This article is adapted from a guest post I wrote earlier this summer for Paul McCord’s Sales And Management Blog.
Lately I have had quite a few questions about how businesses should use social media. Here are the questions I hear most often:
- “How can social media improve my business?”
- “What will Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn bring to my bottom line?”
- “What is the ROI of social media?”
And the big one:
- “Are businesses really making sales through social media?”
People ask me these questions when they see me using social media and notice my business focus. And I find these particular questions interesting… because I had different questions before jumping into social media a year ago. My main question was:
- Why should I waste my time with this?
Well it was not a question really. I was certain Twitter would be a waste of my time. It turns out I was wrong.
It was only after many long months of hearing echos of success stories that I realized there might be a chance that I was missing something and decided to jump in. But… I stayed totally business focused with every click, when evaluating every application and during every minute on social media.
This is how I found out how to use social media for my business. Social media is about connecting with people. It connects your business with your clients, and all of the other players in your business world. This is why there are different answers to these questions, and why businesses need to jump in and participate to find out what the answers are to these questions for their own business.
Let me tell you my own story as a small business owner using social media to reach international clients.
Time To Find The Key To Social Media
A year ago, I did not even realize that a blog was social media. My blog was 6 months old and it was time to look for ways to improve my online presence. I blog for business and had no time to waste. Luckily I met Chris Garrett, a UK social media blogger, who gently got me to look more closely at the other social media platforms, even though they seemed unsuitable for a small business struggling with time commitments.
This is how I reluctantly came to set up a Twitter account. I also blogged daily on two blogs, had a dormant Facebook profile, a LinkedIn account and a small group of social media friends to coax me on. It took me 3 months simply to understand what social media was about. It does not take everyone this long. But I had a few prejudgments against social media to get rid of. I also found that I needed to understand several of the social media tools individually before I could see what was happening in the big social media picture.
Once I understood the social media environment the fun started. I began to play with it, to see what value social media had for my business. Oh I did not play with the tools and fun application. I played with my own communication strategy on Twitter. Instead I used my tweets to find out:
- How I connect with people
- Who responded
- What sort of people were out there
- How to reach more of the people I wanted to reach
- What to do once they came on my Twitter radar
- How and when to take the contact beyond Twitter
It took another 6 months to understand how the people in my market use social media and how I could use social media as a prospecting tool.
That is my social media story in a nutshell.
The Social Media Buzz
First you need to understand why social media is important.
Although social media started out as personal communication platforms, these platforms are in the process of becoming useful tools businesses to reach clients. For example:
- Facebook is used successfully by many businesses in the B2C world as a sales platform. Many businesses are using the Facebook Pages as a hub within a strategic social media presence.
- LinkedIn is not just a place to virtually exchange business cards. Businesses are using LinkedIn to communicate with people through polls and share slide presentations for example.
- Twitter is now widely accepted as one of the easiest and fastest ways for businesses to poll their audiences and get immediate feedback. Tweets are now indexed by Google, which improves overall search results.
Although each of these social media platforms will continue to evolve, it is this form of communication that is important. Social media communication will continue to expand in today’s customer-centric world of inbound marketing.
Social media is a place to connect with your clients. You need to find out what part this plays in your sales cycle.
How Can Social Media Help Your Business?
Before you can answer this question there are three important things you need to establish:
Right attitude – You need to understand how social media communication works. You can only pick up the right attitude through participating. People have different communication skills, so this can take more or less time to get right.
Context – Many businesses wonder if their clients are on social media. The answer is often yes. Your clients are like everyone and probably spend time online. The real question is one of context.
- What are our clients doing on social media?
- Where are they?
- Why are they there?
- How are they using social media?
You need to understand the context your clients are in when they use each social media platform. Only then will you be able to find the right approach to connect with them on social media.
Clear Business Objectives – Social media platforms have a wide range of bells and whistles… and things that can seem absurd in a professional environment. If you want business results out of social media you must stay business focused and learn to navigate in this environment.
Although a direct sales approach does not work on social media, you can use social media tactics within a well planned soft sales approach based on a strong value proposition and engaging with people.
And remember, objectives for a social media strategy are not always sales oriented. Many businesses choose to use social media to build credibility and to create stronger relationships with the various people in their business world.
Clear business objectives help you to handle some of the challenging aspects most people struggle with on social media:
- Get over any personal issues you have with networking. People who are good networkers in traditional environments usually adapt well to social media networking. Social media highlights personal preferences and styles in networking. Clear business objectives helps you keep to business networking.
- Avoid wasting time on the gadgets. There are many social media tools to “help” you get the most out of social media. It is very easy to add on extras that do not add any value to your business strategies and get you out of focus. Clear business objectives help you to come up with a social media system that works for you.
- Stay focused on targeting the people you want to meet.
Why My Tweet Plan Boosted By Business?
My first Tweet Plan revolutionized by business. With the feedback from my first Tweet Plan I learned how I would use Twitter for my business. Before this feedback I did not know what my main objective on Twitter would be. I simply did not have the knowledge to fit the pieces of the puzzle together. But once I had the feedback and knew who was on Twitter that interested me, then it was easy to work with.
Twitter opened doors to people I would never have dreamed of meeting. Yes, I have had a few clients come to me through Twitter. But this is not where I have had the highest return on my time investment.
What I appreciate most out of Twitter is the ease in making high quality contacts. Instead of using social media to get individual clients I deliberately looked for people who could bring me many clients. The primary reason I use Twitter is to look for people to help me develop my new business:
- High quality sources of referrals
- Future joint venture partners
- Up-to-date information for business ideas and inspiration
What I found was that I can make contacts very easily on social media, but I cannot sell directly. To make these contacts work for my business, I need to take them outside of the social media environment. Social media is simply a part of the initial cycle to find clients.
This is why I added a new tactic at the beginning of the year. Each day as I wind down and clear off my desk, I pick up the phone and try to connect someone I met on Twitter. This means that the positive business results Twitter brings also depend on my traditional sales and business skills outside of social media.
The most important thing to remember about using social media to develop your business: Take the conversation outside of social media.
A New Marketing Tool
Social media does not provide miracle solutions for businesses. You still need good common business sense. It does have one distinct advantage though: it puts everyone on the same playing field. Small businesses can have the same business success as the big ones.
Today I have learned how social media works for my business.
- It is not just one social media platform that brings in the results. People are different and multifaceted. They bounce between Twitter, my blog, my website, Facebook, LinkedIn, FriendFeed. They check out what I have to say in several places before contacting me directly.
- It is not just the inbound effect of people contacting me either. I also look for interesting people in my Twitter friends and reach out to them. This is how I meet 2 or 3 interesting contacts each week.
- It is not just sitting alone behind my computer. Several networks of friends for different social bookmarking activities and networking help me learn more and keep up to date.Networking withing social media plays an important role in easily keeping up-to-date.
- It is not just about my business and what I offer. It is also keeping a tab on what is happening in my industry online. This increases my business intelligence and gives me interesting information to pass along through social media platforms.
This is how I found out how to use social media for my business. I learned by:
- Jumping in
- Staying focused on business
- Adapting to the feedback I got
Other businesses can use this same process to find out how to use social media for their business needs.
- How did you find the right social media strategy for your business?
- What is the most difficult step in finding out how to use social media for your business?
- How do you use social media for your business?
Please leave your comments below.
Photos from Shutterstock.
Filed under: social media for business
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