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Making social media work for your business

 

Not everyone fits into a neat, social-friendly area of business. There are plenty of niches out there that people aren’t very interested in or keen to get involved in beyond the necessary, such as insurance or dentistry. If you’re in one of these areas, should you get involved in social media?

Social media for business falls into two main streams: active and passive. Many businesses take on an active role in the form of sharing content and starting conversations with people in the same way networking is done on a personal level. However, there are plenty of businesses who use automated tweets, or are silent altogether and simply have an account just to protect their brand. There are good reasons for taking either approach, particularly if you’re pushed for time or you’re not convinced social media has much benefit in your area. Ultimately, there’s no point actively taking on social media if your time is better spent elsewhere, particularly if you’re a small business.

Passive Social Media

So, what are your options? Even if you decide not to tweet, post or share yourself, you can set up Google Alerts and Twilert to help you find out what people are saying about your brand. These tools will ensure you’re notified when people mention your business on Twitter and just about anywhere else on the internet.

If you want to go a step further, you can set up HootSuite or TweetDeck and set up columns for keywords for your business. Every time someone posts a tweet containing a key word or phrase (for example ‘need travel insurance’), you can be there to tweet them. Bear in mind that people don’t like the hard sell, so be careful how you position your tweets and what you say. Spending your time responding to people rather than initiating discussion yourself is also a form of passive social media, but if you have people tweeting @ you on a regular basis, it’s probably time to get more active.

Advantages of passive social media • You can keep an eye on what people are saying about you and what’s happening in your industry. • It requires very little time – usually in the region of a few minutes a week. • You still have some form of social media presence, which is a trust signal to search engines and potential customers that you’re a real business.

Disadvantages of passive social media • It’s easy to miss out on potential customers and sales. • It’s harder to get followers – particularly targeted ones – naturally. • People are less inclined to communicate with you. • If you aren’t careful, your accounts may look abandoned or obviously automated.

If you’re looking to test the waters with social media, start with Twitter first. From there you can think about adding a Facebook page and something that lends itself well to your business (for example a Flickr account, YouTube channel or Pinterest account, depending on what makes sense for your business). If you’re signing up for a channel, try to use it in some way. Don’t feel pressured to have a presence on a network just because other people do, particularly if you don’t see a reason for it.

Active Social Media

If you want to try out a more active approach to social media, then you can make it work if you put the time and effort in. It’s more of a challenge with niches that don’t naturally lend themselves to social interaction, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.

There are two main common concerns associated with active social media 1) the amount of time it takes (especially compared to return on interest) and 2) finding things to tweet about. There’s a third issue tied into these which is increasing your follower count, but this will happen naturally over time and should be of less concern.

Advantages of active social media • It’s easier to reach a much bigger audience. • You can close sales by communicating effectively and answering questions. • It shows you’re a real business. • It’s easier to build up a natural, targeted following.

Disadvantages of active social media • You can’t be there 24/7 and people are more likely to expect fast replies. • It requires a considerable investment of time, and may not be the best use of your time. • Thinking of things to talk about is an ongoing process which might not be sustainable. • It’s not necessarily a form of direct sales.

Below we’ve listed some tips for making the most out of an active social media strategy:

Save time Schedule tweets/posts in advance and set yourself targets in terms of time and number of messages. It’s easy to get locked into a social media cycle and spend more time than you intended.

Plan ahead Have a rough list of ideas of things to talk about and websites or articles that your followers are likely to find useful. If you’re a dentist, link to helpful articles about looking after your teeth or create your own content to share. Plan contests in advance rather than doing spur of the moment giveaways so you get a chance to refine the concept and work out how to track entries.

Be creative Remember you don’t have to talk directly about your business, and often social media works best when you don’t. Talk about something related to what you do, so for example if you have a hair loss solution, tweet information about looking after your hair in the form or tips or useful articles. Avoid tweeting the same thing as people looking at your feed will be bored by the repetition. Anonymous case studies and testimonials (written up in the form of blog entries or website pages which you can share) can be useful if you’re in an area people don’t like to talk about.

Make clear links Don’t make people have to work to track you down on social networks. Make sure you have obvious links on your website to your social profiles, and vice versa. If you have any old or abandoned accounts or names, make sure you either close them or post links to your new profiles.

Get people talking about you For a short burst of activity, set up a contest where entrants share and retweet to spread the word about your business. This is also good for increasing your follower count. A good long term strategy is to set up a refer a friend/affiliate programme with links that can be easily shared via tweets. If you don’t want to mess around with code, simply ask people to use a specific hashtag or directly mention you on Twitter so you can track interest and referrals. Thank people who share your services and reward successful referrals with discounts or vouchers.

Network Make partnerships in related fields and use them to develop deals, giveaways and joint promotions. For example, people may not be particularly interested in office furniture, but partnering with a company that offers desk toys and gadgets can help you build up interest in your own business.

Have you tested the waters with social media? What approach are you taking and why?