In the past 20 years, virtual communication has rapidly changed and grown as fast as society is able to keep up with it. Since the introduction of the Internet, we seem obsessed with creating new, more efficient ways to use it to communicate and network with others. We’ve gone from basic email to chat rooms, instant messenger, video chat, podcasts and various versions of social networks. People became just as concerned with their virtual connections as their “real-life” connections when MySpace allowed instant connections to anyone globally. Humans have a need and a desire to connect with each other.
Today, social media sites have a strangle hold on society’s Internet usage. Facebook dominates computer, tablet, and smartphone screens like no other site, attracting more than three times the amount of users than its closest competitor, Yahoo. We’re heading towards an age when people will need social network recovery programs just to kick the habit. YouTube and Google are also in the Top 10, with Twitter and Blogger sites shooting up the list. Moms spend time on Facebook in between chasing around kids and caring for families. Dads sneak a peek whenever they can at work, often discreetly on their smartphones. Even when we know the latest with all of our virtual friends, we still feel the need to hit “refresh” more often than would have been considered healthy 15 years ago.
Consumers are spending more and more time in front of their various screens. Ninety seven percent of social media users access social media sites from their computers, but a growing number are accessing these sites from their cell phones. At the end of 2011, 37 percent of social media users were accessing the sites through their phones, a figure that could begin growing at a rate of at least 15 percent per year.
With social media dominating screens of consumers, reaching out to your audience through social media and driving consumer traffic to your website is an essential part of increasing business. Creating an effective social media front is another way to help your business stay in front of millions of eyes every day.
But what if your business isn’t a multimillion dollar global brand? What if you aren’t Coca-Cola (43 million fans)? What if you aren’t LeBron James (11 million fans)? How does a small business with a local footprint go from a following that features mostly close friends and family, and really start reaching out to consumers and building a fan base or following that makes social media worth it?
The key to developing a social media strategy and beginning to reach out to your audience is to know who the audience is and have realistic expectations of how you will be able to reach out and interact with them. Your lemonade stand may not generate thousands, or even hundreds, of followers, but if you can provide a service to a certain audience, they will become advocates for your business and help spread the word. To do that, you need to provide your audience with something that they can’t get anywhere else. For any service you provide, there is an audience somewhere with a need for that service. If social media is where your audience is, it is an inexpensive way of reaching them.
Writing to and interacting with a social media audience is different from writing email campaigns, Web copy or fliers. Each of these reaches a unique audience, and has something different that it is trying to accomplish. What makes a social media network a powerful marketing tool is the ability of people to share things with others. Your credibility increases exponentially when people see something shared by a sibling, parent, cousin, best friend, or even a classmate they haven’t seen in 27 years. Your writing and your content should be something that not only catches the attention of your audience, but if possible should be something that consumers would share. Need help knowing how to do that? Look at these tips:
Top 10 Things to Remember About Promoting Your Business through Social Media
1. Embrace the social media movement. Don’t be afraid. It’s here to stay. –Many small business owners have been around for a lot longer than social media. They are successful because they are good at what they do. They just don’t see how social media is going to improve what they already doing. Don’t think of it as an improvement, but as something additional that can brings attention to businesses.
2. Think about things from the point of view of your audience. –We’ve all been there. Our friends and family endlessly begging us to “Like” their business’s Facebook page or follow them on Twitter, and when we finally give in, our timelines are bombarded with a seemingly endless stream of begging followers to visit your website or purchase or “Like” different things on your page. Consider your audience when deciding what to share. Is the content something that will entertain or irritate? Will it draw your audience in or push them away?
3. Whenever possible, include something besides text in your social media posts. –This is the fun part. It’s always better to provide a little bit more meat for your followers to chew on. Whether it’s a photo, a video or a link to a funny story, it helps. Your audience will pay more attention to what you’re posting, and also be much more likely to share the content with friends. Think about it. A video of something is much more fun and interactive than a line or two of text.For example, advocates against texting while driving could spend hours ranting about drivers who text from behind the wheel, but they might get a little bit more attention if they shared something like this:
The photo above shows a billboard with lots of irony, as it informs drivers of the dangers of texting while driving, and then promptly asks them to send a text for more information. Over 29,000 people have liked the image on Facebook and over 17,000 have shared it with their friends
4. “Social media is not a commercial.” –This quote comes from Alex Lawrence, a well-known entrepreneur and social media enthusiast with over 100,000 followers on Twitter. When I was working on a project involving social media for a local business, this was the best advice he gave me. With so much interesting content online you should be able to drum up something interesting without boring your audience with a commercial. Make them think. Make them laugh. Make them cry. Even if you’re sharing something from a competitor, it could be more effective than asking your followers to schedule a photo-shoot or purchase a necklace from your online store. If you are going to ask people to follow you, and “Like” or share your content, make it a contest like this comic book company from New York.
5. Give your audience a glimpse inside of your organization. –This may not be for everyone, but a great way to become interactive with your audience is to let them see what things are like on the inside. Give them a teaser of a new product being developed. Share pictures of exciting things happening at the office. Help them see why your business is awesome instead of just trying to tell them.
6. Be absolutely sure to avoid spelling and grammar mistakes in your posts. –Nothing will turn your audience off like a big fat spelling error in the middle of a sentence. Any company worth taking seriously on social media should take itself seriously enough to write well. If you can’t do it yourself, make sure to have someone who can. One mistake can erase hundreds of hours of work building up credibility to your fans.
This article on Mashable slams Repulican nominee Mitt Romney and his campaign for their third spelling and grammar error in one week. They were honest mistakes, ones most people probably wouldn’t notice. But some did, and they shared them with others and wrote articles blasting the Romney campaign.
7. Be clear and concise. –The attention span you’re working with while you write social media content is…what was I saying? That’s right. Attention spans are short! It’s likely the people you are writing for are not going to stop scrolling to read your content. Twitter limits your tweets to 140 characters, and you will curse having to put spaces between the words because they count as characters. Get to the point quickly. Include only the essential information. If it’s not fit to be posted on a social network, post it on your website and include a link in your Facebook post or tweet so that your followers can click for more information.
News sites are experts at this:
8. Just be yourself and interact with others like a person. –Sure, you have goals you want to accomplish with social media. Everyone understands why a business is on Facebook or Twitter. Consumers know your goal is to reach them to help line your pockets with more cash, and it’s an automatic turnoff. So why not show them that you are like them. One of the only businesses that has successfully won me over as a customer is one that interacted with me on a level completely outside of its business. Check it out:
The nonchalant response (even though it included a spelling error) to my desire to stuff my face with a giant hamburger really stood out. I let this company know that I thought their interaction with people through social media was awesome, and the next time I’m scheduling a dentist visit, it’s on the top of my list.
9. Interact and interrupt. -The great thing about social media is that you’re supposed to interrupt. It is an ever moving conversation, and the only way to become a part of it is to jump in. Nobody will think that you are rude, and they’ll be more likely to listen to you than if you are just pumping out endless self-promotion. Strive to become a part of the conversation that people look forward to interacting with.
10.Make adjustments along the way-Social media is such a new concept in communication that nobody out there is an expert who has been doing it for decades. We are all learning along the way, and you will rarely hit a home run the first time that you are at the plate. Works towards a goal, and when you have achieved it then make plans to shoot for another one. If your goals turn out to be unrealistic, make some adjustments and find where you can have success.
Interviewing a Social Media Professional:
Cory Edwards is the director of Social Media and Corporate Reputation for Dell. As the director of social media, he is a part of the corporate communications group and part of the team that focuses on the integration of social media into the more traditional forms of communication and marketing activities. His focus is developing a corporate reputation and building the brand through social media outlets by working with influencers and advocates of Dell. He developed a lot of his experience in social media by being an early adopter and gaining hands on experience by starting with a family blog. After gaining some experience, he began looking for ways to use these tools to “wow” his clients. Since then, as social media has grown, Edwards has seen it develop and taken the opportunity to learn that advantages that it can bring to a business.
Q: What response would you give a company or organization that doesn’t think that social media is worth the time and effort?
A: That really is a tough spot to be in, and I have been there. There were clients that I’ve had and even management at an agency that I worked for had a lot of skepticism. One of the benefits is that there is really relatively low barrier to entry when it comes to getting involved. The costs are relatively low. A big part of it is trying to get management to give you a chance and to trust you, and then look for a few early wins. If you can get a few key wins, where something successful comes from your effort, then next time around management is going to be more willing to let you do things and give you more resources to make an even bigger splash.
Q: What is a good way to make usually mundane topics more exciting and shareable?
A: The truth is, there are boring topics in the world. As boring as they would seem to you or me, the reality is that for any industry that you are in there is an audience that the topic is going to appeal to, and you need to find a way to rise above the noise that exists. I think that there have been a lot of creative multimedia-type channels and assets have allowed you to take something “un-sexy” and make it more “sexy.” I think videos are something that helps. It’s easier to digest a video or a podcast sometimes than it is a written article. I think even more so, I love the trend that we’re seeing now of more and more people doing infographics. They take a topic and make it interesting in the visual of it. That you can have a visual that just tells the story by itself is a great thing. We’re seeing a lot of dynamic and interactive infographics as well. All of these multimedia components really help to make it more shareable when the content isn’t really the most enjoyable to digest.
Q: As far as connecting with followers, how do you try to make a personal connection? How do you make your social media writing sound more like a person and less like it’s coming from a machine?
A: For the first question, there’s a lot to be said for going to where your customers are. The typical approach that you see a company take is, “Let’s go out and create a Facebook page,” or, “Let’s go out and make a Twitter account.” It’s Facebook and Twitter, shouldn’t we be on there?” As opposed to thinking of where your audience is, people think that just because those are the social media giants of today that that is where they should be. If you feel like that where you’re going to have the best chance of interacting with your constituents then that’s great, but I just don’t think that people think that through very much and the first step in your strategy has to be determining where you can connect with them. Facebook may not be the right place. Some places have not embraced social media like we have here. It just hasn’t taken off there, and because of that the focus is on some other online communities, like posting boards. Know where your customers are. Let that be your driving force for creating conversation. Go to where they are first. If they’re on Facebook, then that’s great. Customers are looking for the brands they like, and they would love to have interaction with them. Interactions from companies I don’t like would appear as spam, and I wouldn’t want to engage with them. If they’re brands that I like, I like to have an interactive experience. I love it when I post on Smashburger and they reply back to me by name. I kind of get a kick out of that – that a brand has a personal side to it. Brands spent so long building up these corporate walls that you have these nameless, faceless corporations that are just entities that you could never access or have any personal feel to it. You have to change that. You have a brand page, and as you’re interacting with people, you need to reach out to them directly and make it a personal experience. As much as we would like to think that our customers would just like to have a relationship with us, the reality is they’re in it for themselves too, and we need to recognize that they want something out of it too. They want a discount, they want to participate in competitions, whatever it might be, and they’re looking for opportunities to get a deal.
Q: What’s a good way to handle bad news or press about the company?
A: You know, it depends on the situation. If it’s somebody’s negative opinion about the company in the direction of the company, and they’re just spouting off for the sake of spouting off, sometimes engagement with them does no good. They’re haters and all they want to do it hate. We don’t want to give the trolls the time of day. Nothing productive comes from that. Whereas there are certainly customers who have not-so-great feedback for us, and sometimes it’s not terribly nice, but it does lead to a productive conversation. We’ve got a group within our core organization that is monitoring 24/7 and looking for situations where a customer is perhaps having a difficult time with their products. In those situations where they are griping about their product and doing it on Facebook publicly or on Twitter, the support organization, they have a mandate where within four hours of the post being put up, we need to be reaching out to them. They’re not even posting to us, they’re just putting it up on Twitter and publicly saying how unhappy they are with their product, and this team reaches out to them and tries to resolve any issues they have. We see it as an opportunity to help out our customers and in the process turn them from “ranters” into “ravers” for the brand. That team currently has 40 percent of the customers who vocally complain turn around and post something positive in response to the efforts and the time that we spend working with them to solve their issues. That’s a good statistic to take to executives who are wondering about using social media.
Q: What is the best way to minimize obnoxious self-promotion and annoying posts that turn off consumers, but still be effective in building up your brand?
A: It’s tough. There is a balance that you need to find there. You’re going to have a hard time arguing for it internally if there isn’t going to be promotional stuff on your feed. There are a couple of different ways that you can offset that. One is finding articles about industry news or a particular topic and sharing that stuff that would be interesting to your listeners. We use that as an opportunity to gain mindshare with our customers and help them to eventually look at Dell as a leader in the industry because we know our stuff and share it with them. We’re commenting about industry trends, new technologies, and the direction and future of a particular field, and those things help. If you start producing blog posts and infographics about that, it’s stuff that your customers are going to like. They like that they can come to you for that information.
Another thing is looking for more creative ways to promote your products, so even when you do talk about it, instead of looking at putting out marketing materials like white papers and product spec sheets, instead look for reviews from a third party that you can share. Make folks aware of what others are saying and try to amplify that. We want our customers to be aware of it. You can still help to promote the company’s cause without being the guy out there that is saying “come buy this today!”
Q: Creating a social environment can be tough. How does creating a social environment for employees make social media efforts an overall more positive influence on the organization?
A: When I first started, we saw social media as being very centralized in most corporations, and I think it still is. You’ve got the marketing or communications organization and maybe have a person or a couple of people who do it across the whole company. It almost becomes a bottleneck because it all has to go through them. No one is posting anything to Facebook unless it goes through them. And while I get the point, because there are so many people who don’t know how to do it, that’s a spot where a company will struggle. You’ve got to be more open, and weave social media into the fabric of what the company is. That means across each of the key functional department, which is communications and marketing, but also sales, and product development and customer service. Any of these different groups can now weave these principles into those respective parts of the organization. You have to be willing to do that. But if you do that, you have to be willing to train people, and willing to have thick skin because people are posting all over about your brand at that point. We have a training program for employees, and they have to go through that before they start posting on behalf of the company. It’s about eight hours’ worth of coursework that they have to go through before they can post on behalf of Dell. We’ve had 4,000 employees who have done that and become certified social media professionals.
Information Retrieved From:
Nielsen Internet Ratings and Social Media Report:
Mashable article on Mitt Romney’s campaign’s spelling mistakes:
Social Media Tips Blog Posts or Articles:
Various Twitter and Facebook Posts, Thanks to:
Primary Children’s Medical Center
Big Thanks to Cory Edwards from Dell for donating his expertise! For more information on the social media strategies, policies and procedures from Dell, visit www.dell.com/socialmedia.