10 Rules for Small Business and Social Networks

Jun
16
2009

Does small business really need online social media.   Is it really going to provide those instant  benefits that the media and some experts are raving about.

Online Social networkers (or media)  is now all the rave. It’s the new kid on the block, the dream that some many people in business are now chasing as the quick fix.  Now I have seen this wave of blind business hysteria all before, it’s nothing new.

What’s Old is New Again.

Back in last century when business really discovered that the web had benefits that could help extent and promote their business, there was a wave of businesses one after one all wanting to get online.   The primary reason was, just to be there, online, no real sound business logic was applied to any of the decisions back then.  They just wanted a web site, because it was basically there and other people had one.  It was the cool factor.  The need to follow the sheep.

No consideration was given to the on going costs in time and other resources that were required to run a successful web site.  In many cases they took up the web site challenge , had a web sites developed, placed it out on the web, and that was it.

So they walked away from the young seedling web sites and let them wither and die in the cold wilds of the brutal web.  

There was an expectation that somehow the sites would bloom and grow, flourish and dominate their environs.   The truth as we know it was far from this faerie tale that the business owners were expecting.

Have Things Really Changed.

Fast forward to 2009.  Have things really changed that much.  Sure people take a little more consideration into getting a web site now. Whether this is sign on the maturity of the web industry is another matter, still the fact is that people are considering a web site a serious venture in the most part.

However in the realm of social media, it seems as if every business now wants to leverage the likes of facebook, Twitter, Myspace, corporate blogging, Friendfeed, Linkedin or the like in order to get that edge over their competitor.  

Then the self proclaimed social media experts step up, with 5 minutes experience of dipping their toe into the online social media world (a bit like life coaches – even taxi drivers are life coaches now! – but that’s another story).    This plethora of social media experts is now urging business owners to make that final leap into the social media. Mostly will little personal experience at all in the medium.

All this without any real plan or consideration of the longer term implications that this is going to have on their business and its impact on time and resources.  

Without due consideration of what their customers are doing and if they are in the demographic of the audiences of these social networking sites at all.

Step Back, Smell the Roses.

Basically if you are in a business and you are going down this road or have just done so.
 STOP.

Yes right now, slam on the brakes, hard!

You really have to beware that like running a web site, operating a social media presence is something that will take up full time resources for your organisation. It’s not just about putting out the odd tweet or facebook status update every week or so.

If you are serious about committing to adopting social media for your business please consider the following:

  1. Look for the market.

    Is there an existing market demographic or potential one that uses the social media you are looking at.  Not much good doing a social media campaign for “turbo charged motorised wheelchair driving grannies” on a youth social networking site is there.

  2. Plan ahead.

    Set out a plan of attack, as you would with any marketing campaign, you need to consider all the following aspects below as well in this plan. In a way it will be like nothing you have done before. This is not like taking out an advert in the local paper or on radio. Social networking is not like traditional media at all.

  3. Be Honest.

    Ensure that you are honest and straight with your customsers online,  remember you are building trust and you online reputation.  If you are false and hollow, your customers will see through this immediately.

  4. Let go.

    You have to learn that in an online world of a social network you are not in control at all.  Your customers or audience are in control, they will dictate what and when they read your information.   If you try and control them, they will build their own network online behind your back where they can discuss the truth.   Yes that is right the online world is not kind, it does not care about your business.

  5. Live it.

    You need to live the social media, don’t just dip your toe in the water of the social media world every few days or so with some statement or status update.  It is the companies that are living the social media that are winning peoples hearts and dollars.  But be warned this takes time and resources, there is no magic bullet here.

  6. Be real.

    The person in charge of your presence needs to project their real personality into the social media.   If they are just projecting the corporate public relations and marketing spin the audience will tire of this pretty quickly.

  7. Don’t hire a Social Media Expert.

    This sounds silly, but use someone that doesn’t confess to be a  Social Media Expert. There are just too many con artists and quick fix merchants out to make a quick dollar in the market. Hire someone that is already deeply entrenched in the social media world. A person that is across all these issues discussed here and more.

  8. Start small.

    In the world of online social media, it is best to start small if you are unsure of the impact or if you even have an audience.  Maybe do some blogging, build an audience. Or maybe use twitter and present a personal approach, or look into services like get satisfaction.   Don’t try it all at one time, test and evaluate as you go, especially if your organisation is learning and new to this,  Nothing worse than you stepping away from a social network when you have failed at it.  It projects to the followers you leave behind that your business has failed or is failing.   Not something you really want.

  9. It’s all or none.

    Social media is the type of thing where you can’t have only one division of an organisation embracing it.   You need to have the entire enterprise taking it on board.  By which I don’t  mean just paying lip service to social media – the enterprise needs at an executive level to understand and embrace the outcomes of the use of social media. If you don’t do this then people we see you as just playing at the game and not really that serious.

  10. Understand it.

    Even if you do all the above, you still may not understand the basic principles as to why people even use various social networking sites.   Mainly it comes down to the desire to share and communicate, often for free.  As a business you have to truly understand that it is about paying it forward. A social networking site is not an advertising campaign, the ROI will not be the same at all. This is not your traditional world or traditional media.

In summary, the use of social media in business is like your web site, but more of a resource hog, best to start small and be real.   Remember the lessons of the past ignore good  advice and you will waste time and money or worse simply fail.

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8 comments

  1. Great post Gary.

    The principles of successful business networking using online social media are pretty much the same as the principles of successful face-to-face business networking.

    Honesty, integrity, establishing quality links, being interested in what the other person wants….what’s good for people is good for websites too.

  2. @James – Totally James, people often don’t get that online, they think its just the Web and they can forget about it. The only difference is that online the reaction to something can be more damning than face 2 face.

  3. Both of you make excellent points.

    I remind people all the time to think about how you interact f2f. To make remember that normal banter & small talk is an important part of f2f conversations and is just as important online.

    But as you say Gary online can be more damning because you lose the whole reading people’s body language. People can easily misinterpret what you are saying. Humor is more easily taken wrongly. Also based on whole long they have interacted with you online can influence how they interpret the conversation.

  4. I agree, there is shortage of advice for businesses looking to tap social media to enhance their profile and brand. Sometimes we learn best by learning from others and to that end, here’s a quick look at one hard-hitting small business in the DC area that is making in-roads in the social media world: http://twurl.nl/ltnhcs

  5. Enjoyed this Post Gary,well done!

    I would like to add to Item 4:
    The client or consumer is always in control, with online social media, their reaction or adaptation is immediate … this could present challenges for the social media consultant, particularly if the other points herein are not embraced.
    Suggestion – Share buttons

  6. People who claim to be “social media experts” really get pissed about #7. If you look through Twitter about half of the people on there are experts in social media.

    #2 is so critical in any marketing campaign. You need to understand how it fits within your company culture and how you can best utilize for existing and potential clients. Too many utilize social network platforms without any real game plan for success.

    Enjoyed the post.

  7. @Brandon – So many of the social media experts on twitter are the snake oil salesmen that small business needs to watch out for. Some even have track records for very shady unethical and illegal activities, just the person you want helping you with your business in a new medium. I think not.

  8. Gary — such simple truths, yet amazing how likely they are to be missed by the “crowds.” Have you ever assessed the value of social media outside target market engagement? Specifically, I’ve often pondered the extent to which social media participation can help enhance brand exposure and SEO — even if your audience isn’t frequently on those platforms or otherwise becoming “engaged.” Any thoughts on this?

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