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on Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Seeing social media through the eyes of a small business

Businesses are increasingly turning to Social media to communicate with their stakeholders - whether that be clients, potential customers, service users or investors. Business owners often find themselves feeling overwhelmed, or struggle to see how they could integrate social media within their business. I sometimes wonder if they are seeing the potential of how social media could influence their business or really exploring how it could inform their strategic development. The question I ask myself is why are some business owners not making the most of the easiest route of communication to their market?

There exists a wide range of social networks that you could choose to participate in, but the main networks people talk about are Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn. Many people see the great number of social networks as a reason for not engaging because they do not have the time to identify which would be best for their business. Having a wide range of networks to choose from is a good thing, as it allows you to identify which is the best match for your business and your target market, but don't fall into the trap of having a page on every single site and never using them. In my opinion, searching for a company and finding a dormant page gives a far more negative impression than not finding one at all.

Choosing your networks

Compared to large corporate businesses, small businesses often struggle when establishing a following on social media - they may not be well known or even have any contacts when starting out. The beauty of social media is that smaller businesses have the potential to gain just as much recognition and engagement as bigger brands - although this is all dependant on how you manage your social sites.

Choosing your networks can be broken down into three sections:

Firstly - Establish who your customers are! Working out who your target audience can lead to fundamentally deciding which networks to engage with - these could be networks in which your customers or their influencers participate in.

Secondly - By identifying where your potential customers are, you will be able to find out which social media services are most suitable for your brand.

For example, recruitment agencies may develop a strong presence on LinkedIn as this social network is predominantly based around work life, on the other hand a magazine company would probably do very well on Instagram or Pinterest due to the audience being primarily women with an interest in visually appealing media who may be interested in buying their magazine.

Finally - Strategically plan how the business will grow into the network and embrace its most beneficial assets. Start with the basics - Do you want to use formal or informal language? Challenging the balance can be difficult but easy once you have the hang of it. Formal language is usually strictly professional work environment - usually how you would talk to clients, informal on the other hand is still professional but with a hint of being laid back - you could share images and videos with your text (maybe add a bit of humour) to gain this informal approach - you could share content that you or others find of interest which is not all about work.

Once you have set the boundaries it is easier to speak fluently. Ensure you make the best use of technology to help you manage your social media and simplify the process. At Virya Technologies, for example, we use Hootsuite which allows us to manage all our social networks from one dashboard and produces analytical reports on the number of people clicking on your links and engaging with your content. Hootsuite also gives you the option to schedule your messages at any time of the day or even weeks in advance. I find this helps tremendously as it means that you can spend a period of time focused on creating all your messages for the coming week - don't forget to respond to messages coming in - the Hootsuite mobile app is great for that, it notifies you of certain messages, search phrases or when someone tweets you.

Don't forget to manage your incoming traffic from your social networks, this can be linked with any websites you have, newsletters or press releases you are sending. Google Analytics is a great piece of technology which will show you all of this on one manageable dashboard. Information includes which social networks you are exceeding in and what sites need a bit more attention. A great use of this service is that you can pinpoint where people are clicking links on your pages which allows you to know where links are not necessary needed.

Why should I bother?

Social media can help businesses in many ways. It can help you to form relationships with potential or existing clients through communication either informally or formally, increase your visibility in the marketplace which - by promoting your products and services - could potentially lead to an increase in sales. Social media can also be an effective way to manage the reputation of your company, enabling you to grow your brand and your personal authority in your area of specialty.

The key to standing out in a competitive market is to find a way to engage which fits in with your company ethos and perhaps is different to the way others are making use of this communication channel.

Setting the ground rules

Firstly, when posting on behalf of a company, it is important to set the right impression for your desired audience. Different business will have different approaches to this. Companies such as lawyers will have a completely different way of communicating their corporate brand and message when compared, for example, to the fashion industry. From this you need to find the right balance before going forward. Unless you are a selling a pet product it is usually not appropriate to flood your feeds with cute pictures of animals, it would perhaps be more beneficial to share something relevant and of interest to your audience. This could be achieved through writing material, sharing links, finding articles, videos or photos on the web that are relevant to your industry.

Social media is a great way of keeping your audience up to date with the latest news from your industry, which may be of interest to them. Sharing related topics or even writing an article on current topics may create discussions and activity, engaging your visitors and encouraging them to come back. Regularly posting updates and sharing up to date news may help you to gain a following, as people rely on you for the latest information.

Secondly, keep one eye on your competitors. There is no harm in following people who are your competitors or who work in the same industries on social media, and seeing what they are up too - in fact I would recommend it! Being inspired by your competitors is natural but don't copy them - make a note, add a dash of your own unique creativity, and come up with your own legendary ideas!

Finally, I've noticed recently that social network sites are rapidly becoming driven by the sharing of interesting media - whether that being photos, videos, slideshows or audio. Why not think about how this could advertise your products or how it could spice up your social media by sharing media with your messages? Many pictures that make an impact on social media often go viral.

Fun, exciting, bold and quirky material is more likely to be read, clicked and re-shared then plain old text posts that don't excite the reader - making an effort may have a big impact on the future of your social networks. You can also feature case studies and projects on your social media (with the permission of clients) which can give real-world examples for potential clients to see your work. This is a great opportunity to use media - attach photos of your work, maybe a video testimonial and so forth.

The title of your news stories and blogs are vital in attracting your audience, it is one of the first thing that people will see in a list of articles - it is also one of the most important things that a search engine will pick up - take the time to be creative, interesting and inviting.

Take these titles for example; what sounds more interesting?

"Ten top tips to relax"
"Light the candles, grab a book and relax - how we can make this happen for you"

or even

"How to clean your toilet"
"Battling the martians from uranus"

Both of these have the same content but they will have a different impact on how the reader will view these and whether they are likely to actually read the article. Humour or appealing to the reader's needs will often immediately attract them to your article.

Getting Started

Developing a marketing strategy for your company can be quite simple with the correct use of resources. Using a template is often very useful as it gives you something to work with and gives you examples and headings to expand on, which often many business owners don't have the time to do! I mentioned before of the use Hootsuite which would be a useful tool to explore if you haven't already.

If you find yourself still questioning which social media site is best for you - here are some reviews of the benefits and drawbacks for the main social media sites. Reviews include Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+. - Google+ - Twitter - LinkedIn - Facebook

Now that we've covered some of the hints and tips for getting started with social media - From choosing which networks to engage with to setting the ground rules, lets get started!


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