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The names "Jack Dorsey" and "Mark Zuckerberg" might not be recognized by all, but in many ways they are shaping the way businesses — large and small — operate. As the founders of Twitter and Facebook respectively, they have both brought to the world new ways to market, communicate, advertise and bridge the gap between customers and owners. With Twitter having 100+ million "active users" and Facebook's 850+ million, both social media forums are serious allies in your efforts to bring in, and keep, new customers.
Therefore, if you're a business owner who has not jumped on the Twitter, Facebook, or Google+ (see sidebar) bandwagon, you might want to consider these facts:
And, if you already have a Facebook or Twitter account, it's important to make sure you're using them most advantageously. After all, one inactive Twitter account could make a follower look elsewhere. Or a business without a Facebook account could make one question their validity and hipness. So before that happens, read further to find out how to make your presence known and standout to your current and potential customers.
Why social media is important
According to Lisa Barone, the chief branding officer of Outspoken Media, social media is important to your business because that's where your customers are looking.
"One out of every five searches on the Web has local intent. Your customers are researching online to buy offline. They're using the Web and social media channels to see if anyone has experience with your brand. They're checking out your online reviews to see if that experience is positive or negative. They're using your website and your social presence (Facebook, Twitter, whatever you have) to learn more about you and see if they trust you and if you're someone they want to do business with. The importance of word of mouth hasn't changed, but it's moved online."
Janet Fouts, a social media coach, and founder of Tatu Digital Media, said a carwash or detailing company could make use of social media networks to drive traffic and offer specials to customers. "For this," she said, "Twitter is great to reach out to local customers in real-time and Facebook is great to keep a space online where customers can ask questions, get feedback and offers and share those with their friends. As users share the information with their friends, word spreads quickly."
Fouts added that it's also not just for the younger crowd. "Look, I'm over 50 and I'm here to tell you social media is not a fad, and it's not 'just for kids.' It is the way we will be marketing our businesses going forward, and in the future we won't call it social media any more. It will just be part of the fabric of our lives."
Lon Safko, a social media strategist who speaks and consults with Fortune 2000 companies and is the author of "The Social Media Bible," said soon the term "social media" will have no relevance and social media tools will be integrated with traditional advertising and marketing tools.
"People are thinking of social media on the right hand and traditional media on the left," Safko said, "but we have to look at it as if it is all one media. The only difference between the two is social media is free to implement. And, it provides two-way communication. With traditional we just push the message. With social media you have all of these platforms to engage your customers with you and your business and you and your brand."
Facebook's new membership is starting to slow, Safko added, but that's because they're running out of people. But, the people who are using it are avid users. "Even if the membership slowed, as long as you have access to 850 million people, your demographic, prospects and customers are on there and using it. I think Facebook is awesome. …All sales come down to you and another person. I want people to connect with me personally, as soon as you know who I am, you'll trust me cause I'm legitimate and you'll buy from me."
Using it the right way
The biggest mistake you can make as a business owner is to not get involved and stay active with your social media platforms, said Barone.
"It's easy to think that because you're serving local customers that you don't need the Web or social media forums," Barone said. "But like I mentioned before it's the ROBO effect — your customers are researching online, buying offline. So if you're not there when they're looking for you, you don't even factor into their buying decision."
Another mistake, Barone said, would be thinking you can just do social media "when you have the time" or "at whim." "It really needs to be scheduled into your day just like anything else. If you only do social media 'when you're free,' you'll never be free and it won't get done."
Fouts said that a big mistake is to only post about yourself. "If it's all ads, we are not going to listen. Instead post on your Facebook or Twitter page about the local community and what's going on around you. Share success stories, photos and talk about the great cars you get to see."
Your social media strategy
According to Barone, obviously your specific social media strategy will depend on your business goals, your industry, and how you're defining success. Don't feel the need to join every social media site just because you know it exists. Instead, find two sites where your audience is hanging out, and then become part of them. Join in the conversations. Talk to people about their interests and problems. Really engage people. You'll be surprised how quickly you start developing authority. Once you've mastered a couple sites, you can spread your wings and expand.
One great tip, according to Barone, is to use social media exclusives to reward people who fan or follow your business in social media. "This gives them a reason for taking that action, it helps promote your brand further on these networks, and it helps foster a stronger brand community. Fifty-eight percent of users expect exclusive content from brands as a reward for liking them on Facebook. It doesn't have to be a free product, but it can be exclusive content, photos they can't get anywhere else, a special video. Just something that rewards their participation and gives them a reason for sticking around."
Also, consider encouraging online reviews, Barone added. "If you're not already encouraging your customers to leave reviews about your business on sites like Yelp and Google Place Pages, you're missing a great opportunity. Customers are using these sites to decide if they want to do business with your company. The search engines are also using them to understand how people feel about your brand. You should be working review solicitation in your sales process."