Owners of businesses that didn't start out online sometimes don't realize how much of a positive impact an engaging online presence can make on their company. In just the last two or three years, the conventional wisdom has gone from, "Maybe we should have a Facebook page" to "How can we use our Facebook page to raise our profile and build up our brand?"
Social media expert Jeff Bullas of JeffBullas.com is a consultant, coach, and speaker who works with companies around the world on optimizing their online presence and building their brand using social media channels. Business.com recently spoke with Bullas about using social networking to help businesses grow. Q. A new phenomenon among some larger businesses is the hiring of a full-time social media expert for the express purpose of using social media networking as an integral part of marketing. Many small businesses don't have a budget big enough do this, so where does the small business begin once the decision is made to start leveraging social media?
A. It is a challenge for the small business. What many businesses need to realize is that participating online is no longer an option on a social web. That is how your customers find you. In fact, some research shows that 90% of all buying decisions start with an online search.
Social media marketing is not just about obtaining Facebook likes, which has become an unhealthy obsession for many companies.
Social media marketing starts with creating great content that adds value to people's lives and business, [putting that information] on their website or blog and then distributing it to their followers on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks and engaging with them there.
This then builds valuable online assets that improves your websites search engine rankings and provides enduring benefit as you build up your online assets.
The quality of your content online defines your brand.
Q. In one of your YouTube presentations you mention that an overwhelming percentage of purchase decisions today begin with an online search. Are traditional media (radio, television, print) totally irrelevant, or can they still contribute to brand building and marketing?
A. Traditional media still has a role, but you need to determine what is working and what doesn't before applying budget and resources. The shiny new toy of social media shouldn't distract you from building email lists and considering other media. Print media is certainly becoming less effective as people no longer use the Yellow Pages or read magazines offline like they used to.
Q. One of the guest bloggers on your site wrote a wonderful piece about the parallels between online dating and online marketing, emphasizing that, as with an overeager person looking for love, businesses often hurt themselves by coming on too strong with those they interact with online. How does a business identify that fine line between being confident and being overbearing in a social media setting?
A. One way is to see how the companies that are successfully using social media communicate and engage.
It is easy to observe, as you only need to go to their Facebook account or Twitter feed and see how they are using those social networks.
Another tip is then to just listen to the feedback and see what does and doesn't resonate. Do more of what works and less of what doesn't.
Don't be afraid to start because that is the only way to learn. The magic is in the action.
Q. It's easy to see that some businesses are a great match for Facebook, particularly businesses that cater to younger people. How can a more traditional business, such as a law firm or an investment adviser, use these media without seeming horribly out of place ... or worse, phony?
A. Social media is all about adding value to your customers and prospects, not shouting "buy from me." Forget corporate speak!! You need to flip your communication and put yourself in your customers' shoes. No one cares about your company and products.
They want to know what's in it for them.
You need to ask yourself these sorts of questions.
- What are their problems?
- What do they want to learn about?
- What media do they like consuming? Is it videos on YouTube or pictures on Pinterest, is it ebooks or white papers?
- What social networks do they participate on? Is it Linkedin, Facebook or Tumblr?
Then start creating content in a variety of rich multi-media that solves those problems and answers those questions and is published on the social networks they are hanging out on.
The best place to start with many professional organizations is with a blog that offers solid content and can become a resource and online "go to" portal that keeps bringing them back to read and view.
Q. If I am starting a new business, I know I should stake out online territory right away by claiming usernames on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and so on. But do I start out using all social networking sites at once, or should I make sure I can comfortably rock Facebook before ramping up Twitter and other sites?
A. I would suggest you pick the major social networks where your customers are, then focus on one or two and build up your expertise consistently. Then persist with publishing links, images, videos and articles to those platforms. Once you have published the media, then you need to engage with your fans and ambassadors as they respond to your content. Engage first and sell later.
Photo Credit: Robert Scoble