The term ‘social media’ can be broken down as ‘social’, because you are being social, and ‘media’, because it is published on the web. It is simply a platform for a conversation that is online rather than the more conventional ways in which we communicate, and so it gives us access to many people at once; the internet has given it scale.
You can look at it in two ways: brand awareness, which can be a personal or a business brand; and networking, or building relationships online. The two do cross over, because as you are networking, your brand is becoming more visible at the same time. I separate the two because I think they can be two quite distinct activities, and through this book I will be sharing with you different stories about how people and companies have used social media in both ways to get their desired result.
From a branding point of view, social media platforms enable you to engage with your customers in real time and find out what they want, think or feel at any given time, which makes them a great tool for any company to utilise.
Benefits of using social media
There are many benefits to usingsocial media:
- It’s free.
- You have a huge audience.
- It’s another communication tool to be utilised alongside more traditional methods.
- You can engage easily with your customers.
- You will have a visible presence on the web.
- You receive real-time feedback.
What choices of social media sites do I have?
The obvious choices of social media sites are Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube, with others starting to make waves all the time such as Google+. To these we can add online channels such as blogging, webinars, Skype and podcasts.
Long gone are the days of picking up a pen and writing a letter to someone, putting a stamp on the envelope, and walking to the postbox to send it — it just doesn’t really happen anymore.
Email is now the normal form of business communication, with the telephone a close second, but as more and more people are in email overload, I can see that changing. You just can’t get through your emails and do your work in the allotted time, and who wants to do it when they should be spending time with their family or asleep? The way we communicate has changed, and will change again in the future.
Using social media sites such as Facebook, you can keep in touch with friends or colleagues by leaving a quick message on their wall rather than sending an email, or by sending a tweet if it is only a short message. To make it easy to connect with others, people now have their social media details, rather than their fax number, on their business cards. Who uses a fax anymore?
So I’m networking at the same time?
Social media is an extra way of talking to your customers and clients in different forums where they are hanging out. It is also a way of networking online, so rather than being tied to an event date and time, networking online is open 24/7: you can do it in your pyjamas in the morning with your cornflakes, or do it in your pyjamas in the evening with a glass of wine, whichever suits your time and business needs. This is particularly helpful if your prospects or clients are in another time zone.
It does have a social element to it or else why call it social media, but I prefer to call it networking online, unless of course I am on Facebook for pleasure on my private page, chatting to my close friends
and family. You could also look at the people that are following you or your fans as a tribe, or a focus group on steroids. Once you have a tribe of followers, be it online or not, put them to work. Ask them what they need or desire and see if you can provide it.
What if it goes wrong?
As I mentioned earlier, social media sites enable you to receive real-time feedback, both positive and negative. Recently the NYPD came under fire when they decided to engage with the local community via Twitter. The NYPD set up and promoted the hashtag #myNYPD — it was meant to encourage people to share great photos they might have of themselves with the police in the community. Instead, some decided to use it to post pictures the police would rather you didn’t see, such as individuals being dragged by their feet as they were removed from protests. As long as you act quickly when things don’t go according to plan, you can minimise any damage.
How will social media grow my business?
Some companies have been able to grow their business massively because of how they have cleverly used this marketing tool. But how can you do it? Simple.
You need to:
- engage your customers
- listen to your customers
- build your business network
- find your cheerleaders
- do it all over and over again.
Engage your customers
You may be wondering just what I mean by this, but it is simple. Get your customers interested in what you have to offer. What problem do they need fixing, what need do they want to fulfil, what desires do they have that are not being met? This is your chance to engage them with a solution, a solution just for them.
Listen to your customers
By talking and listening to your customers and prospects, you will get a feel for what it is they really want from your product or service. Now you are not likely to sit and call each and every one of your customers, you may not even have their details to be able to do so, but by using the social media sites where they hang out, you have an easy set of tools at your disposal to be able to listen effectively.
Build your business network
Building your business network of connections will give you tentacles in all sorts of different industries and places: you may never know how and when you will use them, but they are there for you. By building a large connection base, you can call on select people to point you in the right direction, or reach out to them for help with a quirky need.
I am only two degrees away from the President of the United States on LinkedIn, so if I am ever in Washington, maybe I will look him up … But seriously, a connection recently reached out for help with a quirky position he had, and I passed his request on to one of my connections, and guess what, it was a fit. It doesn’t always work out quite that
easily, but I know that without a great connection base, I wouldn’t have the same resources to make use of from time to time.
Find your cheerleaders
You will have customers and clients who absolutely love what it is you do — they couldn’t be happier with your product or service. So how are you currently leveraging from them and rewarding them? Do you even know who they are?
If someone has been a cheerleader of yours without you realising it, do something special for them. Make them cheer some more, and maybe they will shout about you and your brand more than they already do, including online where they hang out.
Do it all over and over again
‘Giapo’ is an ice-cream parlour on Auckland’s Queen Street near the Civic Theatre. Set up in January 2009 at a time when business was definitely getting tougher, Gianpaolo Grazioli took the plunge and it seems he hasn’t looked back. Not only is the shop set up in a very funky and modern way, but he has also made a huge splash and gained large numbers of followers and fans with the way he has used social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. There is always something going on in his shop, whether it be karaoke, ice-cream tasting or even organised runs around the CBD.
The message is relayed back and forth through the online social media space for massive exposure. You can even shoot a quick video while still in his store and upload it to YouTube for your mates to see. Talk about getting others to promote your brand for you and become cheerleaders! He also encourages customers to bring in fruit from their gardens that have not been sprayed with any nasty chemicals, and he will pay you in ‘Giapo dollars’ or ice cream. It’s a great way to engage your customers both on- and offline, and a real example of how a small operator can create a buzz about their brand.
Let’s start networking and making connections
By using sites such as LinkedIn, you can network effectively and make use of other people’s connections that you may want to do business with. I recently asked a question in a group on LinkedIn and a lady from Canada responded. She said she could help me, but knew someone a bit closer to home to me — could she pass my details on? I agreed, and a couple of days later I received a phone call from Sarah. She said my name was familiar to her and asked if I was attending a women’s networking luncheon later that day, which I was.
You can imagine, then, that when we both arrived at the function, we made a beeline for each other. It was almost like seeing an old friend again because we had been joined
together by the lady in Canada, and we had this great story to tell others. Sarah later became a client and a good friend, and in fact lives only 40 minutes down the road from me, so don’t be put off if you think networking online is for talking to people from other countries and is of no use to you. The world is an incredibly small place now with the use of technology, and doing business even across the other side of the world may not be that hard.