Have you tweeted yet today? Did you leave a comment about a good video on YouTube? Did you post something on FB (Facebook)? If so, was it something you came up with yourself, or something you forwarded or 'liked'? Did you set up your social media account under your personal name or the name of your business? Is Twitter and Instagram just for the young folks? Okay enough of the questions. I know it is a lot to think about, but if you are a new entrepreneur, these questions will hopefully have your head spinning to answer the ultimate question, that is - what is the value or ROI of using social media? Let's try to start answering these questions now.
I often have discussions with entrepreneurs, self-employed contractors and even managers at existing companies about the potential benefits and drawbacks of using current social media like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. There are other mediums, but for today, let's just talk about these, as they seem to be considered "the big three" (at least at this time of writing).
Some business people are rightly nervous about using social media mostly due to the very real issue of protecting privacy. However they can also see the potential benefits that can be bestowed from being ‘on message’, especially if one is responsible for increasing the brand awareness of the company. I will offer some quick Do's and Don't's on this subject. I hope this advice helps you make some decisions about posting things online, whether you are currently using social media like the above-mentioned, or a blog, or whether you are pondering the idea of setting up an account and profile but are unsure if and how you should use it.
1 - DO follow the trend. Social media is here to stay. If it has not gone away after a year, and if everyone is still talking about it, including people on TV, you know it is a keeper (at least for now). Staying current with the online business and branding tools will keep your company in the loop and on the radar of the savvy internet-searching potential customers. It might be easy to suggest that tools like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are only for the kids, but that is just not true. To dismiss them as such is to throw away a great opportunity to connect with a mass audience, and in a fun, non-traditional way. The actual programs and apps might change over time, but the idea of being connected and interacting in real-time online will not. MySpace may have died, but it was replaced with the big three we are discussing today. Do set up these three social media accounts.
2 - DO consider carefully if you want to broadcast as a person you want people to get to know, or as a company you want people to get to know. You may choose to do both. If you separate them, the business account can be used for messaging about what is new with your business, the industry, promotions, providing tips to potential customers, etc. The personal account can be used for just connecting with friends and having fun - although you must still be aware that people will find you anyway, if you are a main player in your company. You still need to be cognizant of the fact you are a representative of your company at all times so be mindful of your tweets and posts. In my case I have one YouTube account, two Twitter accounts and a Facebook company page that fans can go to for information sharing. My personal Facebook account is for family, friends and often unprofessional postings, and therefore I restrict privacy and do not connect with fans or business contacts on it. I am clear with my separations. So what do I post about? Continue reading.
3 - DO share personal insights and stories. Sharing yourself (within reason) encourages others to appreciate your openness and they will likely start to see you as a 'real person' and your company as down to earth and approachable. Do not be seen as a stuffed shirt who only talks about their business because people will feel the sales pitch coming and bolt. In the online world, it only takes a micro-second to disengage. There is no awkward conversation while you try to leave the presence of a sales person in a store. It is over in a heart beat.
4 - DO mix business with pleasure. Regardless of whether you set up your social media accounts under your personal name or the business name, you need to have a variety of posts, and not just business-related ones. There is nothing wrong with sending out company updates, as long as that is not the ONLY thing you are tweeting or posting. If you share other aspects of your life, like your interests, current affairs, industry trends etc. too, then you can reduce the 'salesy' feeling of just pumping out requests for customers to visit your website and buy something. As noted earlier, you have to take a balanced approach to keep your messages professional and engaging but still fun and personable.
5 - DO NOT be afraid of today’s technology. It is even easier now than when I started in 2002. With a little research online you can find free and easy ways to set up a blog, basic website, e-newsletter, and of course, accounts in YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. These days everything is drag n’ drop, import photo from your computer, WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editing. There is no need to learn html or any other computer programming/language. Just point and click! Plus, these sites have online tutorials. And by the way, if you need more help, just go to a browser or even YouTube and search for "Help with setting up a new __________ account." You will find an amateur but very helpful video to help you get what you need!
6 - DO NOT jeopardize your company, career or education. Okay, let's be serious for a moment. Please remember that everything you post online from a tweet to a text message is recorded somewhere. Complaining about your boss, co-worker, staff, president or teacher online is about as smart as advertising on bus benches that you cheated on your spouse! Some conversations are better left for the phone or face-to-face interactions. If you have been paying attention to the news over the last few years, especially in the United States, you would have learned that there have already been students disciplined and workers fired due to a tweet or Facebook posting. Regardless of what you and I may think of the ethics involved in such cases you must be prudent to protect yourself and your brand.
7 - DO NOT lie. There is really no need for it. If you have something to say or something to sell, just let people in your online community know about it, and be satisfied with those interested parties that respond. Some lucky people have received job interviews from these social mediums. But could you imagine if they lied online? What would they then do or say in the interview? By lying you are only setting yourself up for embarrassment or even a lawsuit. People these days want to know what you are about as well as what your company stands for. There is unprecedented access now to the people behind the companies. In the old days we had to work for a company or read a biography to learn about the personality of the owner and their secrets to success. Now anyone can read daily tweets and/or weekly blog posts to gain that valuable insight. Today the consumers tend to research a lot more before making a purchase. They use social media sites before ordering something or going with a new vendor. And if you lied or did some kind of disservice, like bad customer care, the modern consumer will post about it online! The knife cuts both ways, so be careful.
8 - DO NOT believe everything you read. On Twitter, Facebook and YouTube you can find profiles of professionals, companies, organizations, governments, etc. There are some fake news sites and snake oil salespeople as well. Be careful not to get fooled by anyone. It is still a ‘buyer beware’ world! If you are unsure about a company or individual that has approached you, do some online research and see what kind of profiles they have and what kind of posts they send out into cyberspace. If they do not have any real online presence in today's world, does that mean they are hiding from prying eyes? I would probably suspect so.
I hope you have found these tips on using current social media helpful. Enjoy thinking about your next tweet, company update or short video you could make to give away some free tips to your potential customers, or engage them in online conversation. While you are surfing the net you may come across one of my profiles too. Feel free to check it out and see how I tweet, post and 'like', and observe other professionals in your circle. Pick the templates that speak to you and then start maximizing today's opportunities on social media. Your business will thank you.