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How Sociable Are You?

by :: 10 June

How To Dominate Your Local or Niche Market

Over night, it seems, we have been swept up into the world of social media, from microblogging (Twitter) to video blogging (YouTube). It can be daunting to consider all of the possibilities and opportunities to promote your brand. How Sociable Are YouTime is of the essence for anyone looking to become the Big Fish in their local or niche market. Your efforts need to be focused and fine-tuned to achieve your ultimate goals. So how do you determine what social marketing is relevant to your business? More importantly, how do you use it to help drive customers to your business and, in the process, help others?

There are many avenues to choose from in the online social world. For this article I am going to concentrate on just three of them: Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn (in the book I will cover others). These are three of the biggest social networks and they offer something for most businesses looking to use social media.

One thing is certain in today's online world and in social networks, in particular. There are equal parts useful information and meaningless drivel. The Big Fish shouldn't contribute to the binary waste that is already running rampant in the digital world. Remember, you are concerned primarily with providing value. Allow the pretenders to spam the world with posts that are neither helpful nor informative. Put another way, do your clients and customers really care that you tweet that you are "having a beer and going to walk the dog?" Big Fish are focused on greater things.

Do We Have A Plan? I Think We Need A Plan

First, however, we have to discuss your plan. Yes, you absolutely need a plan to integrate social networking into your business. A plan will do several things. First, and most importantly, it will focus your efforts and define your goals. Second, having a plan will save you time and a lot of wasted effort. The last thing you want to do is spend useless hours in social media without seeing any measurable results.

Part of your overall marketing strategy is to define clearly who you are as a company. Knowing this makes it possible to project your vision into the marketplace. Who is you target audience? What expectations do they have of you and your business? Knowing the answers to these questions will direct your social marketing efforts.

Assume for a moment that you are an Asian Bistro restaurant. You are medium priced with a casual atmosphere that is busy with two different sorts of crowds. Your lunch crowd is full of local businessmen and your dinner crowd trends more heavily towards carry out. How can you use social media to reach, strengthen, and grow both of these areas of your business? Throughout the remainder of this chapter I will use the Asian Bistro as an example of how to use social media to build your business and customer loyalty. At the end of this chapter in the Case Study I will detail an actual customer, Monte Moore of Maverick Arts, and how he is putting these principles into action.

To create your social marketing strategy you must answer these questions (there may be others, as well):

  • Who is your target audience?

  • What are your customer's expectations?

  • How can you deliver value to your customers?

  • How do you tie social marketing to the rest of your marketing plan?

  • Can you use social marketing to create new sales or business?

In the Introduction I wrote that on a local and niche level your competition is, most likely, very bad at marketing themselves, especially online. The odds of any of them having a social marketing plan is very remote. Social marketing can seem confusing and complex to someone not accustomed to it. By defining your goals and expectations you have eliminated a lot of the complexity and confusion. And knowing that your competition is far behind you makes the effort to learn it rewarding. If you want to be the Big Fish in your market you have to accept change, welcome it and learn how to capitalize on it. Even if you aren't the sort of person who would normally use social media your business has to have a plan for it.

Who Is Your Target Audience?

Before beginning any job I ask my clients this question. Answers vary in the details offered and some can even change over time. But knowing the target audience is important because with that knowledge there are a set of pre-defined expectations. If you want to reach out to your target market you have to know who they are.

The Asian Bistro knows that their lunch crowd comes from the local business people. They know their dinner crowd is more families and take-out. Because they have a casual atmosphere in the restaurant they get to know regulars well, often by name. All of this information can be used to effectively reach them.

What Are Your Customer's Expectations?

Do you consistently offer a warm and friendly environment? Are there amenities you offer that aren't normally a part of a business such as yours? Over time customers come to expect these things simply because you've always done them. Is your customer base the sort that expects a sale? Many businesses have had a practice of only marketing to customers through sales. It can be a treacherous way to do business, and more than one has failed because sales no longer are a driving force in their industry because prices and margins have fallen. Ask yourself if you have set any customer expectations that need to be addressed or, in some cases, changed.

How you market your business will set your customer expectations. When it comes to social marketing your industry will dictate a lot of what is expected by your customers. Clearly define what you think that is when creating your plan.

How Can You Deliver Value To Your Customers

Based upon your industry there are multiple ways to deliver value to your customers. Make a list of the things you can do. It will vary greatly based upon market niche. Consider the differences between a rock band and a law office. One market (the band's) is perfect for social media and interacting on an almost daily basis. The attorneys are more limited to what they can accomplish. The band can announce new tour dates or new music and products in their online store. Or they can thank the crowd from the previous evening for helping to make a great show. The attorneys may announce a arrival to the firm or a new law that has been enacted due to their efforts. Different crowds. Different expectations.

Tying Social Marketing To The Rest Of Your Efforts

To become the Big Fish in your local or niche market you have to focus on your brand identity. Everything you do needs to convince your target audience that you are the expert at what you do. The best way to accomplish this is by making certain that all of your efforts are branded and integrated. When you post a new article or white paper you need to promote it through your social networks and allow your followers to participate and spread the word. If you add a new product or service announce it to the world through an article on your site, your email newsletter and through your social media networks. Integration tells a consistent story and spreads the word in a consistent manner.

Automate, Mate

There are a couple of application on the market that allow you to automate your updates so you don't have to spend time going to each account to post information. In particular, SocialOomph and Twitterfeed. Twitterfeed I especially like. It takes your RSS Newsfeed from your website and publishes the new posts directly to your Twitter and to your Facebook accounts. You can even have Twitterfeed post to your Fan page instead of your primary Facebook page. It's a great way to reduce the time you spend managing your social media accounts, and especially useful for small businesses looking to synchronize their efforts.

Using Social Marketing To Create New Business

Product launch announcements and new service announcements can drive business and raise sales. Consider the following example from our Asian Bistro restaurant. For the coming Wednesday they want to offer a lunch-time special. They create a page on the website detailing the offer. Using social media they announce the special and for individuals who mention the post they offer a free drink with lunch to reward their loyalty. On Wednesday they are very busy and staff are directed to ask each patron what brought them in n this day and to record the response. Our bistro has created good buzz about the restaurant and with the help of staff they can measure the impact of the promotion. For the customer the bistro has added a great value. The only thing the restaurant has to guard against is over-using the tactic. Oh, and I should mention, there wasn't any cost for advertising.

The Networks

Since so many people on a local level are unfamiliar with the business uses of some of the social networks it is important to define them here and look at some possible ways to use them. The first key is to get people involved in your network. Ask clients to join. Make it clear on your website that you want people to join.

Facebook

Facebook is one of the phenomenas of the last decade. It allows you to post photos and links to articles and other information on your page. Others who are part of your network can see the things you've posted and respond to them almost as soon as put them up into cyberspace. If you have an account on Facebook you can set up a Page that deals entirely with your business. You can invite people to become fans of your business on Facebook. This means anytime you post something new they will see it through their Facebook page.

Fan pages can be very valuable tools for marketing. One of the benefits of social networks like Facebook is that you can let your hair down a bit and relax. More of your company's personality can shine through, depending upon the business you are in. My Facebook Fan page for Impress Design has images from my portfolio and links to articles I have written. There is also an information page and a discussions page.

Discussion pages allow you to interact with customers (for more about this see the Case Study at the end of this chapter). But beware, not all of the news is good. People in your network can leave bad remarks. If someone leaves a bad remark about your service or product respond immediately with an offer to fix the problem. Don't get bogged down in an argument. Deal with it, learn from it, and move on. Generally, discussion pages offer a great chance to interact with your fans and learn more from them and the sorts of things they are interested in and looking for.

Using Facebook to promote your business is quite simple. Using our fictional Asian Bistro there are several things that can be done, including: posting photos of your restaurant and staff and announcing your specials for the day. These things help put a personal spin on who the restaurant is, or they can drive traffic to the website and business in the door. You can even use it to reward loyalty amongst your customers. Post The Bistro could post a special code that rewards the customer with a free dessert for that day. The key to social networks online is that the moment you post something it is available to everyone in your network. So, in the Bistro's case timing is important. They would consider placing the post around 10am when people are beginning to think about what to do for lunch.

Don't forget to brand your Facebook Page for your business. Upload your logo as your as your primary photo and make certain the image fits the space properly. Remember, branding your business means you have to apply your logo and tagline across all areas of marketing consistently. Social marketing is no exception.

Twitter

Imagine saying this to someone ten years ago: "Hold on a sec, I'm tweeting." Yea, right. Change comes quickly in our digital world and the things that are required for marketing today didn't exist a few short months ago.

Twitter is the newest social media darling and you can use it to promote your business and help others. Twitter is called microblogging. You have 140 characters to convey a message to the people who are following you. If they like it and find it useful they may "re-tweet" it and pass it on to others in their network. It's viral marketing at its best.

Basically, for the novice, Twitter is like text messaging those in your network and being able to include links to web pages. The format holds great promise but, like so much of the online universe it is the stockpile of meaningless fluff. From a business perspective twitter can be used to immediately reach your clients with valuable information. Integration is a key factor to becoming the Big Fish in your local or niche market. And Twitter is another avenue to tell your story. Imagine our Asian Bistro has 500 followers on Twitter. Like their Facebook account they time a new posting to their Twitter followers about the day's specials. Or they can notify followers of a new dish that they are now serving in the restaurant. The key from a business perspective is that Twitter integrates with the Bistro's website, Facebook page and in-store happenings. Consistency in relaying their message and value in what they are offering helps communicate the brand.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is different than Facebook and Twitter in that it is business-oriented and primarily used for professional networking. Basically, LinkedIn is your business network and the people in your network are called connections. As a member you can post photos and resume-type information. You can also post specifics about your business, including job openings or recent articles.

One of the key features of LinkedIn are Groups. Most groups are professionally based. There are designer groups, both international and local. There are groups for those in the sporting goods profession - sales and marketing, and the telecom profession. Many industries are represented. Can't find a group for your industry, start one. LinkedIn makes it easy. Not all groups are professionally based. There are also alumni and non-profit groups.

Posting a recent article to a group you belong to is a great way to get exposure and feedback. LinkedIn can be used as a peer-to-peer network for support and ideas or it can be used to generate business and contacts.


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