How Not to Suck at Using Social Media to Build your Business

Social mediaMost entrepreneurs and small-business owners wear several hats in their companies by necessity.  They'll perform many of these functions well, and it rarely takes long for them to recognize the handful of roles at which they really suck.

Now, knowing what you suck at and working around the issues your "suckiness" creates are two different things.   If you're lucky enough to have the resources to hire people to do those things at which you're no good, your lack of expertise in these areas usually means you're equally "sucky" at  evaluating whether or not your candidates for "replacement" are any good, either.

Which brings us to the main point of this article.  The use of social media platforms for commercial purposes has really exploded in recent months.  Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are the most popular platforms leading the charge.  Many of the entrepreneurs and business owners I encounter proclaim (and often with a hint of pride) that they "suck" at using these sites, expressing extreme bewilderness by their popularity ("I just don't get it" is a very common refrain).

Not wanting to be left behind, these same business men and women seek out others to "get their businesses on" Facebook or Twitter.  And therein lies the problem.  Not only do these business leaders lack a solid understanding of what needs to be done, but they have no way of assessing whether the people they've called in for help are any better qualified to deliver.  So in the interest of helping you to not suck, let's start with some basics.

Why should a business use social media anyway?

Social media is but one item in the chest of tools businesses can utilize to communicate with their customers and build their brand.   That said, the reason you want to use this tool is because a business that 1) invests its time in this arena wisely, and 2) uses the right social media tools and platforms will :

  • improve its accessibility to both existing and potential customers
  • become more "human" and "personable"
  • build its reputation
  • enhance the public's trust
  • strengthen long term connections
  • increase sales and referrals

Almost every type of business can benefit --  restaurants & cafes, retail stores, and professional service providers (attorneys, accountants, real estate agents) to name a few.

I still don't get it...

If you don't "get" anything else about social media, then at least "get" this -- it's all about connecting with other people.   Human beings have an unquenchable thirst for making personal connections.  Our commercial relationships are no different.  So if you don't want to suck at using social media to build your business, just treat your efforts as you would in building any long term, human relationship.  And for those of you just getting started, here's our take on the fundamentals :

  1. The first thing you should do in connection with any business initiative (be it around social media or otherwise) is to develop a clear definition of what you're hoping to achieve.  The second item on your list should then be to determine how you're going to measure progress (or lack thereof) toward your goals.  If you're just starting off, it's a good idea to keep things pretty simple.
  2. Identify the social media platforms your customers (and potential customers) are using.  It's not going to do you or your business any good to master Twitter when everybody you want to connect with is devoting the bulk of their social media interactions on Facebook.
  3. Next, look at what your competitors or others in your industry are doing.  Which platforms are they on (Facebook, Twitter, etc.)?  What types of pages or other presences have they built, and how are they using photos, video and other media in these sites?  How many "fans," “friends” or "followers" do they have?   This little exercise will not only make you familiar with each of the relevant platforms and how they are used, but also start sparking some ideas about how you might want to do things.
  4. While you're on those platforms checking out your competitors, don't forget to search for conversations or activity around your own business name.  Whether or not you've been part of the conversations, there's a good chance that somewhere in cyberspace people have been talking about your company.  Start to think about how you are going to monitor and, when appropriate, join in those discussions (on this note, there are a couple of quick things you can do to make this easy -- check out services like Google Alerts and BackType for starters).
  5. Develop a plan around how you're going to engage your audience.  Though you're ultimately looking to increase revenues, your social media presence is rarely about making those sales, it's about building connections that eventually draw customers into your pipeline.  So think about how you're activity on social media sites is going to educate, entertain,  or otherwise help the people you're looking to connect with.
  6. We never forget that time is money.  So at a minimum, you should do several things to tie together and cross-market the various social networks you’ll most likely be using. Here are 2 quick suggestions along these lines:

    First, consider linking activities across your profiles.  There are various ways to have Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and others update one another.

    Second, if you're maintaining a blog (which you should be), then be sure to incorporate your work here across all of these platforms where your target market is spending time.  Again, there are many ways to accomplish this.  LinkedIn, for example, allows users to embed blog feeds into their profile.  Tools like ShareThis enable readers to quickly share content on multiple social networks.

Finally, just dive in.  And as the Genie said to Aladin, "be yourself."   There's a lot more to be said, but we're not looking to write a tome on this subject.  If you're interested in learning more, we're moderating a workshop on November 17, 2009 in conjunction with the Hopkinton Chamber of Commerce, and welcome your participation (learn more here).   Otherwise, we're always happy to chat on this subject, so feel free to drop us a line.  Either way, we hope this gives you a better handle on how not to suck at using social media to build your business!

when an ounce of prevention isn’t worth a pound of cure

Putting together the piecesI think it was Ben Franklin who wisely advised that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  For sure, I've yet to encounter a problem whose cure was less expensive than what it would have cost to avoid it in the first place.    Some organizations consciously choose not to invest in that "ounce of prevention," believing their resources are better directed elsewhere.  Others neglect to invest because they are unaware of either potential problems or preventative measures.   Whatever the reason, problems ultimately result, and we then have to invest in a cure. 

Or do we?

One of the unique values my firm provides in serving the distinctive needs of the "main street" entrepreneur and small business owner lies with providing our clients that proverbial "ounce of prevention" across several functional areas of their operations.  One of the areas to which we devote a fair amount of attention is the structuring of workflow and institutional knowledge.  Where there's workflow and knowledge, technology is not far behind. 

I recently read  an article directed to project management professionals in the world of information technology (IT).   For the uninitiated, IT folks are the guys and gals at work who get excited about technology and data.  We like doing things to improve the quality of information.  We like doing things to improve access to that information.   We get especially excited about creating tools and processes that manipulate and analyze that information to provide useful insights.  

The article mentioned above was apparently one of several the author had written on the subject of "information silos."   For us geeks (and some executives), these silos represent significant obstacles to achieving the things we are passionate about (see previous paragraph).    In pursuit of our raison d'etre, it's easy to lose perspective.   We're not alone here.  What I liked about this author's perspective, however, was her admitted transformation into adopting a more holistic approach to her particular role:

"Whether it's information integration or automation, companies too often start bulldozing to build a new solution when they should first... learn more about the existing solution...  [then] they might realize that while the current approach might not be eloquent or perfect; it works – and that's no small thing."

In essence,  she has recognized that what represents a monumental problem for one business role (IT) , does not equate to a monumental problem for the business as a whole.   This takes real perspective, and is one flavor of how good business folks maximize impact and minimize risk.

When it comes to positioning new ventures and small businesses for success, there is little margin for error.  Put simply, these organizations cease to exist if they invest time, money and energy in efforts that fail to produce swift and substantial results for their operations.    If you're going to succeed, you quickly learn which problems need to be solved and which don't. 

So the next time you're facing a "monumental" problem, think like an entrepreneur or small business owner.  Though this problem may loom large for you, is a solution really critical to achieving the bigger picture?  Yes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  That ounce may only be of value, however, if the cure is truly necessary.