Book Excerpt: Social Media for Small Business

The following is an excerpt from42 Rules of Social Media for Small Business by Jennifer L. Jacobson.  To get your copy, visit:

Rule 20:  Know Your Social Media Platforms
You don’t have to know all of them, just the right ones.

While it is not necessary to memorize and keep track of every new social media platform available, it is essential that you have a fundamental
understanding of the types of social media platforms you can use for your business.

Social Networking

Audiences of the social networking sites vary from quilters, pet owners, teens, and tweens, to die-hard musicians, writers, and physicists. The MySpaces of the world where all the cool kids hang out, have evolved into sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Today there are many hybrids where grownups can blog, connect with their colleagues, see pictures of what their friends had for lunch, and buy their buddies a “virtual beer.”

The features and interactivity of these social networks change weekly. Your job is to establish yourself on a site that meets your needs while learning what that social network does well. Some sites have great community forums where people of a certain interest talk about their experiences and share what they know.

Blogging and Web Publishing Services

Use a blogging platform that makes it easy for your customers to find you. Some sites, like Facebook, require anyone viewing your site to have their own Facebook account, and nothing turns a customer off more than having to give Web companies their personal information to view a page. Find a service that you can easily use. Read the company’s about us page. Make sure they are not one of the “fly by night” dotcoms that may be gone tomorrow, taking your
hard-earned blog with them.

In-House and Independent Forums

Chances are you already have a company website and, if this is the
case, your in-house Web guru should be able to add a “blog” section
to your existing web page. If they are really good, they will be able to
have a section where your customers can discuss their thoughts in an
open forum. If you do not have an in-house forum, there are plenty of
online forums already in existence that should be appropriate to your
business’s area of interest. Depending on the type of company you
have, and your closeness with your customers, a forum can be a
wonderful thing. Many of your die-hard-loyal customers may be thrilled
to spend lots of time on your forum, answering questions for you and
raving about your products and services. These types of fans are worth
their weight in gold because they’re writing for the “love of the sport”
not because they are a paid viral marketer (but we’ll get to that later).

Photo Sharing

Depending on they type of business you run, this may be a great option
for you. Artists and comic book writers love this option because it gives
their fans a place to rant and rave about their work, and it establishes
them as a force to be reckoned with in their field. While a photo sharing
service may not be suitable for businesses selling accounting services,
they work well for businesses that sell specific, one-of-a-kind products.

Audio and Video Sharing

If your company has commercials that have aired on television, it might
be worth it to digitize the tape and upload the footage to YouTube. You
can then embed your YouTube video into your website for your
customers to watch. Be sure to customize your video or audio sharing
account with descriptions about your business, pictures, and other
videos, when appropriate. YouTube has a good variety of community
features, including the ability to subscribe to other people’s video
channels. Remember—only upload music and videos that you have
the rights to.

What’s a Tweet?

The most common question I get about Twitter is “What is it?”  Here’s the scoop…my definition of Twitter is “Blogging for people twitterwith ADD”.  Seriously, twitter is great for people with short attention spans. It is a fast and easy way to push a message to tons of people all at once.  Twitter let’s you send and read messages known as tweets. Tweets are posts of up to 140 characters that appear on your profile – known as your “tweet feed”.  Twitter has a language all its own…posts are tweets, the action of posting is called “tweeting”, people who tweet are called “tweeps” (not Twits) and it goes on and on.  Language aside…Twitter has grown like crazy and provides an interesting opportunity for businesses.

Because of its growth, Twitter is a great place to network, build your brand and go prospecting for new clients.  You can actually have a very intelligent conversation in 140 characters or less…plus, people find you and check out your profile, decide to follow-you and you don’t even know it.  They just think you’re interesting, or are interested in the same stuff they are, so they follow you.  The question is how to make yourself stand out from the zillions of other businesses pushing their message.

The thing is, in order for Twitter to work, to get yourself to stand out, it is a significant investment of time.  When you’re first starting out, it takes a while to build a following, to follow the right people yourself, and to make yourself known in the right groups.  Now some of you wanted to know how to do this social media stuff without adding more things to your to do list.  The short answer is that you can’t.  It is another thing to do.  However, if you know that it is going to attract customers and generate revenue then maybe you can trade off some of the other things you’re doing that aren’t helping you reach new customers, or generate revenue.  It is a trade-off, and that is why knowing your objectives and understanding your audience up front is so important.

Anyway, here is how to get started:

When you setup your profile – think carefully about your username, especially if you are struggling with the “My name or my Company name” thing.  If you’re an independent professional then you might want to use your name.  Use your company name if you want to build your brand and you have others representing you.  Your profile on Twitter is completely search engine indexed, which means that all the words you use are very important.  Think of each word as a keyword and make sure it matters to the audience you’re targeting.

My favorite feature of Twitter is definitely the Chats.  Now Chats are not a traditional “feature” but they are the most beneficial aspect of the platform for most business owners and entrepreneurs. This is how you make yourself stand out – get yourself known by your target audience. The way to prospect and network is to go where your prospects hang out…remember?  There are chats on Twitter about every topic you can think of.  They are usually hosted by someone who is an acknowledged expert on the topic on Twitter, they are usually at a scheduled time.  To find the different chats – a great list has been created.  I’ll include the link in the follow-up email.  Chatters track their conversations using hashtags (#) followed by the name of the chat, for example #smallbizchat.

At a specific time, folks start tweeting using the # and then you can follow the discussion by searching on the #word.  These discussions are a great place to build yor credibility, and to make an impression with your target audience.  Anpther warning…on Twitter you have to be part of the conversation or it won’t work.  You have to post tweets that are interesting.  You need to respond to other peoples tweets by either replying or retweeting.  The difference between a reply and a retweet is that when you reply to someone’s tweet – their followers see it along with yours – a great way to get added visibility.  If you retweet – you’re giving that person visibility to your followers – it is a compliment to be retweeted.  You should Reply and Retweet frequently so that you are part of the conversation.

Please remember, not everyone needs to be on Twitter.  If you know that a large group of your target audience is active on Twitter, jump on and start tweeting.  If you target a group that is not active on Twitter, then why on earth would you spend time even thinking about it, unless you’re trying to expand your audience – which brings us back to your business objective once again.

When and Where to start?

The key to marketing with social media is that it isn’t a specific event.  It is a process, a conversation, with your customers, the megaphoneindustry, influencers….whoever you’re targeting.  You can’t walk into a party and begin shouting and expect people to react positively. The same is true with social media.  You need to have some understanding of the situation, the context and the culture before trying to be the center of attention.

You can, however, chime in, offer an opinion, ask a question…or just hang out and see what’s going on.  So many people are afraid of starting with social media because they don’t know how, they think it will take too much time or they don’t see how it relates to their business.  Frankly, while the technology can be intimidating, they have made tons of progress and most of the platforms are dead easy to use. Plus, if you think about social media as a different way of talking with customers about how you can help them – it is much less intimidating. Also, you don’t have to have everything perfect to start…

There is no wrong time to start engaging in social media.   Go ahead and jump in, hang around, watch, listen and learn the culture of each network or community.

You know – this is an important distinction that I’d like to draw your attention to.  Social networks and communities are different – they are two separate entities.  Networks, like LinkedIn or YouTube, tend to big and diverse with lots of people trying to connct and get noticed.   Communities, like FaceBook or MySpace, are usually smaller and focused on a specific topics or interest and are much more friendly and social by nature.    Where to engage is easy to figure out if you’re been listening to the conversations.  Sometimes it might be a combination of networks and communities…but usually there is one that is significantly more appropriate based on active conversations, members, quality of discussions.

What to do?

Usually, when it comes to marketing, the biggest challenge most of us have isn’t a lack of ideas. In fact, ideas sometimes seem to come flying at us from all directions.  The biggest challenge is selecting the most effective things to do based on what your customers want, what you like to do and what will help you achieve your objectives.

The list of marketing activities you can invest in is huge, and seems to get bigger everyday as new things like Twitter, video blogs, and I-don’t-even-know-what appear out of nowhere. The big thing right now seems to be Twitter and social media in general.  What I want to help you do is to prioritize them.   Not everyone needs to be on Twitter.  Not everyone needs to write a book.  Not everyone needs to deliver keynote speeches.  You need to figure out what YOU need to be doing to 1)  reach your target audience, 2) achieve your objectives, and 3) enjoy yourself while doing it.

Try this little exercise:  List off the top of your head 5 things you would like to do to market your business that you are not doing today. It could be doing an Adwords campaign with Google, or setting up a Twitter or FaceBook account.  It could be creating a video to describe your business and post it to YouTube and your website.  Submitting articles to blogs, commenting on blogs in your field, the list can go on and on.

Now, ask yourself these questions:red question mark

1.  Do your customers use these things – are they on FaceBook or LinkedIn?  Do they even read blogs?  If so, which ones?

2.  Do you like doing these things?  If you don’t like to write, then saying you’re going to write articles and submit them isn’t going to be very much fun for you, and consequently you probably won’t do it.

3.  Do these things help you achieve your objectives?  If most of your business comes from referrals and word of mouth, then investing in search engine optimization for your website, might not be the most important thing for you to do.

What you’re going to find is that not all of them work.  Some might work for your customers, but you hate doing it. Others might help you achieve your objectives but your customers don’t like them.  This is how you prioritize your marketing activities and get down to the critical few things you need to do to attract the right kind of customers.  The things you need to do, you like to do and will move you towards your goal.  Evaluate the different activities you COULD do and decide what you SHOULD do.

Planners, Doers and Social Media

After much observation and questioning, I have come to classify people into two groups: Planners and Doers. This may seem a stereotype, and it probably is, but bear with me.  Most people I talk to can definitely place themselves into either one camp or the other.

Let’s start with The Planners: You know these folks. They think, analyze, request more data and then reassess their assessment. Then something changes – Oh no! After a moment of panic and deep breathing, they get to work evaluating their contingencies and updating the plan.  These folks plan and plan and plan but actually don’t accomplish very much. Planners are important and we need them. Without them the Doers would be running around like chickens with their heads cut off! Remember the hit series Friends? The character Monica, played by Courtney Cox, was the epitome of a Planner. She had her life planned out from the time she was 12 years old. Not only did she plan her life, but her friends’ lives as well. Everyone loved Monica because she was practical and you could always count on her to “have a plan.”

Now let’s look at The Doers: These folks, on the other hand, must be doing something. Anything. It doesn’t matter what they do as long as they are “moving the needle” and “making progress.” Because of their energy, others jump on the bandwagon and everyone starts doing things. The issue is whether the Doers are doing the right things. Back to the Friends example – Phoebe, as opposed to Monica was the quintessential Doer. She did whatever came to mind, whenever it came to mind. Everyone loved Phoebe because she was spontaneous and full of energy.

The point is, when it’s your business, you need to be both a Planner and a Doer.  You get to walk the tightrope between both.  And that’s the biggest challenge – balancing between strategy and tactics, planning and doing.  When we talk about social media most of the discussion is centered on whether you have a FaceBook page, a fan page or a Twitter account.  I’m here to tell you that it almost doesn’t matter.

How do you know if you need a FaceBook page or a LinkedIn profile or FriendFeed if you haven’t decided what your ultimate goal is?  If we don’t start there, you will waste a lot of time and energy focusing on the wrong things – things that don’t support your goals, or things you simply can’t, or shouldn’t execute.