Social media strategy for small businesses

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This week we have been looking at social media for small businesses. Ways in which they can use the social media tools that exist to build their brand, engage their customers and learn about their brand, market and competitors. It is as important for small businesses as it is for large brands to build a social media strategy. And there are many different ways that you can start to use social media to get these benefits.

And social media strategy should be based on what your brand is looking to achieve. Only when you have established this should you start to experiment with different social media tools and will you be able to measure the success of what you are doing. This need not be an expensive and elaborate implementation, some great tools exist for small businesses to use to help achieve their aims with social media and this week we looked at four of them:

  1. Social media monitoring and buzz tracking: Any social media strategy should start with a thorough process of social media monitoring. Listening to what is being said about your brand, competitors, market and customers. There are a range of free buzz tracking tools available and setting up some simple monitoring tools is something that any small business should do.
  2. Twitter and targeting customers: Twitter is a very flexible tool. Some people think that it is most useful when you are following and being followed by very large numbers of people. But this is not always true and it can be particularly powerful with small groups. You can build a small community of people online who are interested in the same issues and use this to engage customers or potential customers. Better to target and engage a smaller group of people than to try to appeal to everybody.
  3. Blogging and brand building: Blogging is a great tool that any and every brand should consider. For many small businesses, blogs are a tool that can help them punch above their weight. The content, themes and information that they share can lead them to be thought of as much larger or much more established than they really are. Blogging provides an easy way for organisations to share their thoughts and their content. And people will respect you for this.
  4. Foursquare and customer engagement: Foursquare is just one of a number of mobile-enabled and geo-location social media tools that are being developed. They allow people to connect and share information based on where they are. Foursquare in particular offers great and exciting opportunities to brands. You can find out who is visiting your shop, store, cafe or building and then work out ways to engage them and turn them into loyal customers

These are just four ways in which small businesses can use social media tools as part of a social media strategy. They are all free tools to start using and the posts linked to above contain more details about each of them. Using and experimenting with social media tools need not cost money. The important stages are in the thinking and planning about what you are looking to achieve and so which tools are most appropriate, and then in how you manage and grow your activity in any tool you choice.

Small businesses can benefit hugely from a social media strategy. Plan what you are looking to achieve and how you will measure success, and then experiment!

You can read all our posts on social media for small businesses here

Social media for small businesses 3: Blogging and building your brand

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Many small businesses are unsure about what to put on their website beyond their services team and contact details. They know they need a website but don’t always have the time, resources or content to add to it on a regular basis. It can be daunting for them, and the website can quickly become out of date. Too many websites for small businesses can date and look stale. And this is easy to recitfy.

Blogging is a useful tool for any business. It can help you to show your expertise on a topic. It can provide a less formal way for you to share your thoughts, experiences and ideas. And it can allow you an easy and versatile way to add up-to-date content and thoughts to any website. For any small business this can be a useful tool.

Imagine you run a small chain of hairdressing salons. You are busy, as all small business owners are, but understand the importance of your online presence to attract new customers to walk through your doors. Any organisation, however small, will have things that it is passionate about, and things that it can talk about in social media. In your role as owner of these hairdressing salons, you spend your time split between working in store and visiting suppliers, competitors and events and trade shows where you see the latest techniques and the latest products. Rather than have a simple, and soon dated, website that just states where your salon are and when they are open, you could use blogging to share these experiences and to share your passion for hairdressing.

You could blog each week about the latest trends, you could encourage a trainee in one salon to write about their experiences, you could review new products or highlight new haircuts. Writing a blog is easy for any business, it just needs structure. Our salon could include a review every Monday, highlight new trends on a Wednesday and have a trainee’s diary on a Friday. Every week. Easily and quickly you can start adding 1,000-2,000 words of relevant and interesting content being added to your site each week. Rich in keywords that will help people find your site more easily (and so lead to more people visiting your salons). And showing your thought-leadership and knowledge in the market.

For many small businesses, blogs are a tool that can help them punch above their weight. The content, themes and information that they share can lead them to be thought of as much larger or much more established than they really are. Blogging provides an easy way for organisations to share their thoughts and their content. And people will respect you for this.

You can read all our posts on social media for small businesses here

Social media and football fanatics

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I’ve always supported Liverpool. And I’m like many modern fans – I watch the game on TV, I follow it online, and I’ve blogged about it on and off for a few years.

However, after a particularly ignominious defeat my girlfriend jokily suggested that I should offer my services as a fan to other teams. Never jokily suggest things like that to me, because I’m stubborn, and an attention seeker. So I did it. What happened next taught me a lot about the reach of social media, and the meaning of being a football fan.

Deciding that I couldn’t possibly follow another football team, I compiled a list of teams in other sports, and in many cases, in other countries. These included:

  • UK basketball, ice hockey, rugby and cricket
  • US basketball, NFL, ice hockey and baseball
  • Aussie Rules

After sourcing email addresses for various different teams, I sent them the following message:

Greetings,

My name is Richie, and I humbly offer my services as your newest diehard fan.

Allow me to explain. I have been a fan of Liverpool Football Club since I was old enough to know what football was. I have loved the team and the club every day since. Until now. I have been concerned for some time about the takeover of the club by Tom Hicks and George Gillett, and the declining performances of the team under manager Rafael Benitez. This week, in the wake of an abusive email to a fellow supporter by Tom Hicks Jr, a member of the board, and the extra time capitulation to Reading in the FA Cup, I’ve finally given up on Liverpool FC, and am hereby tendering my resignation as a fan. While some part of me will always love LFC, I resent being seen as a cash cow by the club, who have loaded LFC with debt, to the detriment of the team.

Therefore, being done with both LFC and football, I am on the lookout for another team to love - and you could be it. I have many good qualities:

  • I’m loyal (provided you don’t sell out to a bunch of cowboys and consistently trample on my dreams with scorn and impunity).
  • I’m articulate - I prefer to rebuff opposition fans through wit, and therefore defuse trouble, rather than cause it, and act as a sophisticated representative of the team.
  • I’m on the rebound.
  • I’m keen - I bring much enthusiasm to my role as fan.
  • I buy lots of merchandise, no matter how gaudy (I have both the ecru and canary yellow LFC away strips - that’s loyalty).

So what do you say? I’m casting my net wide, so why should I be your new biggest fan? Think about it - you won’t regret having a fan like me.

All the best
Richie

I started getting replies – Worcester Wolves basketball first, then Buffalo Bills and Houston Texans in the NFL, then loads of other teams all wanting me to be their fan. So I replied to some and also decided to start a blog called “Your New Diehard Fan”, with a sense of irony that got a little lost in the social media ether. I thought it would be clear that I was partly joking about quitting Liverpool, but apparently not. I just hadn’t considered the power of the internet and using social media for anything football related….

After blogging my responses for a while, I decided to boost traffic by emailing the Guardian’s Fiver - a daily satirical football mailout that gets sent out at 5pm every day. And, surprisingly, they decided to print my letter and a link to my blog.

At 16.59 that day, my blog had received 15 hits. By 17.30, it had reached 1,500 hits. My traffic for that day would end up being near 3,000 unique users. This continued for days, with word-of-mouth spreading like crazy.

I was contacted by an online ad agency that wanted to advertise on my blog. Comments were pouring in from around the world, recommending teams and sports. It was fun.

But while the Guardian was the main source of traffic to my blog, there was another site that was sending nearly as much traffic my way – an influential Liverpool FC fansite. And it was not complimentary. There was some serious verbal abuse – I was pilloried for abandoning my team and vilified for blogging about it. Even when I posted a reply laying out the jokey nature of the endeavour, I continued to be attacked.

The whole episode taught me something about football, social media and the internet. All human life is there on the internet, and social media has enabled one bored idiot to both engage and enrage thousands of people.

There were so many lovely comments from the teams themselves, and from people commenting on the blog, many of whom would leave their email address and twitters – in short, they connected their comments to themselves in a more concrete way via social media. It was heartwarming. But it also showed me how many people hide behind the anonymity of the internet to say things and espouse opinions that they would not dare to say in person. Maybe that anonymity is liberating, but I couldn’t help but think that the reaction of some of the fans was excessive. What it does show is that if you want to succeed in the social media sphere, you need to know your stuff.

Sometimes it seems that the internet is full of people who talk a lot, with nothing to say, and that messages can get lost and ignored. It was interesting to see how something which started out on a whim could get noticed with so little effort. But I might keep my head down for a while…

Guest post by Richie Jones from FreshMinds Research

Thomson Holidays - how a blogger can impact your brand reputation

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Image by Micah Dowty via Flickr

Thomson is a well-known package tour and holiday brand in the UK and part of the global travel group TUI. They have a good reputation and brand in the UK, supported by a relatively strong High Street presence. But one traveller’s bad experience on a holiday to Tunisia has caused them and their brand problems in social media, and in their search rankings.

Andy Sharman went on holiday to Tunisia with Thompson in June this year and had, by his own account, a fairly disappointing time. After his complaints failed to receive a response that satisfied him, Andy wrote about his experiences on his blog.

Whatever the truth of what Andy was told or what happened to him in Tunisia is not important. For your brand, and your business, satisfaction is a balance of expectations and reality as seen by the customer. Andy was unhappy and he wanted to complain.

Using traditional media, this complaint would have taken a fairly standard path all of which is done in private:

  1. Customer complains to Brand (by telephone or by letter)
  2. Brand responds to Customer (typically by letter)
  3. Customer is either delighted (and may then tell their friends and colleagues in person) or dissatisfied (and will also tell their friends and colleague, but this time a very different story)

With social media, this pattern has been disrupted quite severely. Rather than a private exchange between Customer and Brand, the first few steps are public from the very beginning. From the minute the customer wants to complain their thoughts, experiences and attitudes (whether justified or not) are public knowledge. The brand’s job is no longer to assess and respond to a single complaint, but to manage an attack on their brand reputation. It is now bigger than just customer service.

With social media, complaints have moved from being a customer service issue to being a branding and corporate reputation one.

Andy’s blog shows exactly how serious these complaints can be. Within a couple of months his post had been read by over 10,000 different people and, perhaps more worryingly, was appearing above Thomson’s own sites for searches on Google for terms relating to Thomson and Tunisia.

Blogs, and social media more generally, are a great way for people to distribute their content. They can get it seen by a large number of people who can link to it, comment on it and reproduce it on their own sites.  Very quickly a brand has a story that is no longer private and is also no longer contained. Other people have linked to or reproduced the complaint on their own sites and forums. Some publicly and others in places that even Thompson cannot see.

So, what should brands do in this instance. Earlier this year we wrote about how to react if somebody writes about your brand online and included a great process diagram developed by the US Air Force. The process is simple and clear, showing when you should respond (and when you shouldn’t) and how you should respond if you do.

The most important thing for a brand to do is to engage in the same media that the complaint is made in. Have good buzz tracking and monitoring in place so that you pick up on potential issues early and then respond through the same media - be that by commenting on a blog, joining a forum, responding in Twitter or on Facebook. When you do respond (and if this is appropriate) you should consider  five things:

  1. Be transparent about who you are and your role. Give your name and some means of contacting you
  2. If you want to refute some claims in the post only do so if you can source your side of the story
  3. Be timely, but make sure you give yourself enough time to get a real response together
  4. Respond in a tone and manner that reflects your brand
  5. Focus on those blogs that carry the most influence

Customers are using social media to turn what were once private complaints with the brand into public discussions. Brands can capitalise upon this if they respond in the same manner, in the same public forum. This is the best way to take back some control of the situation and to begin to restore your brand’s reputation online.

The ten conversations to listen for in social media

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For any brand using social media, an important first stage is to find out what people are saying about you online and then monitor these discussions and conversations. You can build on these, engage the people talking about you and learn from what they say.

We’ve looked before at how to react if somebody writes about your brand online. Today’s Required Reading at FreshNetworks looks not at how to respond but the types of conversations themselves. The presentation below, from David Alston of Radian6 looks first at the worries and objections that people can have to using social media, and then moves on to the ten conversations to listen for in social media:

  • The complaint
  • The compliment
  • The problem
  • The question or inquiry
  • The campaign impact
  • The crisis
  • The competitor
  • The crowd
  • The influencer
  • The point of need

Search for conversations about your brand today and see which of these conversations you find.

Executive Social Marketing Bootcamp
View more presentations from David Alston.
  • Understanding the Social Process (crystalware.wordpress.com)
  • Monitoring and Measuring Social Media (ducttapemarketing.com)
  • The Future of Social Media Monitoring (readwriteweb.com)