When talking to small business owners and entrepreneurs, one of the most common questions I get is, “How should I use social media? I’ve heard it’s a good thing, but I don’t understand how it could work for my particular business.”
Before I try to answer that question, I think it’s important to say that social media marketing may not be the best route for your business. Just because it works for some businesses doesn’t mean it’s a fit for everybody, and trying to force a social media strategy on your particular business could result in a lot of wasted time and effort, not to mention frustration.
Who Doesn’t Need Social Media?
Again, this is a tough question to answer in a general sense, but here are a few things I’ve noticed that seem to make social media marketing an uphill battle:
- Your business or industry is one people just aren’t really interested in talking about. Honestly, if you sell ball bearings, it’s going to be tough to find people interested in talking about them. However, a company like Blendtech has done an amazing job of getting people interested in a relatively unsexy product like blenders by being funny and creative with their “Will it Blend?” videos. Can you do something creative and interesting with yours?
- You’re only interested in short-term, immediate sales impact. Social media is great at building brands, making connections, and creating customer loyalty. It’s not necessarily great as a sales tool, with a few notable exceptions. If you’re counting on social media to start bringing in huge sales from day one (or even 100), you’re likely to be disappointed.
- You’re primarily interested in social media as a way to “get your message out there.” While this is something that good social media marketing can do, it’s only a small piece of the pie, and could end up turning some people off. Social media is about two-way conversations and listening to what your potential market has to say. If you ignore the listening and community-building aspects of social media, you’ll probably find your message falling on deaf ears.
What Your Business Can Get Out of Social Media
Even though social media isn’t a magic bullet or a miracle cure for what ails your business, there are a lot of potential benefits to your business if it’s done right (and with the right mindset):
- A more loyal and interested audience- If you treat people with respect and interact with them in valuable, interesting ways, it can do wonders for how people see your brand. Instead of being just a commodity, your business can take on an air of friendliness, authority, and value that would have taken years of effort and thousands of dollars in branding work to accomplish in the past.
- Market research that blows away focus groups- Focus groups and surveys are of questionable value, at best, because people are inclined to tell you what you want to hear, or agree with others in the group so they fit in. However, if you do a good job of “actively listening” (i.e., paying close attention to conversations & communities, and watching trends in your industry), you can learn what people really think and feel when they think the business isn’t watching.
- Getting a leg up on your competition- Recently, I was watching my Twitter stream, and noticed a really influential guy in my industry stating that he wished a competitor of ours that he was using offered a certain feature, and that it was really limiting his business. I quickly replied that the company I work for has that feature, and that I’d be happy to answer any other questions he had. After a few tweets back and forth, he ended up bringing his product over to our company, resulting in tens of thousands of dollars in extra sales for us, and huge headache relief for him. Everybody came out a winner. Best of all, if your competition isn’t using social media yet, you control the conversation in your industry and are free to go after everyone who needs your product or service.
- Proactive customer support- One of the most important things you can do with social media, in my opinion, is address problems or questions your customers or market have out in the open. I know some companies are afraid to engage with angry customers in the open, but hey, they’re already complaining. Isn’t it better to get to tell your side of the story, or give them a solution, right out in the open where everyone can see it? It makes you look like a company who cares and tries hard to support their products. Just leaving a negative comment about your company out in the open for everyone to see is much worse, and if you can turn an angry customer into a happy one (which I’ve seen happen many times on Twitter), even better!
I hope that’s given you some ideas of how social media might be right for you, or even how it might not. The important things to remember are that if you’re going to do it, don’t do it halfway, and always know beforehand what it is you’re looking to accomplish.
Don’t just participate in social media for your business because you think you “should.” Do it because you want to learn, or talk to your customers and market more openly, or tell everyone how great your company is. Have goals and strategies going in, and you’ll be a lot more likely to get great results.