Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Article About The Faith

Get Your Small Business Involved in Social Media

Social networking is here, and it isn't going anywhere. Embracing the trend before your competitors do is key to grabbing market share in an active online community you can't afford to ignore.

Any business has the potential to excel (or fail) socially online. Having a game plan is key to making sure you're ready for both instances.

It starts with getting your Web site ready for social networking. However, just adding a Facebook link on the home page and sitting back and waiting for the traffic won't cut it. The key to social networking is interaction and involvement.

Although your niche will determine which networks are best for you, keep the big ones in mind -- and have an active presence if you can. It takes time, and you need to weigh the cost of not being involved with the benefits of being there. Include in your cost-benefit analysis whether your competitors have the capacity to surpass you with online interaction, because that's a huge piece of the puzzle.

The Networks

Many networks may fit your time commitment and business much better than the big three: Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace. Don't forget about TripAdvisor, Yelp, Superpages, TravelPost.com, Mixx, Bebo, CafeMom, iVillage.com, Angie's List, LinkedIn, etc. There is really a social network to fit your needs, you need to invest some research time to find it.

Make sure you're visible and branding your icon and username in some way. It may be subtle, like using your name with an (HVAC) at the end if that's your line of work, or you might use the business name as your forum name.

Using a persona (a person's name) to represent your business in these social networking communities is most valuable. People tend to want to interact with a person, not a brand.

Use third-party tools and on-site tools to integrate your social network profiles with your Web site and each other. I can post to Twitter and Facebook at the same time, which saves a ton of time.

I can also feed my Twitter stream into my blog, and my new blog posts into my Twitter and Facebook pages. I can bring TripAdvisor reviews right into travel blogs or hotel Web sites to give third-party validation to on-site shoppers -- that's a great tool for increasing conversion rates.

Your Web Site

There are many case studies in how not to set up your Web site for social networking. A lot depends upon your audience. Keep in mind that you can point them at your Facebook page, but if you don't interact with them, then it isn't worth the investment to add the icon in the first place.

Some great Web sites really understand how to interact with their customer base. One I ran across recently was Steamboat Resorts. They have a bar across the bottom that makes it easy to find them on the social networks, and they also offer exclusive Twitter deals if you follow. In the hospitality arena, this is a great example of someone who isn't a chain hotel, taking advantage of the social sphere.

Another thing you need to be ready for is that viral story, offer, or product that may hit your site. When things to viral, your site will get bombarded with traffic. Talk to your hosting company and make sure they're familiar with this phenomenon and ask what they do to handle huge surges in traffic volume.

It's All About the Attitude

Be realistic in what you're looking for socially. At first, your ROI will be in online word of mouth. You might not see a ton of income from this, but keep at it.

An involved company is a successful company -- as long as you treat everyone fairly, keep things professional and civil, and don't participate in smear campaigns. A company can trash their online reputation in a social network if someone is having a bad day, and just loses it with an irate customer.

The other side of not losing your temper is not burying your head in the sand. Yes, businesses have problems, everyone makes mistakes -- owning what the mistake was and providing a remedy to fix the problem is key to recovering in a positive light. People who use social and review sites tend to look at the middle of the road reviews for honesty, the really great ones look somewhat contrived, and the really angry ones look like a disgruntled employee tried to get even.

Although it's wonderful to have only awesome reviews, don't be afraid of the small criticisms. Be prepared to respond to those publicly. Posting a response is key to mitigating the online damage a stain on the carpet or a broken elevator can cause.

My number one rule with online reputation and social networking is to be personable, honest, and involved. Faking reviews or having a friend who has not used your service say really nice things is wrong, and unethical as a businessperson. Users rely on your reviews, so it's important to make sure they're honest.

Be approachable and involved in your social network of choice. There are ways to participate in one spot and have it carry over into others so don't miss out on those opportunities to maximize your time investment.

Join us for Search Engine Strategies San Jose, August 10-14, 2009, at the McEnery Convention Center.


WWAHHMpreneur said...

I am so glad to have found you via the social media group on LinkedIn.

This is a very good article with valuable and useful detail.

Thanks so much for sharing!

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Santosh Reddy said...

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