social media crayons photoAs a freelance writer and marketing bod, I get asked these questions on a regular basis:

“Should I be on LinkedIn?”

“Isn’t Twitter just for teenagers and celebrities?”

“I don’t get Facebook, can you explain to me?”

What is really behind all of these questions and many more like them is the deep-rooted fear of not belonging. We all want to be liked, we all want to be acknowledged and having a consistent social media presence gives us the sense that people must like us. Business owners see their competitors on social media and worry that they’re behind the times by not following the crowd. Where followers, likes and pluses start, customers follow (just not instantly!). This sends some business owners into a panicky state and can lead to some pretty embarrassing mistakes on social media.

So, if your business isn’t on any social media networks yet, take a big breath, take a step back from the judgmental looks of the virtual schoolyard and ask yourself a bigger question,

“why does my business need to be on social media?”

Obviously, you can say to yourself, yes, I need to be involved in some form of social media because everyone else is doing it. All that does is remind me of my mum saying to me when I was young, “if everyone jumped off a cliff, would you do it too?”. Mum, if you’re reading this post, the answer is still, most emphatically no!

Question your motives

Rather than rushing into tweeting or paying someone to create an all-singing, all dancing Facebook page, sit back and think about why your business needs to be on social media:

  • Do you feel disconnected from your customers?
  • Are you blogging on your website but nobody’s reading the posts/sharing them/commenting on them?
  • Have customers been unable to reach you with a complaint, comment or feedback?
  • Did you have a 50% sale and nobody came?

All of these are great reasons to get going in the big wide world of social media but you need to plan before you throw yourself out there. And yes, before you ask, there is no escape from social media – do it well and Google will reward you (with a potentially higher rank on searches, not with flowers and cake), new customers will find you, you’ll interact with your local community more and you will, hopefully, grow your business.

Make a plan

Social media should be one part of your overall marketing plan. If you don’t have a marketing plan, you need to make one! I’ll be talking about marketing planning in a future post and I promise to keep it goobledeegook free. Don’t think of social media as a separate entity to the rest of your communication channels, see it as the loudspeaker and community builder for all of your marketing.

For example, let’s go back to that sale you had that nobody came to. Aside from the traditional channels of paper advertising (leaflets/flyers/newspaper and magazine adverts/press releases/giant posters outside your store), with social media, you could have

  • planned and timed some tweets about the sale
  • created a competition on Facebook where the 500th commenter gets an additional discount in-store
  • engaged with other local businesses on your street on Google Plus and set up a ‘local sale’ drive that could have seen more business for all of you and raised a bit of community spirit too.

Before you think, that sounds fabulous – stay in your seat! To include social media in your planning, you need to decide on one or two key social media networks that you are going to use. Don’t overload your business by going for all of them. Think about your customers and your prospective customers:

  • What salary bracket are they typically in?
  • Where do they live?
  • How often do they shop for your particular product or range of products?
  • What else do they regularly shop for?
  • What do they do in their free time?
  • Where are they spending their online time.

How the hell do I know that, you cry!

Ask them.

Create a paper survey and an online survey (there are lots of free online survey tools, such as Surveymonkey or SmartSurvey) asking these questions: hand them out in-store, send them to your mailing list. Without finding out these answers, you’ll waste time on a social media network that doesn’t add anything to your marketing or business. It always amazes me when business owners admit to not having a marketing plan, don’t know who their ideal customers are and never evaluate how successful their marketing is – that’s just throwing money down the drain!

Get set up

Once you’ve got concrete evidence of where your audience spends their time online and why they’re there, focus on that network (or two). If they’re all on Twitter, get on Twitter and take my advice on how not to feel overwhelmed by it. If they’re a mix of Twitter and Google Plus, start both – you’ll find they each offer a different style for you (Twitter for short interactions, sharing other interesting websites/blogs/articles, starting conversations; Google Plus for building a community, both very local and global). I’m a big fan of Social Media Today and they offer some great advice on how not to use Google Plus. Is your entire audience on LinkedIn? Well, get on over there! Whichever network you turn to, plan how you’re going to use it. Create an editorial calendar (there’s a ton of editorial calendar templates online) and have a list of conversation starters.

Be human

No matter which social media network you end up on, always, always remember these two words: BE PROFESSIONAL. Just because you’re not standing next to the people you’re communicating with, does not mean lowering your professional standards. Be helpful, be polite, don’t swear, don’t start arguments or get involved in arguments (take them offline – if an angry customer has tweeted about your business, direct message them and ask for a number you can call them on, then CALL THEM).

Being professional also means letting your personality show through. You can have a sense of humour online, just don’t be offensive. Big businesses make social media mistakes all the time – some recover from them, others don’t (Business Insider‘s got some cringeworthy examples). If you’re a small business, you need to keep up being consistent and authentic – you can’t afford to make those huge mistakes but, if you’re professional and authentic, small mistakes can often be forgiven by your loyal community.

And finally, keep looking ahead

If you’ve been posting to Facebook for six months and no one’s following you, ask yourself why. Regularly evaluate your social media – what’s worked, what hasn’t worked, have you gained a loyal community of followers that you interact with on a daily or weekly basis? It’s okay to learn from your social media experiences and adapt as you go along, no one is asking you to jump off a cliff.

Now are you excited about social media?

Has this post calmed your fears about using social media for your business? I’m a huge fan of sharing great advice and letting you know about inspirational women in business. Recently, Alicia Cowan presented at the annual Women Unlimited Conference and she had a fabulous primer for getting the most out of each social media channel. Take a look at her website for all things social media. As for me and social media, I’ve learned where my community is and I focus on Twitter, Google Plus and LinkedIn so do clickyclick one of the sharing buttons below and join me – let’s keep those questions coming but hopefully now without the fear of being left behind by the crowd.

 Image by mhmarketing with Creative Commons