So, you want to put your small business on social media. You start looking for information about how to do it – and find lots of articles about how to get the best results from social media. They make it sound easy: just start by listening to what people are saying about your brand on social channels, engage the ‘influencers,’ create buzz with a giveaway or contest, and watch your community grow! Install a fancy app to collect emails, and now you’ve turned all your fans into potential customers.
True, those are all steps in a great social media strategy. IF you have an established brand. If you are Coca-Cola, or Starbucks, or Red Bull, people probably are talking about your brand on social media. But what if you own XYZ Insurance Services, or the Law Firm of John Smith, or ABC Salon & Spa? You can spend a lot of time ‘listening’ and not hear anyone mention your company on Twitter or Facebook. At least, not yet.
Creating a social media strategy for a large, established brand is very different from creating one for a small business. One of the difficulties that small business owners encounter is that much of the ‘expert’ advice on social media is geared toward companies that already have a dedicated following – but what about a business that operates mostly on referrals from a small customer base?
Forget the ‘Influencers. ‘ You don’t need to know how many Twitter followers someone has to know whether you want to talk to them about your business. Start by engaging with the people that already know and love you, and let them influence their close friends and families. (Some of that influence takes place at the gym, or around the dinner table, not necessarily online.)
If you are a small business on social media, start here:
Let them get to know you.
Showcase the people who work at your company, highlight the work you do, shine the spotlight on your happy customers… the best content gives fans a ‘behind-the-scenes’ look at what you do. Show fans what your office will look like when they arrive, or who will answer the phone when they call, or what kind of service they can expect when doing business with you – all of these things help them build an emotional connection with your business.
Teach them something.
We first choose to do business with people we like (see the previous paragraph) but we also want to know that the service providers we work with are experts in their industries. So, teach your fans something about what you do. Show them how to compare different insurance policies, give them 10 questions they should ask when hiring a lawyer, provide a step-by-step guide (with pictures) on trimming their own bangs. Content that educates, engages.
Focus on long-term relationships.
Anyone who’s ever built a successful small business knows it doesn’t happen overnight. Social media is the same way. You are focusing on creating relationships here, so invest in communicating with your fans over time and be patient. You don’t need to sell them in every post. You need them to know, like and trust you – so that they will buy down the road.
Authenticity trumps flash.
Coca-Cola can hold a splashy contest and get thousands of people to share their content. That’s because people already have an emotional connection to their brand. It’s Coke. You’re probably not there yet, and that’s OK. Just focus on building a connection with the fans you do have. Be authentic, stay the course, and you will build a social media presence for your small business (whether it’s dozens of fans, or hundreds) that know you, love you, and will tell their friends.
There will come a point when the magic happens. You start getting leads off your Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. People pass around your blog posts and someone calls you to ask questions. The fan numbers grow on their own. But that point is months down the road. Yes, Starbucks did it faster. So did a lot of other brands with more money and more buy-in than you have right now. Don’t lose heart. Social media will help you build your business – but you have to approach it like you did starting your company: with a lot of dedication and hard work.