Social media window still open

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Business owners who haven’t caught on to the hip, happening and absolutely necessary world of social media could soon have extra time on their hands — to contemplate the red ink on their financial statements.

Social media is everywhere — and no, it’s not going the way of pet rocks or hula hoops. It’s here to stay. So you might as well stop making excuses and get educated.

To be effective, business owners need to start with baby steps. Learn how to establish or outsource the start-up of a Facebook, or Twitter or LinkedIn pages. Then commit 10 or 15 minutes per day to updating and connecting, so as not to feel beleaguered and give up.

The Middle Market Entrepreneurs, a Peak Venture Group program, recently hosted a seminar at The Antlers hotel with social media gurus, who had oodles of advice for small business owners.

“The biggest factor for inactivity (on a social media site) is fear,” said Joe Hodas, senior vice president of brand communications for Vladimir Jones. “There has to be a balance between strategy and inactivity, or you go through paralysis and feel overwhelmed.”

Launching full-scale into social media, without expecting ramp-up time and a learning curve, would be a mistake.

On the other hand, ignoring it isn’t a sensible alternative.

“Nobody — regardless of industry, can put their head in the sand and say ‘it won’t affect my industry,’ said Kevin Knebl, founder of Knebl Communications. “It already has or it will.”

Social media is not for sales gimmicks. One goal might be to drive traffic to your site, but the way to do that is not by bombarding Facebook with ads, but by making and adding connections.

“Then it’s an opportunity to set yourself up as a subject matter expert in your field,” said Trevor Dierdorff, CEO of Amnet, a small, local business computer support company.

Of course, it’s not enough to set up a site, or post once a day — that can be your first step. However, ultimately, social media is about establishing relationships online — by posting, making comments on others’ posts, and eventually moving those relationships to a face-to-face interaction.

When used correctly, social media increases business because people — all other factors being equal — do business with people they know and trust. And social media allows you to “meet” and get acquainted with far more people in a week than one used to know in a decade.

For instance, “you can send out a tweet (on Twitter) and have 70 responses — that’s more than the people in this room,” said Kevin Johansen, chairman of The Business Catapult. “But people have to like you and respect you before they’ll buy from you.”

Nonetheless, here’s a trio of caveats before taking the social media plunge.

Make sure employees know what image you want your company to convey, before flinging them into the abyss of social media-ness.

Social media has exposed the disconnect between a company’s brand and the employees’ idea of it,” Hodas said. “You have to get your people on board, with internal communications, before you go public with social media.”

By nature, social media isn’t a rigid environment.

“If you don’t turn on the transparency — you’re telling the world you’re a command and control environment,” Knebl said. “That’s old-school. You cannot control what your employees and customers post. In this over-caffeinated, CrackBerry, 24/7 world — there is no control.”

Control and transparency cannot co-exist. For business owners worried about negative feedback — it’s already out there, whether they have a social media presence or not, but how a company handles a crisis is far more telling than what actually happened.

“The Internet is an electronic bathroom wall — you’ll find the best and worst,” Knebl said. “But when people start venting, ranting and raving, others view them as a two-year-old.”

It is, however, suitable to have training for your employees about what is appropriate for them to post, Dierdorff said.

Secondly, avoid two extremes — having all employees on, say, Facebook, or only having one employee on.

Ruff recommends that companies appoint two or three people to be the “face” of the business on social media sites, so the company doesn’t lose its presence when one person leaves.

Thirdly, be sure your business has a Web site worth visiting.

“If you’re doing all this social media stuff to drive people to your Web site — you’d better have a site that’s compelling and interesting, or you’ve wasted all that time,” said Lori Ruff, chief learning officer for IA Social Media.

So, after improving your Web site, define your company’s goals for social media presence, get some sage business advice and launch into the world of social media.

People have far more contacts than they realize, and diligent online networking will grow that exponentially.

“You get out of it what you put into it,” Johansen said.

Rebecca Tonn can be reached at rebecca.tonn@csbj.com or 719-329-5229.

One Response to Social media window still open

  1. Thank you for the concise summary of very important points about using social media. Good business is still about building relationships. Using social media like billboards or newsletters does not make strangers into friends. The first step might be having dialog with current customers. Then we’ll know what to talk about online.

    Elizabeth Martin, SCORE Counselor
    March 28, 2010 at 5:35 pm