A Social Media Primer

Getting the word out about your business isn’t all fun and games — you have to put real work into things like blogging and social media.  Blogging has a very easy and evident pay-off for business owners, but social media isn’t quite as simple.  Because you’re never likely to see direct orders or click-throughs from social, a lot of people give up on their efforts before they’ve really figured out how it works.  Even if you’ve abandoned your social media accounts, it’s not too late to turn things around.

Social media is more than a billboard

Everybody knows what a billboard is — it’s a static piece of advertising that’s put in front of a large audience with the hope of maintaining top of mind status for the thing being advertised.  Whether it’s a real estate service or a brand new line of cars, that billboard theoretically reminds drivers every day about the brand plastered on it.

The problem with social media is that too many businesses treat it like a billboard — they toss something out on their Facebook or Twitter feed and just leave it there.  They log out and congratulate themselves on yet another completed post, even if it wasn’t a particularly successful one.  This happens for one of two reasons:  either the person in question doesn’t understand the nature of social media or they have no idea how to measure success with this type of medium.

Establishing a social media image

If you’ve got a lackluster social media campaign going on, chances are good that it’s because you’re still treating it like a billboard.  Get that filthy, dirty thought out of your head — social media is not just for show.  Social media is a conversation — every day of the week, every week of the year.  The things you say there today should be a continuation of the things you said yesterday.

When you’re acting as a company, your social media presence is the best way to showcase your brand’s personality (also known as the brand image in fancier circles).  Long gone are the days where you can be a generic, faceless corporation — Americans are turning away from that concept in droves.

Giving your company personality is a trickier wire walk, though, so think it through before you begin.  Who is your company?  What does it value?  How does it take those concepts and put them into action?  Demonstrating your company’s values through the volunteerism of your employees and corporate donations is a good start on showing the world what you stand for.  There is a caveat to this, though.

Your company shouldn’t have too much personality.  You want your target demographic to be able to relate to your brand image, but going overboard with corporate opinions is a sure way to sink your ship.  There are certain topics we all know will divide a room into factions faster than anything — things like abortion, religion and politics.  Others may think differently, but I’ve only found these topics to be great ways of shedding followers fast.

That’s not to say that your company can’t stand for something.  In fact, a 2013 study by the Corporate Executive Board Company found that 64 percent of customers cite shared values in their reasons for brand loyalty.  Just choose your battles and make sure the values your company holds aren’t extreme enough to alienate your existing customer base.  Remember, it’s okay to love cabbage as a general cookware company, but if you suddenly go militant Vegan, you’ve lost the thread.

The one and only trick to social media

I can cite a dozen or more fresh infographics that demonstrate hundreds of ways to make social media work, but the truth of it is that social media is simple.  You just have to be social.  It’s even in the name, people!  Social media engagement is a conversation — to be good at social media you just have to be a skilled conversationalist.  As basic as it sounds, this is the time to be pulling out old school business books like Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”

Like in any good conversation, your social media is a give and a take.  If you just stand around yelling with nothing to really give, no one’s going to listen.  Instead, if you give your followers room to do their own talking, the potential of your social media campaign suddenly becomes explosive.  Talk to your followers, just like they’re real people and give them information, humor or a way of expressing themselves.

Giving is the magic key to social, once you understand that, the rest falls into place.  As for what you should give — well, that’s a topic for another blog.