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Should a small business use social network marketing?

Should a small business use social network marketing?

Are Facebook, Twitter, and other social marketing sites a necessity - are you missing out if you’re not using social marketing to brand build and/or to connect with your customers?

The short answer: Yes. The long answer. No! Unless you can dedicate staff and resources to do it correctly, don’t do it.

Engaging with customers via social networking is time consuming. It seems simple, grab your mobile phone and start Facebooking and/or Tweeting and you’re on the social networking grid. Doesn’t seem to hard does it? But if you’re using it incorrectly, then you’re doing more harm than good. Just like any other marketing endeavor, there should be a reason and plan. And you should be careful too.

Far too often, small businesses break into social marketing by adding a business page to the owner’s facebook account….or haphazzardly grant access to too many employees. The end result, meaningless posts that don’t engage or inspire customers. Instead they get annoyed, angry or bored and simply stop listening.

First ask yourself, what are you trying to accomplish?

Before you start down the path of social networking you’d better be able to answer this simple question. If you don’t know what you’re trying to do you’re better off not joining in a discussion online. More importantly, remember, you’re a guest in your own discussion in most circumstances. If you’ve managed to build a substantial list of “friends” on Facebook or “followers” on Twitter - any post you make can start a discussion. And you don’t necessarily get to control where it goes.

There’s an episode of the West Wing where Josh Lyman sees some comments on a website “lemonlyman.com” related to him. He quickly jumps into the fray and starts to reply, only to ignite a firestorm and send the whole process spiraling into a crisis. Until C.J., the press secretary, has to come and set him straight. It’s a good lesson to observe…be sure you know what you’re getting into…before you start to post online. And realize, sometimes it’s better to not participate.

Do you have the time, staff, and dedication to do this right?

Before Facebook and Twitter the big thing for companies was Discussion Forums. Countless clients wanted to build a community within a forum added to their website so they could engage with their customers…and to some extend “control” what was being said. Generally we’d advise against this, simply because we knew the client didn’t have the resources to manage it or that it was impractical to believe the user base could be “pulled from their existing forum” to the client’s.

Today it’s no different. Facebook and Twitter require a huge commitment of time and staff. And you can’t put someone junior on this - you need someone that can handle delicate situations or irate customers. Someone who can keep customers engaged and interested. It’s not an easy feat. And of course there’s the underlying question…is your company or product/service worthy of continual discussion?

Quick advice, If you can’t commit to doing it right….don’t do it. Let’s return to our discussion forum example…the typical outcome of the forums we reluctantly installed on client sites….they floundered and were eventually abandoned. Forums sat devoid of posts or with but a few. So visitors who did stumble upon them were left to wonder…is this company viable or noteworthy if no one is talking online? Facebook and Twitter are no different. If you don’t keep up with them…if you don’t participate daily or even hourly…it’s just not worth it. You’ll do more harm than good.

Read the Harvard Business Review…

There are infinite resources online about how to do social networking…but recently I was impressed by a few articles on the Harvard Business Review site (which you should frequent too). The articles deal with how marketing has changed today and echo my thoughts. You need to be able to dedicate someone (internally or externally) to manage your online presence…or it will grow old and whither. Or worse, it will spiral out of control and create problems.

I strongly recommend you read (subscription required on some articles):

  1. Why you need a new-media “Ringmaster”
  2. Branding in the Digital Age: Youíre Spending Your Money in All the Wrong Places
  3. Reputation Warfare

So what should a small business do when it comes to social networking?

The answer isn’t a simple one, and it will vary depending on the company, the products and/or services, and the goals. But nine times out of ten, for step one, we’ll recommend a small businesses start a blog (if they don’t have one already). But we’ll emphasize you must be dedicated and write a few posts a week. If you can’t manage that…again…don’t do it.

Blog posts can be about the company, current industry trends, or industry related - but it needs to be maintained weekly. While you may not gain a lot of comments on your blog posts (so no real discussion on your site)...you will likely see an uptick in Search Engine Optimization (SEO) which helps to drive traffic. But by blogging what you’re doing is laying the groundwork for the next step. In step two - you start submitting your blog posts to your Facebook page, personal or business, to Linkedin, to Reddit or Digg or similar sites, and posting it on Twitter. By sharing your posts, you become quasi-social.

Admittedly it’s not full fledged social network marketing yet - but it’s a manageable start for most small businesses. And to a certain extent you get to control the discussion, since you’re starting the topic off with your blog post. And hopefully, once your posts get discovered, you’ll gain more comments on your blog, you’ll gain followers and friends, and you’ll be positioned for the next step. The final step, the one that only should happen when you can dedicate staff and resources to do social marketing whole hog. When, as Harvard Business Review says, you have your Ringmaster ready. In step three, you jump into real-time social networking. And you hope you enjoy the circus.

Nov 26, 2010
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