Recently I was delighted to learn that White Fox Social Media would be working for Dankor Development Company, and Central Illinois Ventures, on the new Metropolitan Place, and Joan Reilly Smith Cultural Center. Mr. Dan Mulcahy and Mr. Irv Smith are busy renovating the First United Methodist Church in downtown Springfield, Il into the Metropolitan Place.
My participation was thanks to ZG Worldwide, and it was also thanks to Mr. Mulcahy, Mr. Smith, and Mr. Soliwon that ZG Worldwide Associates were able to have front row seats (or at least curb side on Capitol Avenue) for the 4th of July fireworks.
To describe the weather for the evening as "perfect" would have been an understatement. And I was able to indulge in one of my newer pastimes of photography, and had challenged myself to try and get photographs of the fireworks.
In the course of several conversations with business associates, and friends, I have been reminded of one of the often unrecognized differences in social media usage. There are two different cultures when it comes to business pages and personal pages. But many people are unaware of these cultures. While we were discussing her unused facebook business page an acquaintance said, "Well, we won't be pursuing social media. I have known too many friends and family who get really upset when trying to decide to "unfriend" someone. It just takes up time."
And amongst friends, particularly when I have commented on part of a post on my personal page, I am asked, "Haven't you been following the discussion?" Usually the answer is, "no." Not because I don't care about what is happening with my friends, but because my main social media time is for my business.
Now I will grant that the line can blur in social media, particularly if business associates are following your personal page. And friends are following your business. Yet, there are still differences in the cultures. And I compare it to the difference between a business lunch, and a cookout.
The first difference obviously are the topics. At a business lunch the discussion is more focused. At a leisurely cookout the topics could flow all over the board.
Behavior is another. Professionalism normally holds sway over a business luncheon with the associates behaving with a certain level of decorum. At a cookout you might kick back, and relax. Or show your true feelings.
Transparency is one of the keywords of social media. So business people do need to be more aware of what they put on their personal pages, and to whom the post goes to when you write something.
There are ways to post to only close friends, and to avoid seeing postings from "friends" that annoy you, even if you don't want to "unfriend" them.
With business pages you are focusing on the story, and brand, you want to present to the public, and that is with the full understanding that what is posted is public. If personally a business owner doesn't want to be involved with social media there are ways to make personal pages fairly private.
So there is no reason to consider social media just an exercise in a high school mindset of "they don't like me anymore." You can go to the business lunch, but if you want, you can turn down the invitation to the cookout.
I'm going to say up front that I love when a business hires me to handle their social media marketing; not only because of the business itself, but the chance to design a program that works for my client. However, before any business takes a step towards social media as a marketing tool, whether on their own, or letting someone else handle it, there are new developments they need to take into consideration.
Not that long ago a Facebook business page offered a great opportunity for free marketing, and everyone had heard the stories of the pages that became phenomena in their own right. And the common cry was, "You have to have a Facebook page!"
And that was what many businesses did, particularly the smaller ones. Some of those pages are now sad, empty virtual store fronts, but other businesses have dutifully posted to their pages. Maybe not every day, maybe not every week, but they posted.
Unfortunately that faithfulness isn't offering the rewards it once did, and in truth hasn't in a while.
What has been happening is that Facebook has truly become a corporation, and has been decreasing its "organic reach" (how your free posts appear in newsfeeds). And they are doing so again. Rumor has it that the changes is so that businesses will buy Facebook advertising, or buy "likes" to boost a specific post, and there is a strong likelihood that rumor is true.
It has always been true that if you aren't active on Facebook (at least 3 times a week) that your posts would get bumped from newsfeeds by more active pages. This also requires having "sharing" and "liking" occurring. Now this is even more so.
The truth be told, you can't just concentrate on Facebook. All of the social media platforms are intertwined. So to have it worth your while you need steady activity on Twitter, Google +, and Linkedin (at minimum). We won't even get into the power of original content (blogs) or YouTube.
This is where you need to decide whether you can commit to social media.
Small businesses always have had challenges when it comes to marketing. They try very hard to stick to flyers and business cards they can do themselves. Maybe get a free website up. And try to do a bit with Facebook. However there comes a time when you have to go to a printer, or get professionally done business cards, and its the same with social media. You have to ask yourself whether you have the money, or the time, to make it work for you?
Most have a passing knowledge of the story of the Minotaur and the Labyrinth, and how Theseus used a ball of the thread to not only find his way to the beast, but the way out. For the business owner computers, and all that is required, can bear a resemblance to the Labyrinth (though some might say the beast). In this day a business owner, new or old, has to come into the realm of the computer.
Recently I heard a speaker saying that even the days of desktops are fading, and the realm of the tablet, and other devices, will hold sway. It even made my head ache some.
At the most basic, though, your records are on computers, or your cash register is computerized. And if you want to advertise you will need to at least have a website, and consider social media.
Granted my realm is social media, but before I can set up a client on social media we often have to untangle their skein. I have also heard from acquaintances in web design that they not only get to untangle these skeins, but often watch, with great bemusement, as people tangle their own skeins.
Then want someone to find them!!
The basic scenario often runs something along these lines.
After much consideration the store owner decides that they need a website, and they shop around a little. Already they are in the labyrinth without a light as sales people rattle off mysterious terms, and quote frightening prices. Then, by a minor miracle, they hear that a friend's college age child knows how to build a website, and so for the price of a host, and a domain name, they have a website!!
But their web designer soon disappears, and the store owner hasn't kept any of the passwords handy. "Why do I need those? I have somebody handling the site?"
Worse yet they don't know how to renew their domain name, or some other company owns the domain name. Either way it is a crisis, because your domain name can be bought by someone else, or you will be paying a exorbitant fee to get it back.
And even if they have managed to avoid all of that they may well have a website that isn't easy to add on to, because it is on a limited platform. So it cannot grow with you business, and it is not easy to keep up with the growing demands of the internet, such as social media and blogging.
As a business owner you have to be aware of stock, sales, supplies, and billing. And keeping track of your computer needs is no different.
Consider at the beginning of any computer venture.
1. Will this site be easily expanded?
2. Will my web designer be there for me for the long term?
3. Do I have control of my domain name?
4. Have I given a lot of thought to what I want to say on my website, and have talked over the best optimization of word usage and order? (Working on search optimization at the beginning will save you money later).
5. Do I have all necessary phone numbers and emails for emergencies?
6. What is the best way to keep a log of all of my passwords; for both the website and the social media?
So keep a firm hold on your skein, and play out the thread carefully so you can find your way through the Labyrinth.
Not One Stop Shopping
How do you dispel the idea that computer people are all knowing?
An acquaintance and I were pondering the challenge of this seemingly pervasive idea that computer professionals formed an all-knowing brother/sisterhood. And how it leads to frustration for the client.
Nor does it seem to matter if the person is in web hosting (my acquaintance), social media (me), computer repair, or web design - many of the questions that come in don't fit the individual’s field. And one cannot blame the client for asking, since computers can be challenging and mysterious, with so many details to understand. It can also be granted that if you work in a computer-related field that you pick up some of the various in's - and out's, and some of those can be used to help the clients.
It is because computers and the Internet are so complex that it is impossible for one person to know its whole scope. It is also this vastness that is frightening to your client, and once they have someone knowledgeable and trustworthy they want to depend on them to solve all the mysteries.
I am not sure there is an easy way to deal with the unspoken belief. The best I can come up with is recognition of the belief, and honesty about the limits of one's knowledge. Of course, what it also argues for is having a good network of various experts to call on when your client brings you a question you can't answer.
Whether you work in an office, or your business is out in the elements, your business has seasons. And most people can track those in their minds, even if they never put the information to paper. You know when the peak times are, and when the slow times stretch. You also know why. And for those with seasonal businesses you know that there are fluctuations within the seasons, which will affect you. A wet spring? A steamy summer? Those fluctuations require different reactions.
All of this is the mother lode of content!
And at the beginning of the year is the perfect time to sit down, and do an outline of your season. While you are doing this, ask yourself some questions.
1. Can you give a head's up to your clients about what is coming up? Can you put out a call for action?
2. What suggestions can you give to them? What tips?
3. What causes your slack times? What types of promotional can you use to head them off? Or at least ease them.
4. If your work is seasonal, what can you suggest for preparation for the coming season?
5. What should your clients know about weather related delays?
Of course, there are also those who are just starting out, and don't know your "seasons" yet?
Then you take a hard look at your products, or services. And ask yourself, what stories can you tell about those products or services?
Start off by telling about yourself. Your personnel. Why you were passionate enough to have started a business.
Spend time detailing aspects of your products, and services. Information - not just sales pitches.
And tell about your passions in the community. What are your favored charities? Where do you pitch in?
Established or new - tab into your seasons!
Reflection is always good at the beginning of the year. It not so much about resolutions, which always sound grand, but are hard to implement. Probably because they sound grand. We simply put too many expectations into them.
But reflection is a quiet word, and by its nature implies calm introspection.
So reflection is exactly what is needed when you are considering your approach to social media in 2014. It doesn’t matter whether you already are doing social media, or if you are just considering it, this is a perfect time to take a hard look at your approach.
Here are some things to consider as you are reflecting on the question:
1. What are your expectations of social media?
(Here you need to realize that social media is a marketing tool. Granted good material will help you attract a solid following, and that could well mean customers, but its part of a larger marketing campaign. Networking, brochures, and whatever else your marketing budget allows, are necessary. Yet, whether you are networking, or have materials to hand out, you need to make sure that your social media is listed. )
2. What platforms are you going to use? Are you thinking of only using just one?
(These social media platforms, and many of the others, such as Tumblr, are strongly influencing the search engines. Steady activity on the social media sites builds your visibility. It should also be kept in mind that each of the various platforms has their following. So by using all of them you reach those differing audiences.)
3. After you have decided on your platforms the next thing you need to ask yourself is, “How much time do I have for this?”
(This is a crucial question, because if you don’t have time for it, or can hire someone, then wait to implement a social media strategy when you can give it the time it needs.)
(Activity is one of the main keys to a social media strategy. Activity influences even how you show up in the newsfeeds of a your followers, and how long. It also influences how often you are mentioned on the search engines.)
4. “Sharing,” “Liking,” “Following,” and “Pinning” are aspects that businesses forget about in their social media strategies.
5. This brings us to the absolutely most vital part of your social media campaign – content!
(A few words on blogging. Blogging is a great original content, and usually someone, or many individuals, have expertise to share. However, many do not consider themselves writers, or get nervous. Blogging doesn’t have to be an essay. It can be biographical material about staff, or short tips. Or, if no one wants to write a blog, just offer tips out on the social media platforms.)
6. Lastly, a few ideas to consider in wrap up.
Thoughts on Content
When you are thinking about doing social media what should you have ready?
1. Look around your business, and think about questions your customers have asked. Are there reoccurring ones? Are there special products that normally need a little more explaining. What is your history with the business? And general trends that you are aware of in your profession?
2. Then think of your seasons. What is your down time? What is your busy season? What produces these highs and lows?
3. What pictures, photos, or graphics do you associate with your business? Always keep in mind that images are a powerful tool on social media sites.
4. What organizations, hobbies, or charities are you involved in? What industry magazines do you subscribe to?
5. And never forget to keep track of special events that might be coming up, or are reoccurring.
All of these provide the "meat" for your ongoing social media campaign. It doesn't matter whether you, a staff member, or a consultant is handling the day to day - all of this will be needed. The knowledge of the highs and lows, and the special events, will help to create a calendar for your campaign.
Just keep in mind, it really is no different than the thought processes that every business owner uses in the life of their business. You know it better than you know your home, and you can discuss it at length. And all of that is what it takes to make a good social media campaign.
The Meat of the Story
I am starting to think that one of the scariest thing for many business owners is that social media demands ongoing activity. The fact that business is coming into an era of "digital word of mouth" is intimidating.
Recently I was speaking with a prospective customer, and was working with a new approach. I had decided to develop this approach because I thought the term "social media" was what was terrifying people. So I set off to explain that instead of worrying about the technical end of social media that they should first think of it as doing what they always did - interacting with their customers. To look at it as an extension of the local word of mouth.
As we were discussing traditional advertising, and what made this different, I pointed out that standard advertising was one way. You develop your flyers, your newspaper ads, T. V. spots, and radio strategies, and all of these are sent out into the great world. And basically, unless someone mentions any of the business's advertisements, you will never really know what brought the customer in. With social media you have a better chance of interacting with your customers, and giving them a chance to know you. They know they can contact you quickly from any number of mobile tools, and express themselves in "real time."
And as I was listening to my potential client I realized that it may not be a fear of the term "social media," but stage fright. That the need to come up with interesting material on a weekly basis caused him to freeze. It didn't matter that I can help with finding content - it was that owner input would be required.
Nor was it just a terror of needing original content it was that there had to be a consistent strategy.
This also got me thinking of some of my other clients.
When I am setting up for a new client I will talk to them about the aspects of their business that could be used for blogging, or helpful hints. And I will also ask about organizations, hobbies, and charities they are involved in. The later gives me filler material to work with when I don't have original content. The first response I often get is, "Oh, I'll leave that to you!"
I always do a follow up email after the initial fright goes away. In the email I will ask the same questions, and usually get better input.
Really it is a case of realizing that while social media is more interactive that basic marketing still applies. The business owner knows their products, and when they create the standard advertising they know they will need images and focused content. With social media you need all of that, but you also need to have an idea what you want to do week to week. You need to know consistently, "what is the meat of the story?"
Recently I overheard a conversation while I was at a dinner, and during the course of the meal the conversation managed to cover both the uses and liabilities of social media. The over-dependence on social media in this particular case had caused hard feelings amongst friends. This "why"was being discussed in length by my table partners. The lament was that some had been invited to a party, and some hadn’t.
It turned out that their friend had only used Facebook’s “Events” to notify everyone. He had not calculated that some were not daily Facebook users, and if they were, that they didn’t check the notifications.
At the opposite end of the spectrum was a woman who admitted she usually didn’t know where her daughter was. And in order to keep track of the girl her mother would call the girl’s aunt. The reason the woman’s sister was in the “know” was because she kept an eye on Facebook and Twitter, since she had children of her own.
The woman’s excuse was, “I don't pay much attention to Facebook.”
It all comes down to social media being a communication tool.
And with all tools there are times when it needs to be used in concert with other tools. When having a party, or a meeting, it needs to be kept in mind that not everyone is going to be checking their social media. Invitations and announcements also need to be put out in either paper form, or email; along with social media reminders.
Yet, on the other hand, social media is a powerful tool. There shouldn’t be a disdain for it just because it’s “just” social media. This holds particularly true for parents. Parents need to stay aware of popular trends in social media, and know how their children are communicating. It has been noted that with a teenager a “tweet” is rarely ever left unread.
Cathy Mosley brings her 26 years of storytelling and writing experience to the realm of Social Media. To help small businesses.