There has been a lot written recently about small businesses, dwindling marketing budgets and the increased use of social media as a viable marketing channel. Much of this has, admittedly come from the States but the principles are going to be pretty much the same the world over.
While customers are likely to invest themselves in one or more social channels, it is still new territory for a large percentage of the SME market and shouldn’t be entered into lightly. A simple Facebook update here, a Tweet there or an infrequently updated blog is unlikely to deliver strong, tangible business results.
So, what could be described as ‘golden rules’ for small business involvement in marketing through social media?
1. Make time for social media. If you don’t have time to talk to a customer on the phone then you probably don’t have time to monitor, real-time, your various network presences.
2. Strategise in the same way that you would strategise any media/marketing exposure. What value is it adding to your brand, product or campaign. Why are you doing it?
3. Define your goal before you even register an account. Be clear, precise and focussed about your desired end outcome. Are you looking to gain new customers, add value to your existing ones, open a new customer service channel or keep up with the competition?
4. Realise that marketing through social media, done properly, will take up more time than you initially budgeted. If you get your strategy right, are clear and defined, plus issue content your customers want, they will keep commenting, posting and generally interacting. While this is a good thing for your business, it will take up time as you monitor the feedback, answer questions and, when necessary, deal with the negative comments that are bound to come your way (unless you are totally perfect 100% of the time).
5. Plan for a crisis. What happens if you have a crisis on a scale comparable to Toyota or EuroStar? How will you deal with the resulting fallout and how will your social presence help you to keep your customers on-side and – importantly – to use their networks to keep the interested onlookers on-side as well?
6. Your network is not yours alone. Your customers will have their own networks, into which they may share your messages. Assuming of course that they are worth sharing. And this will include both positives and negatives. If they make a comment about the great – or terrible – service they have received, this will be visible to their entire network and may influence other people’s future purchasing decisions.
7. Make content worth sharing. Stick to your strategy and deliver social content which delivers real value to your customers. Don’t shotgun them with linkless snippets. Customers don’t like to be overloaded with information nor do they like to be talked at. Which leads me on to:
8. Talk with – not at – your customers. This is perhaps social media’s greatest bonus to businesses of all sizes as it offers the opportunity to instigate genuine two-way dialogue.
9. Don’t add to the noise. Traffic through most social channels is high with everything from what your best friend had for breakfast to important economic commentary out there. This means that there is a lot of chatter for you to cut through – so ensure you stand out by being relevant, valuable and strategic.
10. Be true to yourself and your business. Don’t be pushed into a social channel if it’s not right for you. Reinvest the time and energy elsewhere.
With the right social media strategy even the smallest of businesses should be able to see deeper customer engagement and more meaningful transactions. When based on a clear strategic context, the real-time nature of social media can give you the opportunity to take the lead like never before and give your customers the world-class customer service you’ve always wanted to.