I often hear people say their company is not ready to use social media, does not have a large following, is locally-based or is simply too small. My response: “That’s why you need to start now.” After all, social media can be a cost-effective way to increase your business’s following, generate buzz about your products and services and help your company grow.
I remember hearing of a pizza place (as we call them here in New Jersey) that was based in a college town. They launched a Twitter handle and promoted it with signs alerting patrons to follow them for exclusive specials. What they did then was just short of genius: whenever the store was not busy they would tweet a short-lived special, i.e. “free soda with a slice for the next hour,” “buy one slice and get one free for the next hour” or “any large pizza for $9 until 9 p.m.” The result? Students swarmed their store. I couldn’t help thinking that almost any small business could use this strategy — and they should.
Now a restaurant selling pizza in a college town may be able to get thousands of followers on Twitter, but that may not be realistic for some small businesses. So, if you are asking yourself where and how to start marketing via social media, remember these simple rules from Kindergarten and put them to work in your social media marketing efforts:
1. Be kind to others. I remember seeing a bumper sticker that read, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” Well, that’s not the case with social media. It’s not about amassing large numbers of followers; it’s about building an engaged community of followers who may actually frequent your business. Think of these individuals and engage with them in a personal level; talk with them – not at them.
2. Use one toy at a time. You may be tempted to jump on Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare or even launch a blog, but do you or your staff really have the time to devote to all of this? Probably not. So figure out where your audience is and start there. Building an engaged following on one network is far better than having largely inactive profiles on a number of networks.
3. Use your indoor voice. Posting Facebook messages about how great your company is, why your products are the best, etc., may seem like a great — and free — way to advertise. But social media is not advertising and marketers need to quash any urges to use their advertising voices here. It’s kind of like shouting at your customers through a megaphone when you should be conversing over a cup of coffee. Ask customers questions and answer their questions, post polls, ask them to post stories about your business and tell them about your news and specials. Just don’t only tell them your news.
4. Play by the rules. Think that offering a free widget or coupon to everyone who likes your company on Facebook is a great way to build a following? Well it might be, but it is also against the Facebook rules and can cause the network to shut down your page entirely, forcing you to start building your following all over again. Be sure you know the rules of the networks you are using and play within them. There are great — and cost-effective — contest and promotion applications you can use to host giveaways on Facebook, so if you want to go the giveaway route be sure to check into them. Wildfire (http://www.wildfireapp.com/) is one that I’ve had good experiences with.
5. Practice patience. Successful social media programs do not happen overnight; it takes time to build an engaged following. But the payoff is worth it in the long run, so don’t be tempted by the scores of direct messages on Twitter telling you of a great way to increase your following by the thousands. These will not be engaged followers (and many may not even be real humans).