In this guest post, technology reporter and TV web expert Kate Russell gives us her top tips for how small businesses can use social media effectively, and runs through some of her favourite online tools to help you get going. Tune into our Google Hangout with Kate on the 12th March for more of Kate's technology wisdom.
Why you can’t turn your nose up at the social web
I know lots of people who have decided to turn their back on social
media, complaining that Facebook takes up too much of their time or that
there is too much ‘noise’ on Twitter to make any sense out of it. I’ve
done it myself for personal connections to a certain extent, but when it
comes to running your business you’d be a fool to turn your back on the
benefits of being social. More than 60% of adults now use social media,
so if you can find them you can start talking to them, building trust
and recognition through finding, sharing and even creating content they
will find useful. If they like you they will invite you into their own
closed network, where you can talk to them directly about your business
and what it could offer them. But it’s not enough to just set up on
Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus and Linked In and hope that nature will take its course.
Social by design
GOAL > STRATEGY > TACTICS
The very first thing you need is a goal, and then you can come up with a strategy to reach it. It doesn’t have to be a very grand, long term goal. In fact if you’re just starting out on the social web I would advise you set your sights quite low to begin with, as the bigger picture will happen on its own if you get the small stuff right. It might seem a bit obvious, but before you go spamming the hell out of your networks and confusing them, work out what it is you want to achieve. If you’re a retailer that might mean getting 15% more customers to visit your shop on a Wednesday; if you’re in a trade it could be quoting for 10 new jobs a week. Whatever outcome suits your business, decide on your first short-term goal now. Sorted?
With a goal in mind you should be able to picture your target demographic – now you just need a strategy to hook them. Maybe that’s offering a discount voucher for days when your business is quiet? Perhaps you’d rather run a competition, or build a buzz around a launch event? Running meaningful promotions and giveaways used to be the exclusive domain of much larger companies, as you need a decent-sized audience to sell it to. But the rise of social media over the past half-decade has opened the playing field right up. Using the right tactics – the final piece of your social media game-plan – you can gather an audience through your networks and then slam them all right between the eyes at the same moment with your offer. If it’s well-received your followers will share it and recommend it to their own networks, seeing your exposure blossom organically inside whichever groups you have targeted.
So in the example of a retail outlet that wants to see more customers through the door on a quiet day, the following broad campaign design would work well:
GOAL: Increase footfall by 15% on Wednesdays.
STRATEGY: Advertise a promotion for Wednesdays to 500 potential new customers.
TACTICS: Connect and engage with existing customers online; post content and offers to further engage customers and get them spreading the word about you to their own networks; use flyers and postcards to entice new customers to join you online.
I’m paraphrasing massively here, and this example is only one amongst countless possible campaign objectives. Just remember that having a simple structure like this in mind and a very definite goal in your sights will make time spent online far more rewarding.
TIP: If one of your direct competitors is doing well, scour through
their social accounts to see what tactics they are employing. It might
feel a bit dirty but competitor research is a perfectly valid business
strategy, and made so much easier by the Internet. If they don’t have
any social accounts, this is your chance to get several leaps ahead of
Sweetening the deal
Find your brand influencers
There are some fantastic tools and resources to help you sniff out the people you should be building better relationships with; websites like Campalyst.com which uses Google Analytics to tell you which Twitter accounts are directing the most traffic to your website. These are the people you should be targeting with personalised tweets when you have an offer or promotion to share.
Another great tactic is to find people asking questions that you can answer, thereby winning them over with your expertise and engaging manner. For example a lot of people will tweet looking for advice when they have a slight domestic emergency and don’t know what to do. At Monitter.com you can add multiple columns looking for keywords people are tweeting about in a particular geographic location. If you are a plumber you could turn this to your advantage by monitoring ‘leaking’, ‘burst pipe’ and ‘need a plumber’ within 10km of your postcode. Now when someone tweets about a burst pipe in the loft leaking through the ceiling, our fearless plumber is ready to leap in to action saying they can be there to fix it in ten minutes.
Once you’ve built a decent-sized following you can use a relationship
management tool like Commun.it to keep it nice
and healthy. As well as useful stats about how you’re tweeting and how
your followers are reacting, here you can see exactly who is most
engaged with you and how great their influence is. Highly engaged
followers with a decent amount of influence make ideal people to send
review and sample products to, as they are most likely to spread the
word about your company online. The free account is limited in numbers
and reporting, but should be enough to begin with and you have the
option of upgrading to the paid version if you find it useful.
TIP: Your top supporters need to feel the relationship is a two-way street, so reward them often with retweets and @ mentions so they feel appreciated. They might even pick up some followers from your following, which will only go towards strengthening the bond between you.
There are many more tools I could talk about here, just search for “Twitter tools for business” if you want to explore on your own (or pick up a copy of my book ‘Working the Cloud’; details below). But one last quick mention has to go to Tweriod.com. After authorising the app it will prepare a report for you about when your Twitter followers are most active, allowing you to tweet, or schedule tweets to happen at those specific optimum times. The free reports are quite limited, but enough to give you a rough idea about weekend and weekday traffic so you can maximise the reach of your social comments.
Kate Russell has been writing about technology, gaming and the Internet since 1995 and now appears weekly on BBC2 and BBC World News, reporting for technology programme Click. A regular expert on the sofa at ITV’s Daybreak and various other TV and radio stations, she writes columns for National Geographic Traveller magazine and Web User magazine. Her book ‘Working the Cloud’ is the ultimate collection of online tips, tricks and resources for small businesses, start-ups and entrepreneurs who want to get ahead online.