While Facebook is undoubtedly the biggest social networking service, other players have joined the online networking revolution and they each have their unique selling points. They also offer benefits to small businesses, where engaging potential customers can be the difference between making a sale and handing the initiative to your competition.
Here we look at some of the things that should be taken into account when using social media to help build and maintain a business, and also share some useful tips for getting the most out of the different social media out there. The days of just one or two social networks have gone, and leveraging the power of many can result in improved performance for your own business.
Step 1: Choose the right social network
Choosing the best social network for your needs isn’t easy, but you can use more than one. The more opportunities you give your customers to interact with your business the better, but if, for example, quick and easy posts and responses are key, then Twitter may be the way to go.
Step 2: Choose the right name
This may have more of an impact on sites such as YouTube or Twitter where an account name will form the basis for your online presence. Use your company’s name rather than a slogan, as this makes it easier for potential customers and clients to find you when searching.
Step 3: Use a secure password
While this may seem like an obvious point, choosing a secure password is incredibly important. More than a few large businesses have fallen foul of the opportunist hacker, who gained access to a social media account only because the password was something like Password.
Step 4: Interact with your audience
The clue is in the name ‘social network’, but engaging customers is something that many businesses fail to do. Don’t force-feed your patrons with promotions and offers, but use it to offer a unique experience and a gateway for them to ask questions and get real responses.
Step 5: Be professional, yet accessible
We’ve come across plenty of small businesses that try to be a little too friendly when dealing with the public online. It’s best to keep things professional without being overbearing. Be friendly, but not to the point where it seems your teenage son has been left in charge of your business.
Step 6: Offer something unique
Engagement is the biggest draw where social media is concerned. Offering something unique to Twitter followers or subscribers to a YouTube channel that will not be available to everybody will make them feel special. We all like to feel special, and your customers are no different.
Step 7: People will spread the word
The best way to get the word out about your next big thing is for your customers to tell their friends about it. Word of mouth has always been the best form of advertising, and social networks are no different. Offer incentives to anyone who shares Facebook links or tags themselves in images.
Step 8: Go the whole hog
If your business is going to utilise social networks to grow, then you need to go the whole hog. Have your website link into your social profiles and vice versa. Have your Facebook account link into your YouTube channel’s videos. Let people know that you are out there.
Step 9: Be you, not a third party
Don’t let a PR agency handle your social media presence. Content will suffer, with that personal touch being replaced by someone who is clearly trying too hard to get clicks and sales. Your audience wants to hear from you and not someone who is being paid to impersonate you.
Step 10: Know your strengths
Each social network is better than the rest at one particular thing. Facebook, for example, is more suited to long form tidbits and conversation, whereas Twitter can push out quick-fire bursts of messages. YouTube is the home of video content, while Flickr can host images of your business.
Step 11: Use multimedia
A picture tells a thousand words, and that has never been as true as it is today. With our ever-decreasing attention spans, often a well-timed photo will grab people’s attention better than a list of features and benefits. Throw in some video and you’ll be onto a winner.
Step 12: Search for yourself
If you’re lucky, then people will already be talking about you across a variety of social networks. If that’s the case, wouldn’t it be useful to know what they are saying? Search Twitter and Facebook to see what your customers are reporting, and prevent any bad experiences from turning ugly.
Step 13: Don't get carried away
While it’s true that social networks can lead to increased sales, it’s important to avoid bombarding your networks with sales-driven content. Mix things up a little, share some of your company’s background and ask for opinions. It comes down to engagement, but it doesn’t have to be about your product.
Step 14: Know your competition
If you’re trying to take the show online, then your competitors are sure to be trying the same thing too. If they aren’t, you’re already ahead of the game. If they are, then check what they are up to and whether it’s working? Are there any avenues you should explore based on their results?
Step 15: Think before you type
As many celebrities and politicians have learned the hard way, you can’t take anything back in the world of social networks. Don’t say anything you wouldn’t want shared, retweeted or blogged into infinity, and make sure colleagues and interns can’t access your account, or you may regret it.
Bonus Tip: Social networks and business
There is no doubting the power of online social networks for sharing content and building a brand, however large or small.
It’s best to start small and get to grips with the message you are trying to get across and then stick to it. Confused customers do not make happy customers. Above all, engagement is key. Talk to your customers, answer their questions and help them in their hour of need. They’ll thank you for it with their continued custom.