Since social media is still so new, it can be hard to find good statistics on the return of investment, and that makes some business owners wary about sinking time and money into the endeavor. However, there are countless stories of very successful social marketing campaigns. Whether reviewing the small local pizza company in Chicago who gets over 50 percent of their business from Twitter, or a presidential campaign that earns large donations via Facebook, it is hard to dismiss the new strategies.
Using social media effectively, whether one is focusing on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, a blog or other applications, is like stoking a fire; it takes watching and tending to ignite a blaze. Most experts and business owners who use social media agree that the returns of social networking are well worth the effort – but only if done right.
Local Business Owners Share Their Insights
One proponent of social networking is Kim Yuhl, owner of Fizz Bath Shop located on Aspen Avenue in downtown Flagstaff. Kim has doubled her profits in the last year, and she attributes a great deal of her success to social networking. With 9000 Twitter followers, well over 1000 Facebook fans, a successful WordPress blog and an active Google+ page, Yuhl is no slouch when it comes to social media.
“Social Media is a way to develop real interactive relationships with your customers, which you can’t do with traditional marketing,” Yuhl claims. “Social media can help you develop true loyalty, ongoing relationships, get honest feedback, and keep your name in front of the community.”
Mike Russell of MikerDzign freelance graphic design agrees. “Social Media is a great way to reach out to the community, but you need to know the audience you want and develop an authentic voice to speak to them,” says Russell. “Share information that’s relevant to your audience, and they will listen.” Russell’s Twitter strategy is to tweet about things that will interest his audience and customer base, namely Flagstaff news and graphic design.
In a world where consumers are often inundated with the impersonal messages of traditional advertising, the interactive personal voice of social media can be refreshing. Customers want to believe someone is listening to them, not just selling to them. Although social media is relatively new, wanting to know and trust the people with whom we do business is as old as commerce. Some believe social media helps business owners create that type of personal/business relationship on a larger scale, outside the confines of geography.
“People want to do business with people, not a corporate entity.” Yuhl claims. “It works for me and my business just to be real. I suggest you try to have a relationship, and decide how personal you want to be depending on the type of business you run.”
Choosing Applications and Getting Started
Many folks who are new to social networking can find the many choices overwhelming. Yuhl and Russell agree that it is best to just get started wherever you feel most comfortable. It may also be wise to spend a bit of time researching each application, and visit the sites of businesses you like or are similar to your own to get inspired.
Many believe Facebook is one of the best places to start, and it may be useful to note that there are now over 250 million Facebook members.
“A Facebook Fan page will bring most business owners instant gratification,” says Karen Taylor, owner of New Destiny Marketing in Phoenix.
Yuhl agrees that Facebook is a great jumping-off point. “You just want to make it easy for people to find you, so making a Facebook page and sending it to everyone you know is a great way to get started.”
But wherever you do start, these business owners suggest you dive in – but only if you are willing to play the long game.
“If you only have 15 minutes a day, do 15 minutes,” Suggests Yuhl. “You don’t need to spend a lot of time to see results, but you do need to be consistent and provide constant content, even if it’s just a bit each day. And keep in mind that it takes awhile to grow a following – most results won’t be instant.”
Social Media Experts
According to Karen Taylor, she’d rather teach business owners to fish than do the fishing for them, “I think a few hours to teach people how to use these applications and help them get set-up is usually enough. It can be useful to hire an expert, but hopefully that expert is realistic, and helps educate his or her client.”
Some small business owners have someone working for them who is a natural candidate to handle social networking on a part-time basis, but others are wary about relinquishing the responsibility.
Yuhl says “I’m not comfortable letting anyone else handle my social media for me, unless I had someone I was sure shared my voice and vision.”
Mistakes to Avoid
Yuhl, Russell and Taylor all agree that it’s important to avoid some common social media faux pas. Yuhl says “the biggest danger is to think you can just get on there and promote your business, without having a real conversation.”
“No one goes to social media to be sold to,” says Taylor. “Once you have contact some other way, then you can sell. Social media is for being social and setting yourself up as an interesting and reliable resource.”
Although social media is social, it’s important to know your limits – and what personal information you’d rather not share. “I suggest avoiding politics, rants, and negativity,” says Russell.
Experts agree that there are few silver bullets when it comes to social networking, but if you can be consistent, personable, and maintain a strategy without being robotic, it might be one of your best time investments.
“If done right, social media can be a great equalizer,” says Yuhl. “It can put a small local business in league with the big boys.”
Social networking might not be a business necessity yet, but it can help any business, particularly a new or small one, stand out from the crowd.