Monday, February 22, 2010

Social Media for Starters

I have been thinking recently about a comment made by a friend of mine with regard to Soaperstar - he said "it's really an experiment in social marekting isn't it?".  In part, he's right - when I started the business, I used Facebook and Twitter socially, just as me, Celine.  Not as me, Soaperstar.  I didn't (and still don't have) a marketing budget per se - looking at what the big guys spend on marketing makes me faint! I thought "how do I get my message out there with the budget I have?".  And my answer was social media - it's free and the only investment you need to make is time and energy.  You don't need £££'s or €€€€'s or $$$$'s to use them and you can get many rewards back. 

Firstly, I don't proclaim to be any sort of expert on social media but I am someone who runs a small business and is trying to use social media as a marketing tool to get the message out about my products and my love for making them.  I had a Twitter account already but barely used it - I didn't "get" Twitter.  As part of my new strategy, I decided to take a step into social media networking to build on relationships as a sales and marketing tool.. .in order to do this, I had to set up a company profile on both Twitter and Facebook. 

Facebook does allow you to set up a business page as an extention of your personal profile - it's pretty easy to set up and allows you to present a company profile to people.  By inviting your existing friends and family, you can start building networks.  As I explained in a previous post, these networks can be built on by asking your existing network, ie your friends and family, to extend it by inviting their networks to join yours.  It's termed viral marketing. 

However, Twitter seems to be a real mystery to people and I thought I might concentrate this post on it specifically, in terms of setting out as a small business to use it as a marketing tool.  I took my existing profile and changed the name to Soaperstar - easily done.  I added a picture as my avatar (the picture that appears beside your posts that says "this is you").  I had thought of putting up a picture of myself but I then decided to add a picture of one of my soaps instead - given this is a company profile, and the company is about soapmaking, I thought it was a great way to get an image out there and implanted on peoples' brains that Soaperstar = Soap.  I change the picture pretty regularly whenever I make a visually bright and interesting soap - another way of showcasing your products.  If you don't have a product that is visually that interesting, ie something like widgets (I'm not even sure what they are but I'm sure someone makes them), then add your logo or, as I do elsewhere, a visual representation of your company.  This the image I use, for instance, on Facebook.

It's clear and uses the same font as my company name - I don't have a logo per se, but use this image in exchange for that. 

Ok, so now you have an account set up and a nice image - you've made progress.  You can also add an image to the background of your profile page - again I take a picture of my soap and tile this as my background.  This has a limited impact however, as lots of people use different programmes to access Twitter - my personal favourite being Tweetdeck.  With Tweetdeck, I'd rarely see someone's profile background picture (but I would always see their profile pic, which is why it's more important to have one). 

I would always advise someone to fill out the profile page as best they can - include where you are, your name, your website address .. any information that people will find interesting about you.  In your description, think of something short and to the point. 

So, now you have a profile and some pictures.  Now what? Well, you start talking to people... follow those who you know are already on Twitter, your sister or cousin or whoever.  Again, as with Facebook, work on the networks you already belong to - members of your family and friends.  You're not going to make your fortune from them however (no matter how nice they are to you!) so you need to extend beyond that but, for a first venture into the medium, it's a good start.  Ask them to introduce you to their friends.. some people may follow you just because they've recommended you. 

The key to marketing on Twitter is making networks .. which basically means making friends.  If someone comes up to you in the street and says "here, buy this from me", your first reaction will be "nutter" and the second will be "no way am I buying anything from a random stranger".  However, if you know hat your friend is in business and selling something, lets say soap, and you think "Oh I need to get something for my wife for her birthday", who will you go to? Your friend who'll sell you the soap, nicely wrapped and presented, delivered to your door.  Your friend who you know has a special offer on and include a freebie or a card or something (you know this because they tweeted it a few days ago).  You're happy to deal with your friend and they're happy to get the business.   Think of Twitter like that ... building friendships. 

But how do you do that, I hear you say, when you don't know anyone? You do it the same way you to anywhere else - online is no different from offline.  When you don't know someone but think they might be nice or interesting, you say "Hi, how are you, having a good day?" or something, to them.  It's not going to rock their world (but it might make them happy, sometimes a nice hello is worth it's weight in gold) but it's going to say that you're a decent nice person .. generally speaking, the reaction will be "hi, I'm fine, how are you?".  And so it starts.  Just like it does no matter where you are - yes, it feels a little awkward at the start but it does in real life too.  You cannot get to know someone without starting off with a Hello!

So now I hear you saying, "Ok, that's fine, just say hi, what next?".  What's next is keep up the conversation, or chat to others in the same way ... talk about something interesting, something they might want to talk about.  For example, imagine you're selling ski equipment - a hard sell but you could start out with a shout out to everyone saying "I've just come back from a ski holiday, it was fantastic, anyone else been on one?".  You'll no doubt get an answer or two .. ask them some questions, be interested.  Don't jump in with "oh wanna buy some equipment?".. drop the fact that you sell equipment into the conversation but don't make it the topic of the conversation.  They'll know now that you sell equipment but it doesn't mean that you're a nameless faceless person selling equipment and nothing else - you're a human being, interacting with them, being interested, being funny (hopefully!) who happens to sell ski equipment.  Keep up that conversation over time, make friends, chat when you get online and who will they go to for their ski equipment if they need any?? Their friend, who's a nice person and funny and who, handily enough, sells ski equipment.  Get it? That's the beauty of social marketing and the key to it - you have to be a person, you have to be real, you have to be YOU.  You are the company yes, but you're also a person with feelings and thoughts and opinions, not just a person selling ski equipment.  So share yourself, whilst you're sharing your business.

That's the thing to remember about social media and marketing - it's sociable! You need to interact with people, chat, talk about things, give an opinion, be yourself.  Drop in some tweets about your business in the mix, link it to what people are talking about, let them know that you sell soap or ski equipment or whatever and do it in a way that it seems to meet people's needs and wants. 

I have to say that the network of friends I've made from Twitter is excellent - they are lovely people, who are funny (made me laugh til the tears came rolling down my face at times), they are caring (when I was ill recently, the number of tweets I got to see I was ok was amazing), they sometimes need help themselves... and they've also are customers of mine.  I am happy to know them all, for every reason and not just the latter. 

So, if you're a small business starting out, think about your marketing strategies, your budget available to you - see what time you can offer to social media (it does take time to build up friendships, online or offline, so dropping in and out once a month isn't going to cut it, I'm afraid).  Don't be afraid to be yourself, show people that you're someone they want to get to know.  Get your brand out there via your profile and your business related tweets but don't make it just about the business - the business is you not just the brand.  I make it a rule not to follow people who ONLY post links to their business - they are offering me nothing, I don't know who they are.  Follow people and offer others something that will make them follow you.  Build your networks, and spread the good word.  You will need to give it time and energy but it will pay you dividends in the future.  And remember, it's free, it's something you can do anywhere and everywhere and it won't cost you anything! Which, as a small business, is a VERY attractive option!

I hope I've helped people out who may not understand social media or who don't "get" Twitter - it's no different from a group of friends getting together anywhere, it just means you're in different rooms, not all sitting together.  Which means that you can get your company message out anywhere and everywhere at any time of the day and there will be people there to receive that message - as long as you're participating in the network, people will take notice. 

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