My hubby returned from a big industry conference down in San Diego a while back that was packed with speakers on social networking and Internet marketing. One of them made the statement that social networking is a terrific and powerful way to market a business, but it's not something you do once or twice and forget about.
Instead, he said, it's more like getting a puppy...You have to make a commitment to feed it, and play with it, and take it out for walks every day. And I couldn't agree more.
Social networking is not at all like placing an ad then sitting back and waiting for the phone to ring or people to walk in the door. It's about creating conversations, establishing deeper relationships, and building a community of like-minded folks.
Yet every time you turn around it seems someone is shouting about all the wonders of social networking and how easy it is to use it market your small business...Especially if you pay them hundreds or even thousands of dollars to show you how.
On the flip side, a quick online search will turn up plenty of articles wondering how, or if, you can actually make any money from Twitter or Facebook. So how do you make heads or tales of the whole social networking as marketing concept?
Well, I can tell you for a fact you can grow your business using social networking because I've done it with mine. But it takes time and a well-thought out strategy to get great results. And it works best when combined with other tactics both online and off.
If you've already started using social networking to market your small business, or are even just thinking about it, here are a few things you really ought to know.
1) All the marketing basics still apply.
If you don't know your target market, can't define your USP (Unique Selling Proposition), or you don't have an offer they can't refuse and a way to build your list, all your social networking efforts won't do you any good.
2) Nobody makes money off of Twitter alone.
You have to use it, and most other social networking tools, as part of a bigger strategy. Think of all these social networking tools as simply a place where you can meet others and invite them into your world. But then you need somewhere to invite them to, and a reason for them to stick around. This is where your Website and/or blog comes into play.
3) It's not about what happens now; it's about what happens next.
Most people are not going to whip out their credit card just because you sent them a message about your latest product, service or event. So stop worrying about whether each specific action you take generates a sale or client. Instead worry about building relationships and driving traffic to your site.
4) You gotta build your list.
People have been saying "The money is in the list" since long before the Internet existed. Yet most small business owners ignore this truth completely, both online and off. The thing is, once someone arrives on your site they may still not be ready to buy.
So offer them something useful in exchange for nothing more than their name and email address. Then stay in touch regularly via email so they can get to know, like and trust you.
5) An e-newsletter is key.
Once you get their contact info you have to stay in touch. That means sending regular e-newsletters. These can be long or short. You can write them yourself, have them written, or use other people's articles for content. But you absolutely have to send them out a minimum of once a month. Bi-weekly is better. Weekly is best. And it needs to be helpful or interesting info-not just sales pitches all the time.
6) Participate actively, regularly and often.
Even if you have all the various backend pieces in place, social networking won't work if you don't work at it. Much like in-person networking, you need to show up regularly, reach out to others, and offer value (I can't stress it enough...Whatever you do, don't just sell). Back to the earlier dog analogy, you've got to play with it and feed it regularly...At least a few times a week at a minimum.
7) Many social networking experts, aren't.
While there are absolutely some very good social networking and online marketing experts out there, a lot of people who hang out a shingle are just folks who know how to set up and use the tools. They aren't marketers and don't really know how to develop a larger marketing strategy.
So if you want to hire someone to help with this, be sure to ask how they come up with the strategy. Then ask about specific results (like increased Website traffic, leads or sales) and check references.
Keep these seven truths in mind, and you're likely to find social networking is one of the best, and least expensive, small business marketing options out there today. And unlike a puppy, it won't drool or chew up your shoes.