Social media is a many-splendored thing to some, a necessary evil for others.

Social media fundamentally is traditional connecting, communicating, referring and sharing of opinions — on steroids. One way to address social media’s potential use is to quit viewing it as some monolithic monster waiting to gobble up all who don’t embrace it.

Long before social media came upon the digital scene, a similar process flourished in small towns, where residents would do business with local merchants, then share views about them.

Then, as now, this social interaction was the ultimate lie detector. Businesses spinning marketing tales unsubstantiated by performance were unmasked — and   left with either making claims and performance match up or being shunned by the community.

Social media does this on a grand scale. Rapidly proliferating review, forum and watchdog sites keep tabs on the performance of small and large companies alike. Consumers routinely check out multiple sites before patronizing a particular online or brick-and-mortar organization.

All this prompts the questions: What can social media do for me as a small business? What won’t it do?

Statistically speaking, people don’t often use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and the like to make buying decisions. Instead, they use social media for discovery about the company and its products/services, and to develop/further a relationship with that company.

For small businesses, this offers a clear path to developing a social media strategy that engages both prospects and existing buyers to keep them interested in and loyal to the company. But don’t use Facebook, et al as a direct sales tool.

First, people won’t respond to it. Second, there is frequent backlash against those who use social media for blatant self-promotion on a regular basis. Just as people don’t want to be subject to a hard sell in person, they don’t want in-your-face sales pitches online.

To begin or grow a social media presence that supports continued growth, understand that social media is most effectively used as a relationship-building tool with customers and prospects. Here are two initial ways to proceed:

Get proactive about reviews and responses to them. As social media influence and presence expand, online reviews can make or break a small business. Encouraging reviews on such sites as Google Reviews and through your own website/email sharing mechanisms is a good idea.

Obviously, encouraging reviews carries the inherent risk of very public negative feedback. So some companies try to keep a low profile, which is becoming more difficult. Instead, put it all out there and deal with the consequences positively and proactively.

For example, a string of negative reviews around a particular facility, service or product can become an excellent teaching tool to make improvements — and then address those improvements in public fashion. Domino’s Pizza did this years ago by admitting its pizzas weren’t up to snuff and telling the country what they were doing to improve. Sales improved.

Republish select reviews everywhere you can — website, collateral, direct mail, eblasts, blogs, et al. Just make sure of the legalities of doing so, and that you get the permission of the reviewer.

Ask the marketplace what it wants to see vis a vis products, services, customer support and the like. In response to the wave of reviews and opinions proliferating on the Internet, it seems like every company has taken to survey after survey to accomplish this task.

It’s becoming really disruptive and distasteful when every time a consumer turns around, another survey pops up.

While surveys can be a valuable tool, their current overuse suggests that a return to an old-fashioned strategy may be in order: Just talk to people informally. Get inside their heads. When a customer service rep is on the phone with someone, it can be a great time to engage and get tons of useful feedback by being conversational. Don’t turn it into a scripted session.

Small businesses also can reach out to perceived key influencers in their marketplace by asking them out for a cup of coffee. While there, ask where and how improvements need to be made. Besides yielding excellent feedback, it often makes the invitee feel special and appreciated.

In the end, much of social media is about connecting and reconnecting with your community of buyers and prospects — just on a grander scale than ever before.



Mark Lusky, President, Mark Lusky Communications (aka The Happy Curmudgeon) is a veteran writer, storyteller and author, with 40+ years of public relations, advertising, marketing and journalism experience. READ BIO

Adapted from previous work. Original article link:  What social media can (and can’t) do for your business – Published in the Denver Business Journal, 09-2013

 

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