general fear and why many claim they don’t want to be on social media, but imagine if a good customer suddenly says bad things about your business online and you are not there to make a positive reply.
- Promote! Just put a new sign up front? Take a picture of it and submit. Post pictures of happy, satisfied customers. Show that your company is progressive and growing. Cell phone cameras are made for this activity.
- Think about quality more than quantity. It’s exciting to have a great number of followers, but it’s most important to be followed by people who you are targeting for your business. Having many targeted followers is the goal.
- Engage a social media aficionado to assist you in developing a strategy to appeal to your targeted marketplace. This may be a student intern, an employee or a friend. A caution here… Maintain control of your account and be certain they understand the importance of online correctness and protocol.
- Have fun! There are fun things on social media. It’s not all work. Your customers like to see you as yourself sometimes. It’s okay to root for your favorite ball team on weekends and send a snapshot of the big game you’re attending.
- It’s okay to promote yourself on social media. It’s not that fine of a line between promoting and being boastful. It’s a normal occurrence. Patrons expect to find their businesses online and to learn more about them. I encourage you to follow me to get more tips on growing your business on Twitter @montysmemos and @HHISBDC and the Hoosier Heartland ISBDC on Facebook.