19 Sep. 2012 | Comments (0)

Are you a wallflower in the social media world? If you’re looking to advance your career in any industry, you have to jump in and join the online conversation.

It’s especially important for small business owners and professional services firms to use social media to their best advantage. That sounds strange to the many professionals who equate “social media” with the inane chatter of kids on Facebook. The fact is that social media is really quite sophisticated and powerful—and I asked Robin Colner of New York, an expert on the subject, to give us some of the basics.

1. What do you say when business owners or professionals in general tell you: “I don’t need social media because I get most of my clients through word of mouth? Or, “I don’t want to share a lot of personal information via social media and I really don’t care to know that much information about my acquaintances.”

Today, a word of mouth recommendation does not lead to an immediate phone call or email. When someone hears about you or your business, they immediately go to Google, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter to check you out first. That’s why your online presence needs to support your professional reputation. You need to have personal and professional personas that not only highlight your accomplishments, but also provide an ongoing stream of content that showcases your expertise, thought-leadership and personality.

Just about everyone in business must have some sales focus. By participating in social networks, you can collect a vast amount of information about your customers and prospects. This helps you quickly identify common interests and values, which are the bonds that help form relationships. People do business with people they know, trust and like. Social media paves the way for a relationship, making you appear approachable and accessible. It’s not a substitute for face-to-face interactions—it’s a vehicle for maintaining and enhancing offline relationships in an ongoing manner. You also never know when the personal and professional information we learn about our network of friends and acquaintances will prove to be valuable to us. This is the serendipitous and beneficial nature of social media.

2. It can seem like keeping up with all the major social media outlets is a full-time job. If a professional wants to focus on just one social media platform, what should it be?

There’s not one answer. Every good marketing and communication strategy starts with a plan based on a customized set of goals. The first step in developing a plan is to identify which platforms your current and target customers as well as competitors are using. It’s important to establish a presence on the sites where you can actively engage with your customer advocates. I often see businesses rush to set up a Facebook page and Twitter profile because it seems to be “the thing to do”–before they do the research and determine what content and activities will resonate with their audiences.

It’s true that businesses need to allocate time and resources to develop a community on a social network. So setting up only one or two platforms at a time is a good strategy. This gives the community manager the time to listen, learn, engage, connect and produce the most effective content.

3. As you said, many people are familiar with Facebook and think they should penetrate it first. If they do find their clients and prospects use Facebook, what should they do if they manage to get several hundred fans but there is little engagement activity?

The famous adage from the movie, Field of Dreams,“If you build it, they will come,” does not hold true for the social media world. Our inboxes, RSS readers and social media feeds are flooded with new content on a daily basis. It’s nearly impossible to keep up with all our reading.

Then there’s the fact that Facebook’s EdgeRank algorithm distributes content from a business page to the feeds of only 16% of its fans. The fans who see the content are the ones who have liked, commented or shared other content from the page. This means that it’s critical for businesses to produce daily content that motivates fans to interact. It’s important for businesses to interact with their customers both in person and online to ask for support and conduct ongoing research to determine what they find engaging. It’s also critical that every business spend time cultivating relationships online with other businesses and strategic partners.

Too many professionals and businesses use their Facebook pages as an online news outlet to broadcast information about their products, services and events. This is an old media rather than new media tactic. Businesses need to realize that it is not about them–it’s about their customers!

All employees of a business should participate in social media and follow other business pages to learn what does and does not engage fans. Facebook Insights produces reports for page administrators that highlight “most talked about” content. Marketers should experiment with contests, fan of the week rewards programs, polls and video content to promote engagement. Brands that embrace new social media sites and applications in their early stages often gain a competitive advantage.

This blog first appeared on 9 Lives For Women on 09/09/2012.

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  • About the Author: Kathryn Sollmann

    Kathryn Sollmann

    Kathryn Sollmann is the founder and managing partner of 9 Lives for Women, a women's initiatives consultancy and multi-channel blog site, www.9livesforwomen.com, focused on nine distinct stages of lif…

    Full Bio | More from Kathryn Sollmann


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