Did you know that if Facebook were a country it would be the third largest country in the world? With that kind of reach available through a free Facebook account, what’s not to like? Well, I asked a few local experts some social media questions, and although they all advocate businesses use social media, their recommendations do not come without caveats.
I spoke with three experts. Corey Smith is president of Tribute Media, a Web consulting firm that creates and aligns Website designs with a company’s business objectives (tributemedia.com). Jennifer Quinn is president of YouBeingSocial.com, a company that uses “old-school classes” to teach people how to be active with and get the most out of their social media efforts (youbeingsocial.com). John Foster is co-founder of Kestrel West, a public engagement/media relations firm that helps organizations manage their messages for optimal public perception (kestrelwest.com).
What do you see as the biggest benefits of businesses engaging in social media?
According to Smith, search engine optimization, traffic generation and relationship building are the three biggest benefits. With regard to SEO, Smith says, “When other websites link to your website, it’s a vote for your credibility and relevance. When you post a link in your social media channels, your link becomes another in-bound link to your website. If those in your network share that link, it means that you have even more in-bound links.”
Foster differentiates the benefits depending on what kind of business you run. “If you are in a (business-to-consumer) business, you can benefit by engaging your customers. If it is a (business-to-business) business, it is a way of reinforcing your brand/approach/image.”
Quinn cites the benefits of feedback and top-of-mind awareness. “When a person ‘likes’ a restaurant on Facebook, the restaurant may appear in their newsfeed several times per day,” she says. “Then, when the person is hungry and wants to eat out, that restaurant has a greater chance of being the place at which the person wants to eat.”
What are the biggest pitfalls of businesses engaging in social media?
Several pitfalls were mentioned, one of which was time management. As Smith put it, “If you’re not careful, social media can eat up all your time and you won’t get anything done.”
Foster was a little more epigrammatic: “It can be a huge time suck away from your primary mission.” How much time is enough? Quinn noted that 15 minutes per day is all that is necessary to keep your business engaged on social media.
That said, “lack of a strategy” is the other main pitfall. “Don’t just do it to do it,” says Foster. “Do it to achieve a specific objective to help your bottom line.”
And even if you have a strategy, employees need to be trained in how to deploy it properly. As Quinn says, a big problem in businesses is “asking employees who do not have adequate training in social media to run their social media accounts. This results in failing to adequately engage with fans and followers, and not taking advantage of all that social media has to offer for growing their business.”
The ripple effects of not engaging properly can be huge. “People who are active in social media have certain expectations of businesses that have a social media presence,” Quinn says. “When a business fails to meet those expectations, chances are greater that customers will not only ‘unfollow’ or ‘unfriend’ them; they will likely cease being customers.”
All three experts made statements similar to Quinn’s: “If a business is not prepared to operate in the social media arena by adding value and engaging with their fans and followers, it is better to have no social media presence at all.”
What are some techniques businesses can use to maximize their social media efforts?
“The first thing to understand is that social media is about being social,” Smith says. “If you focus on that, then you’ll get much further. If you look at social media as a platform to blast out your information, then you’ll probably fail.” Smith also recommends studying up on the various platforms before trying them or dismissing them.
Foster reiterates the need to identify an objective and “relentlessly pursue it with a very disciplined message.”
Quinn emphasizes the need to “engage and add value, and to do so consistently.” She also offered some “how to” tips:
* Determine your primary demographic and create content dedicated to them.
* Stay with your strategy; don’t try to be all things to all people.
* Share items that are of interest to your customers.
* Ask engaging questions to encourage interaction.
* Offer specials or run contests.
The bottom line: Participate, but don’t do it unless you have a plan, and don’t let the plan eat you alive.
Dan Bobinski is a best-selling author and president of Online Train the Trainer, where he teaches managers and leaders to think and act more like trainers. Reach him at (208) 375-7606 or firstname.lastname@example.org.