Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Social Media -- It's in the Eye of the Beholder


Doesn't it seem like we've been hit over the head with all that for the last year, year and a half? Especially for those of us in the marketing world, every other word that falls out our mouths has been about this or that related to social media. Sometimes, I get tired of it myself. Social media -- both creating it and monitoring it -- are exhausting to take on. And as much as its importance is stressed, small businesses who operate with just a few employees are finding it difficult to engage in the social media stream.

Time and time again, I hear the same comment at seminars and discussions: "I want to get involved in the social media world. But I only have so many hours to devote to a new project like that. What's the *one* platform I can use to get my message across?" And whoever is speaking uses the same line: "Whatever fits your business best." While the speaker is right, this answer is also frustrating to whoever is asking the question. In this blog, I'm going to try and explain as best I can what each social media medium offers and which businesses are best suited to each.

I think it's safe to say that Facebook is the current king of social media. And despite frustrations over privacy settings and almost constant layout changes, it's still the place where millions of people log in to connect with family, friends, and causes. It's a classic marketing strategy to place your message in a place where people are gathered, and to ignore a gathering of millions of people worldwide is short-sighted. Businesses can establish a Page for themselves where you can keep your fans updated on upcoming events/sales, current deals or promotions, or anything newsworthy. A Facebook Page is a great way to maintain an online presence if you can't afford a website of your own. It's also ideal for brick-and-mortar businesses who want to connect with their customers in an online format. BEST FOR: Restaurants, Retailers, Small Businesses without Websites

What can you say about your business in 140 characters? Not a lot, right? So don't. Twitter can be great for sharing information and news with your followers, but constantly touting your bar's happy hour specials or today's lunch menu comes across as a broadcast channel. This will lead to your messages either being tuned out, or an increase in your "Unfollows." What Twitter excels at is relationship building with your clients or customers. If you're a travel agency, tweet about an article that offers tips for packing suitcases or the most beautiful destinations in the world. If someone complains about the service at your restaurant on Twitter, you can immediately see it and contact them to try and make it right. One of my favorite tweeps is @BoulderParking, the parking services in Boulder. They'll send out a message like "1 FREE Hour of parking at 15th/Pearl garage today. Just say....rain, rain go away" on a rainy day. The other thing they do right is engage in the conversation downtown businesses are having on Twitter. They'll spread the word about a shoe store's sale or a new business opening with the same enthusiasm as they talk about their own services. BEST FOR: Conversations with other businesses and customers (current, past, or future)

Blogging is more time consuming than either of the first two social media platforms we've discussed so far, so if you're looking for something quick and easy, a blog may not be best for your business. But blogs are incredibly useful when it comes to boosting your website's search engine optimization (SEO) because they are so rich in content. While you can blog about anything (and believe me, people do!), blogging about your business can become a struggle if you can't get creative with it. Variety is the key. In this blog, I have written posts about the Boulderado's history (both the people and the place), upcoming events at the hotel and in downtown Boulder, and even one about the uses of baking soda. It doesn't necessarily matter what you write, but that you're writing and linking. The linking possibilities are another reason blogs are fantastic for SEO -- all those inbound links means your rating with Google goes up. You can link back to your business' website to drive the traffic there, or to other blog posts to keep people interested in what you have to say. If you also use a Facebook Page, you can set it up so that your blog posts will be pulled through the the page automatically. If you tweet, tweet when you have a new blog post up! (See how it starts to become a web?) BEST FOR: SEO, ongoing relevant content, people with time on their hands

Think Facebook, but in a professional setting. LinkedIn is great for building relationships with people you already know and getting your foot in the door with the people you might not. The concept of the "Business Introduction" is used a lot on this site, where person A can ask their friend, B, to introduce them to C. If you yourself are the business, LinkedIn is where it's at for you. BEST FOR: Real Estate Agents, Networking Gurus, anyone that is self-employed

With mobile devices on the rise, geolocation is allegedly the next big thing. You can get your business on the map (literally) with FourSquare. It's essentially a way for people away from their computers to say "Here I am!" when they check-in at different locations. Some businesses offer FourSquare exclusive specials, with an extra goody for their current "Mayor" (FourSquare lingo for whoever has checked in the most times with a specific location). BEST FOR: Brick-and-mortar businesses, scavenger hunts

Ultimately, the most important thing to do when making your social media strategy is to commit to whatever platform you decide on, but commit smartly. If you want to publicize 40% off last season's snow tires, don't write a blog post -- send a tweet or special on Foursquare. Likewise, if you want to chronicle the life and times of your grandfather who started the business, don't do it in 140 characters -- leave a note on Facebook or blog about it. With the variety of platforms available, there's surely one best suited to your needs and your message. It's up to you to decide what that is.