Jan 03, 2011
by JIM KRESS of Central Oregon Community College
I spent this fall investigating some trends in social media, looking at what was working and what was not. As I spent time on the web, going to conferences and reading industry journals, I have noticed some consistent themes as businesses consider moving to social media.
First, let’s talk about when it is not the right time for you to use social media. If your business is really struggling right now, this might not be the best time to consider it. You may be having problems arriving at an effective product or service mix, or have a staff that needs more training. If you are in a dogfight with the economy, you may want to aggressively pursue solutions for getting your financial house in order.
Social media does not become your marketing strategy. There are a variety of ways to promote your business and interact with customers. Social media is one of those choices. Because of this, you should have a marketing plan first. Social media shouldn’t be driving the marketing strategy bus. Rather, social media should be part of a bus ride with your marketing strategy as the driver.
You might not have the time it takes for social media to be part of your marketing mix. One of the key differences between having a website and using social media is that a website is a broadcast media. Launch the website and if it is designed and optimized well, customers will get there. However, social media involves numerous conversations with many customers. While it is true many small businesses use Facebook to promote to their customers, the real value comes from the conversations that occur and the relationships that are built and strengthened through those conversations. This takes time. (Think ROE—return on effort).
You hear a lot about how time consuming social media can become. There are some tools out there that really simplify that process. For two examples, go to Hootsuite.com and Tweetdeck.com. They will make your life much simpler.
Which social media do you choose? There are a large number of choices: Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and YouTube—to name just a few. As it is with the use of any other media, you need to go where your customers are. You can either ask your customers their preference or select the media by trial and error. Just remember to fish where the fish are! For those of you with a retail store, just place a bowl of candy by the checkout with a 3 x 5 card asking customers to check the box for their social media of choice. Better yet, place them in different parts of the store, count the number of pieces of candy at the beginning and end of the day, and see how many people are checking out different parts of your store.
Even if you are not quite ready to enter the social media landscape, you should protect your future. You should go to the different social media sites and register your name. This will prevent your name from being used by someone else and will make sure it is available later when you are ready.
If you have a marketing strategy and social media is the right fit, you might want to consider some of these ideas in implementing different social media. You might start with a goal of simply improving customer service. Companies post videos on YouTube to assist customers in using their products. I had a friend who recently viewed a YouTube video from Coleman on how to clean his old camping stove. You might use Twitter to keep the marketplace informed about product updates or product recalls. You might use your Facebook page as a place for customer testimonials or to invite people to an event at your company. The key in starting early is to find the low-hanging fruit that provides results with minimal effort.
For additional information you might want to read Social Media for Business by Susan Sweeney and Randall Craig. It’s a great starter for those considering social media for their small business.