It’s not uncommon today for small businesses to be leery about marketing themselves in social media. There are several applications, tools and communities in how a small business can participate and engage their customers and prospects. There’s also a fine social media ethical fence we all walk on when marketing to customers and prospects.
But, social media marketing doesn’t have to be difficult. Really.
Today, nearly everything can be chalked up to “marketing,” so you can be limitless and can apply your entrepreneurial creativity to provide value to people. One aspect of customer satisfaction could include discounts, fire sales and customer loyalty clubs if you have enough demand. For prospects, small business owners might want to try Webinars, live video chats, offer direct accessibility and assurance into their product and service.
No one wants ‘marketing,’ do they?
Marketing has earned a bad rap in many eyes because most people mistakenly associate marketing for advertising. Most advertising that companies carry out has annoyed us because of how it interrupts our experiences, thus, interruption marketing. This is how smaller companies can really differentiate themselves: be unique, creative and have passion behind their message.
Marketing with customers and prospects in mind and targeting you messaging to be relevant results in useful and interesting content that the recipient can enjoy. At the granular level, don’t have to sling products or services; you’re really marketing your brand to be a reputable and relevant provider of information.
Marketing isn’t evil. Marketing gets brands noticed. Marketing helps propel the delivery of advertising and is the foundation of discussion. I’m trying to make a distinction between marketing activities and advertising. In many organizations, the interests of marketing democratize the feedback from customers, industry and prospects and send it upstream to the necessary stakeholders. Whether you know it or not, you market brands and yourself every day. Marketing activities connect the company to prospects – be it through discounts, direct mail, follow-up and customer service.
(Maybe a conversation on the debating the so-called evils of marketing is due. I don’t know, but I’ll think about it.)
Build an Online Presence
I won’t be alone in strongly recommending every small business to buy their own domain and establish a blog along with their traditional online presence. Websites and blogs today are much easier to set up than they were five years ago, so give it another chance if you’ve written them off.
Services like Squarespace make it very user friendly to get started building a presence for as little as $8/month. Nothing limits you to just rolling your own Website with a free WordPress install, either. It’s up to you, but either way, small businesses need to be visible to their customers.
“But, my business is different.”
The most frequent rebuttal I get to slay my social media advocacy is the cop-out that, “My business is different. “ Sorry, it’s not. You have prospects, customers and maybe even vendors. You also have competitors and you might have an ounce of passion into it. This is a perfect case on why small businesses must be interactive, communicate and attract people on the social front. Social media is no longer just kids hooking up on MySpace (guilty as charged); it’s evolved to where people connect and learn of new trends, brands, advice and trade stories about their experiences on the Web.
Social media is much more than just following and observing that someone woke up, drank orange juice, and is leaving for work. Listening pays its dividend when it comes to catching the latest buzz in your industry. Paying attention to what matters to your customers helps you market more effectively. Including relevant news and resources in your email to customers helps them see your business as in the scene.
My advice to small business owners who wish to venture into social media is actually quite simple.
Not every small business needs to use every social media service available. Start simple and keep it simple. Don’t get hung up on the semantics of SEO or even consider “SEO benefits” of social media. Show a bit of skin in the game (but please keep your clothes on). Converse and interact with customers, prospects and even employees. By doing all this, people see you’re human and not just another faceless, cold corporation.
Adapt Old Traditions with New Strategies
The way in how we market and interact with customers has changed significantly in the past ten years, and it has turned upside down in the past two. For instance, most people expect quick responses to support requests, instant answers in the sales process and a human touch — 15 years ago, poor service and tough answers were the norm. The trend is quite clear: provide great service and empower your customers Your business should be poised to accomplish the same goals regardless of the economy or state of affairs in your business.
Lisa Barone from Outspoken Media recently blogged several great counterpoints on how direct marketing fits into the social media picture. She elaborates on that direct marketing isn’t dead in social media. Social media ‘purists’ (myself included) may twitch at the thought of direct marketing and social media, but the way Lisa explains how it can be done congruently with a social media strategy, shows how it can work in any business — even yours.
The key to being successful in social media marketing is to adapt, listen and execute.
Now is the time to engage, interact and build up our online reputation and connect with customers. The easiest way to learn it is to do it. You’ll probably make a few mistakes, embarrassments and struggle — but that’s what being a true entrepreneur does. You may not find value in social media yourself, but if you contribute, your customers and prospects will appreciate it. Don’t put it off any longer, invest the two minutes it takes into making a Twitter and Facebook account and invest an hour a day learning about your customers and what they want to know from you. I recommend reading my 4-Step Social Media Action Plan that you can apply to your small business now.
I imagine you might have a few questions or might want a hand. Go ahead and post your questions or comments below and I’ll be happy to help you out. As entrepreneurs, we’re in this together.