I recently spoke to about 80 business owners and managers at a local chamber of commerce business luncheon and posed the question: “How many of you are Tweeters?” Blank stares. I clarified: “How many of you use Twitter?” Crickets chirping. I was stunned. Not one of 80 people had heard of Twitter. And most likely, you haven’t either. Twitter is part of the social media landscape.
Lesson to marketers: Social media awareness is spotty and fragmented.
Alert to small business owners: You need to know this stuff. According to Forrester research, 75 percent of Internet users participate in some form of social media.
So this is a basic primer in social media for small business. Let’s start by answering the question: “What is social media?” Well, it’s not one basic thing. It’s primarily Internet-based websites, applications and communities where people get together to share and discuss. They are all rolled together into a thing marketers call social media. For your business, think of social media as a more convenient entrance for customers. A side door entrance, if you will
|Photo Credit: Ben Zvan
What Is Social Media?
Social media are less intimidating to customers than being in an actual business. People don’t have to experience your business in the traditional way. It’s a chance for your customers to get to learn more about your business in a casual setting without the pressure of having to buy something. And that’s the thing: people get to learn without being sold. Participating in social media is about contributing value.
Value makes it tricky, of course. Businesses tend to spend most of their time selling and then expect the customer to be the expert in using the product. Think education instead of selling. Social media is your opportunity to help customers become an expert and increase their knowledge base. You, in turn, become their valuable resource.
Social media is also about building authority for your business. As you help people grow and learn, you are rewarded with authority in your business category. Your authority also grows on search engines through social media. Google, Yahoo and MSN are all indexing pages from social media channels. The more you participate, the more your authority grows on search engines, the easier it is for people to find you in search engine results.
What are the channels of social media?
There are literally thousands of social media channels, which makes it daunting for the small business social media novice. Let’s identify the few that will be most useful to your business.
|Photo Credit: ThunderChild tm
Blogs: A contraction of the term “Web log,” a blog is actually a website that lets you easily update content frequently. Think of it as your own online magazine or newsletter. Readers can subscribe to it at no cost. You are reading my blog now. It can be a companion to, or a part of, your existing website. You can use a blog as your website.
The three most popular blog platforms are Blogger, WordPress and Typepad. Blogger is the easiest to set up and get started. But in the long-term, WordPress is more flexible and useful. However, the WordPress learning curve is a little tough at first.
Best advice: Get a dedicated domain name for your blog and spend a couple of weeks learning before you jump in.
YouTube/Videos: As much as 73% of all Internet users watch online video. There are many free video hosting sites, but YouTube is by far the most widely used. Videos make you and your business more personal and less intimidating. You will need to learn some basic video editing skills.
Best advice: Buy a Flip video camera and make short, informational videos. Then post them on YouTube and embed them in your website or blog. The Trunk Club in Bend, Oregon is an excellent example. Watch owner Joanna Van Vleck’s intro video and then click on the blog link to see various video tips.
facebook & myspace: Your users may very well already have facebook and myspace pages. If they do, you can allow them to “friend” you. This allows them to feel an emotional connection to your business. You can also post videos and pictures. myspace is primarily for teens and younger demographics and is beginning to focus on music. facebook is a haven for 20-somethings, but is gradually gaining acceptance with older demographics.
Best Advice: Update your page every day. Your network will see your updates. Then promote your facebook and myspace pages in store.
Twitter: Maybe has the best potential for business social media use. However, Twitter is just now going mainstream. Which is good, because you can become proficient at it before everyone else does. Twitter users can follow you and get notices via the web or through their mobile phone. Unfortunately, there is no critical mass right now and you would only be reaching early adopters.
Best advice: (If you decide to use anyway) Tweet updates about your business, notify loyal customers of special events. Speak personally.
Communities/Networks: In my opinion, these are over-rated for small businesses. Online communities are good if you have a community of users tied together by a common interest. Urbane Apartments in Royal Oak, Michigan uses their Urbane Lobby to let residents communicate and network with each other.
Best advice: Don’t try to start a community unless your customers are passionate about your business or your product.
There are many other social media options, but don’t jump in too deep before you learn the basics. Besides, most of your customers will only know the basic options. The important thing is that you do something. A year ago I wrote an article called You Don’t Need Social Media. I still believe that you don’t “need” anything. But having social media in your marketing arsenal is an advantage. Start a blog, create a video, get a facebook page. Get social with your customers.
To learn more about social media in your area look for a Social Media Breakfast. They’re popping up all over North America.
In Central Texas, I’m hosting the Waco Social Media Breakfast.