Socializing the Storefront, Part 2: Navigating the Scene
Establishing your small business on social media channels like Facebook and Twitter isn't something you should do just because everyone else is there. A strategy must be established. "If you can take a step back and realize where your customers are coming from," you can reach them there, said Forecasting Clouds blogger Chris Bucholtz.
Part 1 in this series explored what sort of content small businesses should send through their social media channels.
Incorporating social media strategies into your marketing plan is no cut-and-paste job. You've got to know your clientele and what appeals to them, and you have to engage them in a conversation rather than simply spew offers at them. In fact, if you don't have the desire to commit yourself to social marketing, don't even bother, says small business marketing expert Jay Ehret.
"You don't do a TV ad when you feel like doing a TV ad," Ehret told the E-Commerce Times. Similarly, social marketing shouldn't be done just because it's what everyone else is doing. "It needs to be a function of your business. It needs to be a marketing function," Ehret said.
Because the early adopters have already blazed the trail, perhaps other business owners now find themselves feeling left behind. "It's OK to go in the water now," Ehret said. Some businesses that have jumped into social media marketing have tried to transfer their advertising habits from old media to new ones, and the fit isn't always there.
What Do You Want?
The key to finding the proper social marketing strategy is to talk with your customers -- in real life -- to get a feel for how they use social media, Christopher Bucholtz, a blogger with Forecasting Clouds, told the E-Commerce Times.
"If you can take a step back and realize where your customers are coming from," you can reach them there, Bucholtz said.
For Village Books in Bellingham, Wash., it took some trial and error to dial in the message. The store's owners already had a sense of the marketing power of the Internet, a potentially counterintuitive conclusion for a purveyor of dead trees, but a wise one nonetheless. In addition to a clean and functional Web site, owners Chuck and Dee Robinson saw the potential of social media as a way to reach readers, Lindsey McGuirk, the store's digital marketing and publishing manager, told the E-Commerce Times.
From a string of specials and sales pitches, the Village Books Twitter stream eventually evolved into a blend of announcements and observations about whatever caught McGuirk's fancy. A recent tweet is a good example: "Why? Why must everyone walk around taunting us with ice cream cones?" To engage readers, the store will often pose trivia questions and offer a prize. It's an effective way of fostering both two-way conversation and a sense of ownership on the part of customers, McGuirk said.
Mixing and Mingling
Social media are growing increasingly intertwined. Twitter and LinkedIn can be tied together so that your tweets automatically show up on your LinkedIn news feed. YouTube -- and just about all other sites with content --- have links accompanying every article, video or photo to share across multiple platforms. So if you have a decent video camera and the wherewithal to create a series of instructional videos, you can post them on YouTube and share them on your Facebook page and your LinkedIn profile to drive viewers' attention to the videos.
Viewers can offer feedback on the videos, or even post replies. This function can be an exercise in humility, however, because YouTube and other video sites tend to attract their fair share of trolls. But if you didn't have a thick skin, you wouldn't have opened your own business in the first place, right?
On Facebook, you have the option of creating a business account, which your customers can elect to "Like" and then receive updates you send about events, specials or new content.
The administrators of a Facebook business page must be an authorized representative of the organization and also have their own personal Facebook accounts. The personal account becomes the host account for the business page.
Keep an Eye On It
One key to social marketing for any business is monitoring. You can't control your message if you don't know what's being said about you. For Twitter users, tools such as TweetDeck offer the ability to post and monitor messages on Twitter, Foursquare and other platforms. The desktop edition even has a Linux version, for you LinuxInsider readers.
Yelp is another platform that ought to be monitored, but otherwise mainly left alone, at least by McGuirk's experience. Other than posting some pictures to show the store's personality, McGuirk simply checks in on occasion to monitor what's being said about Village Books. Because of its customer-driven nature, however, the best way to do well on Yelp is to do nothing at all.
In the end, using social media for marketing your business is a chance to show your personality, McGuirk said. For an independent bookstore that means "we can just be goofballs," she said. That's what the customers respond to.