Is Social Media Really Important?

(NOTE: This is an updated repost of an April article.)

I want to make it clear that social media is NOT a fad and it’s here to stay. Not only that, but social networking sites are fast becoming the primary way people with access to the web make connections with others. Take a look at the figures presented in this video, called “Social Media Revolution 3″ by Erik Qualman, based on his book Socialnomics: How Social Media Transforms the Way We Live and Do Business. This will really get you thinking about the future:

If you’re not using social media to promote your business you’re doing it a disservice. Creating a Facebook page, posting regularly to it, and building a base of fans or those who “like” your page is an excellent way to establish your brand and build loyalty. Twitter works in much the same way but with shorter posts called “tweets” and your fans are called “followers.” You post to Facebook and tweet regularly on things like sales and specials, upcoming events, new products, information customers need to know like changes in business hours, even personal thoughts and witty sayings.

LinkedIn is a networking site where businesspeople and professionals connect. It’s also a very important online recruiting tool.

Using video on your website and in blogs is a very effective way to grab people’s attention and “draw them in” – more so than just with written (typed) words. It’s also much underutilized because many still don’t realize it’s potential. The best way to post videos is to upload them to YouTube (for videos under 10min), and link to them on your website, blog, Facebook, and Twitter. Yes, YouTube is a social media site as well – you have to create a profile to upload videos, others can subscribe to your “channel,” you can be friends with other users and post comments to each other’s channel page (wall).

For an example of a well-known business close to home that uses social media to promote themselves very well, I recommend looking at Busch Gardens Williamsburg. Busch Gardens uses social media heavily, posting to Facebook and Twitter multiple times in a day. They also have a blog and a YouTube channel. Here’s their links:

Website: www.buschgardens.com/bgw
Blog: www.buschgardensvablog.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/BuschGardens
Twitter: www.twitter.com/BuschGardensVA
YouTube: www.youtube.com/BuschGardensVA

I hope that by viewing the video presentation above and looking at BGW’s links you’ve been inspired by the possibilities of utilizing social media. They’re endless! If you’re new to all this, I can help. Please contact me for more information or go here if you need a quote for my services.

Social Media is Like a Garden

I follow WPBeginner on Twitter (@wpbeginner) and saw this tweet yesterday: “Folks need to understand that Twitter is more than just posting links from your site. It’s about ENGAGEMENT!” I also read a blog post by Brian Solis called “Is Your Business Antisocial?”, which led to another post by Andrew Blakely called “Why I Don’t Like Your Brand on Facebook”. This post was about Blakely’s experiment on following the call to action to like brands on Facebook which he chronicled on Tumblr.

All this got me thinking really hard and reevaluating my use of social media and how I promote its use to my clients. So here’s my added thoughts. Posting links is a good start, but it’s just a start. Remember it’s SOCIAL media, accent is on SOCIAL. Give people a reason to follow you. Define WHY you use social media other than “everyone else is doing it” and give something of value that will interest people in your brand and keep them interested. Don’t just post sales and promotions – share useful tips, thoughts, highlights of your business. Ask your readers questions. Be adventurous and make videos of yourself giving how-tos, talking about a new product and why it’s special, or to make a special announcement, then put it on your YouTube channel and post the video as a blog post. When you get people posting replies and retweeting, that shows engagement. It also means your BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS.

Social media is a marketing avenue, but the mistake many companies are making is treating it entirely that way – meaning they’re just throwing posts out dispassionately like they’re airing another commercial or distributing flyers or publishing a print advertisement in a magazine or paper. We all know that despite these old-school methods being “tried and true” they have a low conversion rate (print is like 1-2% and that’s the optimistic stat, commercials have to be seen or heard at least 7 times per person watching for a brand to be memorable, much less make a sale) and yet when many companies make the foray into social media it seems most of the time they approach it with the same mindset they do for traditional advertising. Old-school advertising is like throwing marshmallows at someone’s head and calling it eating, to borrow a quote attributed to Katrina Gutleben.

What I’m trying to say is that conversation abounds on Facebook and Twitter. People are talking about anything and everything, and these platforms are making people more “vocal” than ever. People are finding their voice in ways never thought possible, and they’re speaking their minds. People are eager to share their experiences with products and companies both good and bad, and their words spread faster than wildfire, to the ends of the earth. Keep in mind a government toppled (Egypt) thanks to Facebook and Twitter. Find a way to tap into this wor(l)d of mouth. Engage people in a way that they’ll share your brand and talk about your company and products in a positive way. Be fun and interesting. And most important of all, work on building relationships. If you’re passionate about your business and what it has to offer this should not be difficult.

I’m becoming more passionate about the use of social media because I see so many people, particularly businesspeople, that don’t see the potential of online relationship-building. However, I want them to also understand that to succeed in the social arena is much like planting a garden – you plant your seed, but it takes watering, cultivation, and love to grow and yield the fruit you desire.

Why a Website is Essential for Your Business

Even in 2011, many small business owners still don’t have a website for their business or have one but neither realize nor use it to its full potential. I want to discuss some reasons why having a website is not only important, but essential, for your business:

1. People don’t need to grab a yellow pages phone book when they can search for businesses online.

2. People are now spending as much, if not more, time online than they do in front of the television.

3. Having a web presence is pretty much expected; some people or other businesses might not take you and your business seriously if you’re operating without a website.

4. Having a website is another way to establish your brand.

5. Having a website exposes your brand to a potentially limitless audience – the world.

6. You can sell products online whether you have a brick-and-mortar storefront or not.

Conversely, if you *do* have a website, or you’re having one built, and you want it to work for you, you must take your site seriously. “If I build it they will come” is simply not good enough, it’s more a matter of “I’ll get out of it what I put into it”:

1. Your site has to be visually appealing and have a professional look, or visitors will click away right away.

2. Your site has to clearly state what your business is about and what goods/services you offer, or visitors will be confused and quickly lose interest – and click away from your site.

3. Your content needs to be relevant and use keywords that potential customers would use to Google you, so that they can not only find you easily using topical keywords, but your site will rank highly among your competitors. Meaning, your content should be optimized for the search engines so you appear on the first search results page for relevant keywords/phrases. This is called Search Engine Optimization or SEO for short.

4. Make sure your content uses proper grammar and is free of typos. A site full of misspellings and bad grammar projects a most unprofessional image.

5. If you sell products online, use good sales copy and call-to-action words to encourage visitors to become customers.

6. Consider adding a blog to increase readership – BUT, make sure you post regularly (at least 1-2 times per week is my suggestion) to keep momentum going.

7. Use your website to build a mailing list by placing an opt-in form prominently on your site. Then send a monthly newsletter and announce sales and specials. I’ll say again though, to make this work for you make sure you send out something regularly, at least every month or two, or you’ll lose momentum.

8. Use social media in conjunction with your website: Facebook page, Twitter, YouTube (if you have video content). Post to your page and tweet regularly. You can build a pretty tight fanbase with those who “like” your Facebook page and follow your tweets on Twitter.

In many ways, marketing your business online involves applying the same marketing principles as being offline, just on a new playing field where word-of-mouth (or word-of-type) spreads more widely and more quickly. Even though money is tight, this is an area where you need to invest, with money and time well-spent. Don’t just leave it to a relative or the teenager next door to put up a website for you, unless they design websites for a living. And don’t just use a built-in do-it-yourself sitebuilder provided by your host and call it done. People *do* notice, and they’ll click away, taking their money with them. Find a professional who has the ability to create the image you want your business to project. It will pay off in the long run.