Many of our customers are beginning to look at social media as a way to grow their businesses and reach out to customers. We wanted to share what we’ve learned from our experiences with social media and, hopefully, provide some insight and tips for any small business looking to dip their toes in the social media pool. We’ve certainly had our share of both success and failure, but in the end, we’re glad we jumped in. To keep this from being a 10-foot long blog post, we’ll be posting in three parts: “Getting Set Up,” “What to Say” and “Advanced Tips.” We hope you’ll come on back for the whole series. Let’s get started with the start.
Getting Set Up
To blog or not to blog?
Many companies, ourselves included, like to think of a blog as a “central hub” for social media efforts. You may have a presence on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest (more on all those later) but it’s very helpful to have a central place to post content and then link to it from the various social media sites. That being said, blogging is something that, if done correctly, requires commitment. If you decide to go the blogging route, here are some tips:
- Put the blog on your site if possible. This will likely require some IT help unless you’re using an all-in-one service that let’s you add a blog with a few clicks. The benefit of putting the blog on your site is that the search engines like blogs and if you can drive traffic to your blog, you’re also driving it to your site.
- Plan to blog at least once a week. Posting frequently gets the attention of the search engines. It also is better for people who start to follow your blog, who may otherwise lose interest. We’ll talk about ideas for what to blog about in Part 2.
- Use keywords in your content, but don’t go overboard. You want to use words and terms that are relevant to your customers and prospects so when someone is on the Web searching for “painting services” or “pest control,” the search engines can guide them to you. However, don’t make the mistake of “stuffing” your blog with keywords or the search engines will penalize you. Write for people, not search engines, just make sure to use your industry keywords in the heading and a few times in the post itself whenever it makes sense.
We use WordPress (installed on our Web server) and have found it to be flexible and easy to use.
Find Your Customers
Before you decide which social networks to build a presence on, it would be nice to know which ones your customers and prospects frequent. There are some fairly convoluted tricks for finding this out like this one and there are tools like RapLeaf that try to automate the process, but perhaps the easiest way to find out is to ask. If you have contact or order forms on your Web site, try adding a question like, “Which social networks do you use?” and give a few to choose from. You can also look at some demographics for the social media sites. There is plenty of basic data about age, sex, education, geography and more out there:
If your customers fall into any logical demographics (like women over 45 in Kentucky), you can choose the appropriate social network and get rolling.
Don’t Spread Yourself Too Thin
One common mistake is to try to build a company presence on every social network that pops up. What you end up with is either a lot of work or a lot of largely empty pages. Once you decide where to commit your resources, make sure you can keep up regular posting and networking. Imagine you set up a Facebook page for your company, a customer decides to like/follow your page and posts a question on your Facebook wall. Great, right? You’ve got some interaction! But then imagine that you’re so busy with work and your other social networking sites, that you don’t see the question for days. How does that customer feel? What if it was actually a prospect? Be realistic about the time you’ll have available to devote to any specific network channel. You may find that going deep on one network, like Facebook, is better than going shallow on all of them.
Encourage Sharing and Be Social
Once you start creating content, whether it’s a blog post, a video, an infographic, whatever you come up with, you want your content to seek a wider audience than your own network. That means encouraging sharing. Of course the best way to get people to share your content is to create REALLY GOOD content. Good stuff tends to find an audience. Maybe you’re a pest control company and you publish a list of “The Ten Most Deadly Household Pests.” That’s pretty compelling. Make sure your readers can share it on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. by including sharing buttons with each post. A great service we use is AddThis. It allows you to paste a snippet of code and make sharing with all the social networks very easy. Plus you get stats on all the sharing that goes on. If you find a piece of content has “gone viral,” figure out a way to create more of that kind of content. You can also encourage sharing by posting links to great, relevant content by other people. It turns out that other people like you appreciate when people share their content. They may even share something of yours as a favor. So if you stumble across a great article, share it with your followers. You may be surprised how much good will it starts. Also, don’t forget that social networking is about, well, being social. Respond to comments and questions. As I mentioned earlier, your followers and friends should hear more than an echo when trying to communicate with you. You also need to go out and follow others, comment on what they post and become part of the community. Don’t just sit on an island with a megaphone!
Create Your Page/Account
So you’ve picked your social network(s) and you’re ready to start socializing? Great! Now, rather than explain how to set your small business in each network, we’ll instead give you a list of tutorials that will get you set up. No sense in reinventing the wheel, eh?
The Forgotten Social Network
One type of social network that doesn’t get any press anymore are message boards and forums. However, they’re still very popular among small businesses and people seeking services. Not only are they great for networking with other people in your industry and getting your own questions answered, but discussions frequently come up in search results. If someone is looking for answers about how to fix a leaky faucet and they end up on a plumbing message board, see your answer, your name and your company name, you’ve just promoted yourself as an expert. We hope this was helpful. If you have any comments or questions, please use the comments area below. Our next post in the series will be about “What to Say” once you’re set up and will include tips on how to come up with content ideas and how to get the content created.