Did you know that approximately 70 percent of all Internet users are finding their news about a company or product online? Tapping into this qualified audience just makes good marketing sense. Social media, networking and bookmarking is allowing your customers to interconnect like never before and share both good and bad information about your business.
With this shift in media consumption, your online visibility and brand perception should be an integral component of your overall marketing mix. Small businesses need to become more proactive in monitoring their Internet presence because with new social media tools, every person online is potentially a writer and influencer regarding your product or service. With that said, below is some of what we believe are the top social media sites to help you get involved. The trick is to navigate through the clutter and find the ones that will work best for you.
Clearly the 800-pound gorilla with 1 billion active users, Facebook is a must for any small business owner. Franchisors differ in their Facebook strategy and guidelines for their franchisees, so be sure to understand these thoroughly before venturing into the Facebook world. Regardless, Facebook provides franchisees and their teams a widely used virtual marketing tool to reach your customers. They are on Facebook, so should you. We’ll skip the basics of how to set up your page, but Facebook is your chance to extend your local presence online and communicate with your past, present and future customers. You should consider Facebook your virtual storefront, where you can share (and justify) your expertise, differentiation and product/service to your customers. Don’t just slap discounts and commercialized promotions on your Timeline, build a relationship with your “likes” and get them to engage with your brand. Empower the mavens to be your ambassadors in the community. On social media, it is as much about the ROE (return on engagement) as the ROI.
It’s hard to turn a corner these days without hearing about Twitter and its impact on businesses and social media. Twitter is about conversation. It’s about finding people talking about you and what you sell and engaging them in conversation because they are your business influencers. One of the most underutilized aspects of Twitter for most business owners is the Advanced Search feature that allows you to search for specific keywords around a particular zip code. It gives you the power to address complaints head on, answer any consumer questions and create an awareness of your brand in your specific city. For example, say you own a boutique wine shop and you’re looking for new wine club members. You can perform a search for “wine near: 33021 within 25” and find people 25 miles outside of Hollywood, FL who are talking about wine.
There are quite a lot of question & answer sites out there, but Yahoo Answers stands out because of its large contributor base and its ability to put you in contact with people who are asking the question specific to your location. For example, there might be gentleman in Denver looking for print and digital copy services, or someone in San Antonio who is trying to find out about the best salad restaurant in his town. These are opportunities for a small business owner to reach out and respond directly to a targeted customer’s request. You just have to get out there and do it. Yahoo Answers is also valuable because you can brand yourself as an expert source in your community by answering questions relevant to your business category.
A blog is a differentiator between you and your competition. It not only acts as a customer information and educational tool, but also encourages customers to interact with you. It puts a human voice to your business and allows you to become more intertwined with the online community. A corporate blog will allow you to proactively participate in conversations and affords you the chance to interact more with other blogs and websites. This flexibility to interact in the wider online customer community means additional benefits in the areas of higher search engine rankings and exposure to new audiences. In addition, a blog can serve as an excellent crisis management tool as well. A blog is your space to show your customers who you are and to listen to them on a more personal level. There are a number of blog platforms to get you started including WordPress and Google’s Blogger, among others.
LinkedIn is a social networking site that exists to help you make better use of your professional network and help the people you trust in return. LinkedIn is an interconnected network of more than 175 million experienced professionals from around the world where you can find, be introduced to, and collaborate with qualified professionals that you can work with to accomplish your goals. When you join, you create a profile that summarizes your professional expertise and accomplishments. You can then form enduring connections by inviting trusted contacts to join LinkedIn and connect to you. Your network consists of your connections, your connections’ connections, and the people they know, linking you to a vast number of qualified professionals and experts. Through your network, you can find and be introduced to potential clients, service providers, discussion groups and subject experts who come recommended to you. You can also engage your connections to endorse or recommend you based on your business experience with them.
Social media remains a cost effective way for many small businesses to reach out and interact with their customers. It will allow you to create more targeted, more manageable online communities that can help convert sales both online and off. The trick is not to try and be everywhere, but instead to be where your customers are.
Jenna Kantrowitz, is Senior Account Director at Fish Consulting. She helps franchise clients promote, protect and grow their brands.