Optimizing Social Media for your Business
July 30, 2014
Many small businesses don't think that social media is right for them. Which is understandable. It's scary territory. After all, you see all these big names making mistakes, and social media can be tricky to balance for any business. Your work is never done. Being social is also a time consuming process. However, it can also be a very personal and targeted approach to small business communications. That's why the general consensus is that the advantages can, and often do, outweigh the difficulties.
Choosing Social Media Platforms
Most individuals or organizations have a social media account of some sort, but everyone has their preferences for which one(s) they like to use. More often than not, businesses end up juggling three or four social media platforms to try to chase their target market. What makes it even more difficult, is that social media platforms are becoming more and more similar over time- minimizing the advantages of one platform over another. (As evidenced by Twitter and Facebook’s new profile pages debuted earlier this year.)
Knowing the behaviors and preferences of your customers is an important step in knowing how to effectively use social media. But when choosing accounts, it is also essential to know which of the social media platforms suit the lifestyles of your customers. The goal of understanding what lifestyles suit which social media accounts is to ensure that following your updates is a natural extension of your customer's daily routine.
Facebook may have initially been geared toward college students, but it's becoming more and more synonymous with family use and audiences of post-collegiate ages. Even though most people engaging with social media have a Facebook account, it may not be the best venue for connecting with a younger or specialized audience.
Twitter is prime real estate for connecting B2B or for optimizing events and social gatherings using hashtags, latching on to trending topics and even for real time commentary or Q&A response. This is a great platform for reaching customers who like to be in-the-know.
LinkedIn is great for finding new hires or even highlighting current employees as brand assets by connecting them to your business. You can even discuss business strategies with other business leaders and influencers using groups. This is great for reaching audiences with a strong professional drive.
Foursquare caters to bargain shoppers and travelers looking for deals and advice from stores and customers. Recommendations and the frequency of visits earn dedicated customers recognition on a social level- allowing you to know who the influencers are for your business and giving other customers an unbiased party to ask questions to.
Individuals who consider themselves artists or out-of-the-box thinkers often migrate toward more visual centric platforms such as Pinterest, Instagram or Vine where communication relies primarily on one, or a short series, of images that tell a story.
People who are visual learners or wish to see something in action will migrate to social channels such as YouTube which offer more restricted social interaction, but can provide the answers they need from different people and perspectives.
Think carefully about what your goals are when it comes to social media platform choices. Most businesses across the web have a standard Facebook and Twitter account but that's not always the best solution.
I have a page, now what?
Once you find your customers on social media- the next step is to get them to like you. Which can feel like high school all over again. You definitely don’t want to beg for your following, but you don’t want to trick people into liking you either. With either approach, it’s going to end like a bad sitcom, messy and predictable. But hey, the more popular you are, the more successful you’re going to be. Right? Wrong.
Just like those cheesy sitcoms point out over and over again- when it comes to building relationships, quality trumps quantity. You can have 10,000 followers, but if they aren’t listening or talking to you— they aren't any more or less interested in buying or hearing about what you have to offer, which means your presence really isn’t benefiting anyone. While it can be very alluring to see that for just $5 a day in ad budgets, Facebook can get you 30 or 300 more likes, it's important to weigh how much more engagement that's going to get your business in that equation. If it's getting you 300 more likes or followers, but you're not getting any more feedback and your content is falling on deaf ears, that $5 could have been better spent on existing customers.
It's better to have 1000 followers who occasionally thank you, promote your business or even present you with a problem they're experiencing than to have 10,000 followers that don’t acknowledge you at all. Why? Because those are the people who are going to be loyal to your business. They want to hear what you have to say, are willing to tell you when you get something wrong, will let you fix their issue while demonstrating your great customer service and will make your business more successful as a result.
The art of being social.
So now we’re down to the hard stuff. How do you start a conversation with customers? What will they be interested in? What kinds of content can you share to get it going? Sadly, there is no right answer for every business. But all hope is not lost. The one thing we know for sure is that you don’t want to use social media as purely one sided sales dialog. Its okay to let customers know you just got a new shipment of merchandise or if you are opening up some new classes- but no one wants to read advertisements during social hour. Think about it this way, If you walked into someone's living room waiving around a sign and talking about how great you are, you would get kicked out or put in handcuffs by the end of the night. That tactic doesn’t work so well online either.
Instead of sales-sales-sales, try sharing some of your business goals and accomplishments — pull back the proverbial curtain and allow your customers to see the reality of your business. Post customer success stories. Share local or industry news from other sources. Try to contribute to a bigger conversation than “buy my product” or “attend our classes.” Try to be relevant to the natural flow of conversation. And be aware of how your remarks may sound in the wrong context. You can’t avoid every possible offense in social situations, but you can (and should) take a step back to evaluate what you’re about post and what kinds of responses it might get. If you're not sure, try bouncing it off of a few co-workers first.
Monitoring and improving social media use.
Social media gives you the chance to be more transparent, honest, and friendly with customers than ever before. It gives you access to customers in their homes, at work and on the go. Just as if you were a close friend. And just like making a new friend, running a successful social media account is a process of getting to know your audience, trying new things together and finding what works. You might even get introduced to a few new friends along the way.
Social media optimization can only come from doing your research, setting up a few accounts, trying different approaches to capture interest, and measuring the results. Then every so often, wash, rinse and repeat. If you notice a change in performance metrics, try to replicate it, then perfect it and adjust your normal approach to get better results.
In summation, using social media for your business is definitely worth a shot- as long as it’s not a shot in the dark.