Social media has shifted how businesses interact with their customers as well as each other. The number of people on social networking websites are staggering: Twitter, for example, boasts nearly 200 million users while the number of users on Facebook totals half a billion. Despite the large numbers of users on these two social networking websites alone (the thousands of other such websites notwithstanding), many owners and managers of small businesses do not know how social media can help their business, and precious few have anything resembling an effective and well-thought out social media plan (the subsequent blog, “The Social Media Evolution – Part 2: The Social Media Plan“, covers this). The blog focuses on how business owners, managers, and employees can gain a better understanding of social media, and how it can help expand existing business practices.
Why should business owners and managers even bother to look into social media for their business? For starters, if they do not create a social media presence in the networks where their existing customers are located, they miss out not only on positive feedback that those customers may provide unsolicited and publicly, but they also miss out on gaining potential customers who observe the interactions and feel as though they can trust the business even before the first transaction. In Facebook or Twitter, where the interactions between business owners or managers and their customers are posted or Tweeted for the world to see, brand-building, brand marketing and great customer service are some of the many social media building blocks for businesses to build a lasting foundation with customers or other businesses.
Given the vast number of social media tools and social networking websites to choose from, making the jump into social media may seem overwhelming for business owners. However, if they have a Facebook or Twitter account for personal reasons, they have already taken the first step. Therefore, business owners who have unwittingly taken this first step just need to apply what they already know from personal experience to their business.
However, what if business owners have never used social media, even for themselves? Of course, the move towards social media would be more intimidating at any level. In order to help business owners understand what social media can do for their business, we must put aside any technical discussion and, instead, highlight how social media extends existing business practices. Hector Jarquin notes five of these extensions.
Extended business relationship
Traditional customer service involves interaction between store employees and the customer, where the customer makes inquiries about special offers or has questions or comments about the good or services. Social media allows business owners and managers to join the conversation, building relationships with new or existing patrons.
Extended way of communication
The two-way nature of social media helps people create a better understanding about the business.
Extended way of referrals
Even if business owners have not created an online presence for their company, business referrals on websites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Yelp have probably created the online presence of the business but to a smaller degree. These websites help people share their opinions about the business with friends and strangers, with tools available to business owners who wish to manage comments and opinions about the business.
Extended brand awareness
Social media offers business owners more control over their brand, giving customers greater insight into their business over the competition.
Extended way of sharing an opinion
Hector summed it up best: interact, participate, share, discover. Engage with the people in your industry.
While business owners and managers slowly warm up to the idea of social media for the business, their diverse employees have probably used social media in equally varying degrees. Not surprisingly, older employees may have limited exposure to social media while younger employees are probably glued to Facebook and Twitter on their cell phones during break or lunch time. Business owners and managers who become aware of their younger employees’ social media savviness may turn to them to introduce social media to the rest of their, otherwise, social media-mute colleagues. Jessica Stillman lists seven creative suggestions to get employees involved in social media without being technical.
Start an education campaign
Knowledge is power, especially if trade publications the business subscribes to feature articles about social media and how it is used in business or for entertainment. Print these articles and leave them for the employees to read with a note saying, “Thought you would find this interesting.” Follow up personally a day or two later and field any questions or comments the employees may have.
Team up with internal and external social media users
Starting a dialogue with other social media-savvy employees allows the like-minded group to engage in thoughtful conversation about how the use of social media tools could impact the business, making it easier to have similar conversations with the rest of the not-so-savvy employees.
Suggest social media solutions
Look for opportunities to add a social media component when discussing solutions to meet training needs.
Help stretch the budget by using a “free” option
Most social media tools available today are free. Yes, free! Nothing sounds sweeter to budget-conscious business owners and managers than the sound of that word. Zero or near-zero cost of any new program implemented by a business is almost unheard of, but social media is a rare exception.
Take a look at the market relationship of your competitors
The public nature of social media allows business owners and managers to take a glimpse at the competition and see what people are saying about them, thereby extending their business relationship with their customers. Business owners and managers must realize that introducing a social media plan for their own business will yield similar benefits.
Invite your co-workers to your social networks
Are you on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn but your employees or co-workers are not? Invite them! You will be one of their first contacts. Once they sign up, give them a personal tour of the social networking sites.
Give the gift of social media
If your company has strict rules limiting the number of photocopies you’re allowed to make (see “Start an education campaign”), giving books about social media to your boss, co-workers, or employees, especially during Christmas and the Holiday season, may help nudge them towards optimizing the business with social media.
Finally, after months of internal campaigns about social media with the business owners, managers, and employees, the business can move forward and apply social media marketing tools, confident that those within the organization are more or less on the same page. The social media-savvy in the company have made everybody else social media-conscious at the very least. Business owners and managers can now begin to create an effective social media plan.
Before business owners and managers join a social networking site, let’s explore the three most viable options available to them from a business standpoint. Facebook, by and large, is the most popular social networking website with over 500 million users worldwide. A potential customer base of half a billion people can really help a business take off if business owners and managers put together a successful social media campaign. Twitter comes in second with nearly 200 million users worldwide. Used properly, the microblobbing site can generate buzz about upcoming events, limited time offers, and special deals, often available only to customers who follow the company’s Twitter account. LinkedIn, with over 70 million users, helps users hunt for jobs and recruit new employees, as well as carry out tasks such as researching companies and prospecting for deals. The social networking website provides a place where white-collar professionals can communicate with one another.
Meanwhile, the wide range of marketing activities that social media allows businesses to carry out include but are not limited to:
- Reaching customers and prospects online
- Raising the company profile and enhancing the business’ brand reputation
- Strengthening customer relationships
- Demonstrating the business owner’s expertise, commitment, and passion
- Improving business owner’s understanding of industry issues and trends
- Meeting people who can help develop the business
- Enhancing customer service
- Boosting traffic to the website
- Testing new ideas and finding out what people think about the business
- Seeing what competitors are up to
- Improving sales
Social media is a dynamic field. While the tools change over time and the social media plan of one company should not be followed, verbatim, by another company, the basic understanding of social media in regards to how it extends existing business practices remains the same. Given the varying degrees of familiarity that employees, management, or business owners may have with social media, non-technical campaigns maybe necessary at first to get the company on the same page. Once everyone in the company is sufficiently versed in social media, business owners and management can team up with their employees and set out to create a social media plan tailor-made for and by the company itself.