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What is social media? According to the “Social Media for Small Business (http://tinyurl.com/ld7fa9)” presentation, “it’s a fancy way to describe the zillions of conversations that people are having online.” Some of these conversations are happening at LinkedIn, Friendster, FastPitch, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and in virtual worlds such as Second Life. As you have these conversations, some in real time, you network to grow your business. A good way to initiate these conversations is to create content that’s fun, informative and relevant to the needs of your target market. Consumer engagement is key. For example, I recently read an interesting article by Fast Company titled, “Social Networks Are More Than Networking (http://tinyurl.com/m3dsr5),” which talks about how social networks are less about networking and more about engaging people. That’s what I’m chatting about here. I don’t want to necessarily network with you but I most certainly want to engage you.
To successfully use social media on a much wider scale, you must set up a small business marketing communication strategy that integrates both traditional and digital tactics. It can be managed at a reasonable cost and with minimal resource allocation. My first directive is to begin with the end in mind. Before you do anything, answer these five questions: • • • • • What are you trying to accomplish (goals/objectives)? When do you want it to occur? Why will anyone care? Who are you trying to reach? How will you measure (impact-ROI) success?
Now that you’ve answered these questions, let’s move on to ways you can use social media and social networking strategically to grow your business! 1. Appoint someone in your organization to be the champion, or Chief Digital Evangelist (CDE). Behind every great business is a star CDE. And preferably, they have mastery of sales, marketing, technology and social interaction. The CDE strives for consistency, continuity and robustness (meaningful conversations and information exchanged with your base of constituents). As you grow, so will your digital reach. Nurture the conversations and determine how you can do business together (generating revenue is not a bad objective; it just should not be the only objective). 2. Get training on how to manage online communities. To use digital media strategically, determine who you are going after (customers preferably) and what you should and should not be doing to ensure effectiveness. How do you choose a social medial consultant or educator? Kyle Lacy offers some great advice in “25 Steps to Choosing a Social Media Consultant and Educator
(http://tinyurl.com/dcn8u4).” The bottom line: The more you know, the faster you’ll grow. 3. Manage your online reputation. Sure, we want to let consumers say whatever is on their minds about you and your company, but your reputation is on the line when comments turn negative and pop up in places like the blogosphere, Twitter and Facebook. That’s why a CDE’s role is crucial for monitoring and managing online conversations should something go awry. Bottom line: Stay on top of online buzz and know who your key influencers are. At the very least, set up a Google Alert on your name and your company’s name. That’s a start for listening to what’s being said about you in the cyberworld. Don’t like what you hear? Step in; say something. Create a forum, corral stakeholders, and start talking! 4. Attract talent by using social media and networking. The only way to capture talent is to prove your weight in gold by aggressively and creatively engaging folks from all social media and networking channels. Say you want to hire me. You find me on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and a blog. You follow my blog and request I be a part of your LinkedIn network by saying, “Hi, Laurel, I head up hiring at ABC Global and have been following your blog and am really, really interested in your talent. I’d like to become better acquainted. I hope you accept my LinkedIn request.” Imagine my reaction (flattery gets you everywhere!). The courtship begins. We start building a relationship. Many companies and job seekers start out this way. It can be an extremely powerful tool for matching great people with great companies. Use your peers for ideas and introductions. Keep up to date on who interests you. Be first up to bat when an opportunity strikes. 5. Consult with your lawyer to ensure you don’t get sued over online conversations. Find out what you can and cannot say on a blog or within a network community.
There are a ton of new rules out there and you don’t want to get caught breaking one. Take, for example, the time someone (http://tinyurl.com/moo8hk) using the name "Rahodeb" went online to a Yahoo finance forum and posted this opinion: No company would want to buy Wild Oats Markets Inc., a natural-foods grocer, at its price then of about $8 a share. That someone just happened to be the online pseudonym of John Mackey, co-founder and chief executive of Whole Foods Market Inc. His company had agreed to buy Wild Oats for a handsome price. Needless to say, Mackey got himself into a nasty legal predicament. Don’t fall into the same trap and be caught unaware. 6. Experiment with social media and networking until you get it right. Cisco hosts 12 blogs addressing a variety of audiences for their global business; Dell leverages numerous social media platforms for customer engagement, including an island in the virtual world of Second Life; H&R Block created a Facebook fan site to aggregate its social media activities, engage customers and offer tax advice and resources. These examples and more are listed in “35+ Examples of Corporate Social Media in Action (http://tinyurl.com/6pdszg).” Any idea can be scaled, applied and managed by an SMB! 7. Answer questions. Once you join communities, start conversing. Answer questions from users with genuine care, respect and expertise. And refrain from the, “I echo what so-and-so said,” just to have your name and title show up in the daily digest. Members are looking for ways to network, cut corners, save money and grow their base, whether personally or professionally. They can see right through shallow comments. Don’t give them a reason to tune out. Build a strong social media and networking strategy, and you will keep your customers engaged and your business prosperous for the long haul.
About the Author: Global business expert Laurel Delaney is the founder of GlobeTrade.com (http://www.globetrade.com). She also is the creator of "Borderbuster," an e-newsletter, and The Global Small Business Blog (http://borderbuster.blogspot.com/), all highly regarded for their global small business coverage. Laurel is a Verio customer. Article powered by: Verio (http://www.verio.com)