I was a guest last week on WDVR FM’s Technology Today radio broadcast. Host Rich Kazimir interviewed me about how small businesses can take advantage of social media. Here are some excerpts from our conversation.
Rich: Can you start by telling us what social media is?
Loraine: The simplest way to look at social media is as a collection of tools for interacting online. That can be by posting content like photos or articles, or sending out short messages, called updates, to people who are following you. This is called social networking. The big social networking tools are Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn. And, of course, blogging.
There are other tools that help you track and share content you like – that’s called social bookmarking. Social bookmarking tools include Reddit, Stumbled Upon and Digg.
For business owners, social media is a great way offer valuable content that engages prospects and customers.
Rich: So if you had to summarize social media in a few words, you’d say…
Loraine: It’s a collection of tools that enable business owners to interact with their clients and prospects online.
Rich: How should business owners be thinking about social media?
Loraine: Business owners need to understand that social media is a conversation; it’s not a one-way push of their company’s advertising message. They need to think of it like a cocktail party – how you’d join a conversation when you walk in to the party. You wouldn’t just barge in and start talking. You’d listen – comment – ask a question – then offer your opinion.
The best way to use social media is to integrate it with your company’s other marketing tactics – like your website, trade show, or public speaking engagements.
Rich: Where should a business owner focus, especially when they’re getting started?
Loraine: First, owners need to understand that social media is content driven, and they need to have good content to contribute to the conversation. So they need to start with a plan for developing content and what content they will use.
Owners should also realize that they don’t need to be on every social networking site. They can start by finding out where their customers and prospects are – then that’s where they need focus their efforts. It’s a good reason to give clients a call and ask them, are they reading blogs? Posting tweets?
Once owners know where their customers are, then they can go ahead and set up their own accounts on these applications – whether it’s Twitter or Facebook or another app. It’s free to set up accounts and if the owner is reasonably comfortable around email and the Internet, then they should be able to learn these apps pretty quickly. All the apps have online tutorials which make learning them a bit easier.
Rich: Can you give our audience some examples of companies who are using social media effectively?
Loraine: I’ve seen both large and small businesses use social media effectively as part of their marketing. Comcast mines Twitter for customer service issues and then responds fairly quickly… Office Depot just started a contest that integrated Facebook with email marketing – it’s their 2011 Official Small Business of NASCAR contest. This is targeted at growing their small business customer base.
A couple small businesses I’ve seen would be WebUndies.com – one of my clients – who is working on integrating their current email marketing with Facebook and Twitter to grow their customer base. I also work with an IT security startup – Aujas – and they are using an electronic newsletter, website, WordPress blog, as well as a white paper marketing campaign and industry trade shows.
Rich: I’ve seen businesses start to use social media, but then they seem to lose momentum and stop putting out new content. How can businesses stick with it?
Loraine: Losing momentum is a big problem, especially when a business owner has so much else on their plate. One thing an owner can do is see what content they already have developed for their business and repurpose it. For example, a how-to manual or a non-confidential email to a customer can be the basis for great blog posts.
It’s also perfectly ok to hire knowledgeable content developers who will work with you to develop your message – to write blog posts or tweets.
Rich: Aren’t there also tools that can help a business owner with social media – like Tweet Deck? Can you talk about those?
Loraine: Tweet Deck, Social Oomph, Hoot Suite are all great tools for helping an owner schedule and promote their content through Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. They’re all free tools too – some have premium paid subscriptions, but the free accounts work well. These tools also have online tutorials, which can be a big help.
Rich: What would you recommend as the starting point for the small business owner listening tonight?
Loraine: Definitely start by asking your customers what social media they’re using. Learn those tools and get your company profiles set up. Then you can see what content you already have that you can repurpose. You’ll be off and running.
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