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5 Ways Small Businesses Can Maintain a Social Media Presence and Ignore Scaremongering

8 April 2013 BY

I’ve been offline for the last week, driving around the wilds of Tasmania in a camper-van with no phone or internet access. It’s certainly refreshing, and my brain feels like it’s seeing the internet in a revitalised way again. Despite spending more time with wallabies than people in the last week, I still didn’t entirely get away from the all encompassing world that is the internet!

Driving along, I heard a news report on the radio, discussed Australia’s SMEs’ failure to get involved with social media, with only a quarter of small businesses using the medium according to a recent survey. More details can be found on the News.com.au website.

AUSTRALIAN businesses are failing to keep pace with social media with less than a quarter embracing online opportunities, research reveals.

The news report went on to say that it recommends all small businesses use social media networks such as Facebook, Twitter and GooglePlus. I found this advice both irresponsible and misleading. Why is a supposedly unbiased news report telling businesses what will work for them?

There is often a lot of scaremongering among digital media, and social media is the king culprit of that. Many small businesses hear the gossip and the scaremongering urgency of what they need to do but aren’t given the tools of how best to approach it. So, in a bid to combat radio news reports like the one I heard, here are some thoughts from me on what should (and shouldn’t) be undertaken as a matter of priority across social media for small businesses.

1. Even if you don’t use the networks, remember to claim your name

One of the biggest (and simplest) mistakes I regularly see companies, large and small, make is deciding that because they don’t have the resource to push into a complete social media strategy, they then don’t bother to do anything. WRONG.

If you don’t claim your name, someone else will. It likely won’t be for as positive a reason as you. I’ve searched for clients names across Twitter or Facebook only to be confronted with hate groups for their brand but nothing representing them.  Even if you do nothing with it, even if it’s just for the sake of it – go ahead and claim your page. It costs nothing and it gives you that tiny bit of extra brand power for when the moment is right.

For ease, here is the How to Claim Your Page Facebook Guide and Claim Your Google Plus Page Guide. You’re welcome.

2. Know Your Brand (& Your Goals)

Before you set about doing anything within the world of social media, you need to understand who and what your brand is. Are you youthful and playful? Are you serious and problem solving. Who are you targeting? What are you trying to achieve? Laying the foundations before jumping into updating your status left, right and centre will likely mean the difference between a successful social media strategy and the potential of a brand disaster.

A social media strategy MUST incorporate a brand strategy. Understand what tone of voice you want to project and who you want to project it to before you give your internet that Facebook login.

Compare the Skittles fun, if a tad crazy, tweets  - with the genuinely useful (and charity helping) campaign of Tweet Pie – that led to an entire bonafide print book being published. Both were hugely successful campaigns but had their brand identities been swapped over, would it have been the same?

Yes these are brands with a lot of persuasion behind them but the same is true for smaller businesses, know your brand no matter how local or small before you tell the world (or at least the internet) about it.

Skittles Platypus Tweet

Skittles Platypus Tweet

 

Tweet Pie Recipe

Tweet Pie Recipe

 

3. Listen As Much As You Speak

Before you start telling the world about how great your brand and content is, listen to what people are talking about first. There are a number of free tools out there than anyone can master, and that do much of the work for you while you go about your daily business. No they won’t be as advanced as some of the more expensive tools out there but yes they will at least give you insight to help you understand what your audience is interested in.

1. Twitter Hashtags & WhatHashtag

Look up popular twitter hashtags in your niche and see what the buzz is around topics you feel your brand has something to say on. e.g. #SMEsocialmedia. What Hashtag is a simple little hack which helpfully pulls the last 1000 tweets related to a given keyword then orders their most popular hashtags by frequency, helping you target the most relevant one.

2. Mention

Since the demise of both Google Alerts and Google Reader, I’ve been panicking about the easiest way to stay on top of personal and client mentions. Fittingly, the best tool I’ve found is one called Mention. Mention markets itself as a “reinvention” of Google Alerts. You can follow up to 500 results per month for up to three keywords for free. After this there is a premium service that starts from $19.99 for wider services.

3. Topsy

Topsy is a real time search engine, allowing you to see social results for given keywords and gain those valuable real time insights. Great when planning your next move on social media!

4. Spreading Your Brand Thin Will Do More Harm Than Good

Just because crazy news reporters scare you and tell you that you need to be everything to everyone, don’t go panic half setting up every social media network on the planet! Know who you are targeting and where they will be. They may even be everywhere but where are they most? This may not even be one of the big social networks. Let’s take a local gardening business for example. It’s great to have a Facebook presence but perhaps a niche gardening site like Your Garden Show or Oh My Bloom would realistically generate more relevant business.

Just because everyone talks about the big social networks, this doesn’t mean they are right for you. Be aware of them and be aware of your audience but don’t follow the crowd simply because it’s the popular thing to do. Great content and true engagement are the key to social media success – not the platform they are shared on.

5. Be Prepared If Things Go Wrong

As the world has seen with many of the bigger brands, social media is a complicated beast and things can (and probably will) go wrong. Unlike big brands, small businesses are lucky in that they don’t have the world bearing down on every move they make. Having said that it’s important to have a back up plan for if things do go wrong. A few ground rules:

  1. Don’t deny, Always Acknowledge!  Everyone makes mistakes. Almost every social media disaster has been preceded by that mistake being swept under the carpet and lied about. Don’t do it. Be calm, be respectful, be honest.
  2. Know when to say sorry. It’s simple. It’s effective!
  3. Do something!  Understand the cause of the problem and get to the bottom of it. Work on fixing what went wrong, openly and honestly. Treat your customers like the intelligent people they are and they will appreciate it.

6. Understand that Social Media is not Direct Marketing

And a bonus tip…. understand that social media is no place for salesy direct marketing messages. KPIs should not focus on direct leads generated from a Facebook comment. It’s about longevity, brand awareness (and loyalty) and engagement. If you push too hard, you are guaranteed to lose your potential following before you’ve even had a chance to build it up.

Don’t force your products down your customers’ throat, allow them to be drawn in by your brand and what it stands for. The sales will follow.

 

A lot of this feels like common sense but having listened to the news reports, I wonder if that is true for all. A great social media strategy isn’t only the preserve of large brands. Small businesses can be just as successful in their own niche, with the right prioritisation and an understanding of what it is they are trying to achieve within social media.

AUTHORED BY:
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Originally from the UK via France and Malaysia, Annabel Hodges is a digital marketer with long experience in the industry now residing in Sydney. She heads up the Digital Marketing at Next Commerce, working across an array of products, channels and brands.