One of the biggest road blocks facing small businesses when addressing social media is the question of return on investment. With so little time devote to what’s crying out to be done, adding something else or something new like social media can feel like a real burden. Sometimes the only way to rationalize and prioritize something new is to understand the benefits in relation to everything else your doing and take a new view based on that understanding.
So much of what’s written on social media amounts to lists of things you should do, get on twitter, blog, create a Facebook fan page, and not enough on why you might consider doing it. While all those tactics may indeed be wise, I would like suggest a number of ways to use those actions to do a better or more efficient job doing things you’re already (or should be) doing.
Start to think in terms of doing more with less effort, not simply doing more. If I can let small business owners get a glimpse of social media through this lens, they might just decide to go a little deeper. Here are five ways to look at it.
1) Follow up with prospects
I love using social media tools as a way to follow-up with prospects you might meet out there in the real world. So you go to a Chamber event and meet someone that has asked you to follow-up. Traditionally, you might send an email a week later or call them up and leave a voice mail. What if instead you found them on LinkedIn, asked to be connected and then shared an information rich article that contained tips about the very thing you chatted about at the Chamber mixer. Then you offered to show them how to create a custom RSS feed to get tons of information about their industry and their competitors. Do you think that next meeting might get started a little quicker towards your objectives? I sure do.
2) Stay top of mind with customers
Once someone becomes a customer it’s easy to ignore them, assuming they will call next time they need something or, worse yet, assuming they understand the full depth and breadth of your offerings and will chime in when they have other needs. Staying in front of your customers and continuing to educate and upsell them is a key ingredient to building marketing momentum and few businesses do it well.
This is an area where a host of social media tools can excel. A blog is a great place to put out a steady stream of useful information and success stories. Encouraging your customers to subscribe and comment can lead to further engagement. Recording video stories from customers and uploading them to YouTube to embed on your site can create great marketing content and remind your customer why they do business with you. Facebook Fan pages can be used as a way to implement a client community and offer education and networking opportunities online.
3) Keep up on your industry
Keeping up with what’s happening in any industry is a task that is essential these days. With unparalleled access to information many clients can learn as much or more about the products and solutions offered by a company as those charged with suggesting those products and solutions. You better keep up or you risk becoming irrelevant. Of course I could extend this to keeping up with what your customers, competitors, and key industry journalists are doing as well.
Here again, new monitoring services and tools steeped in social media and real time reporting make this an easier task. Subscribing to blogs written by industry leaders, competitors and journalists and viewing new content by way of a tool such as Google Reader allows you to scan the day’s content in one place. Setting up Google Alerts and custom Twitter Searches (see more about how to do this) or checking out paid monitoring services such as Radian6 or Trackur allows you to receive daily email reports on the important mentions of industry terms and people so you are up to the minute in the know. (Of course, once you do this you can teach your customers how to do it and make yourself even more valuable to them – no matter what you sell.)
4) Provide a better customer experience
It’s probably impossible to provide too much customer service, too much of a great experience, but you can go nuts trying.
Using the new breed of online tools you can plug some of the gaps you might have in providing customer service and, combined with your offline touches, create an experience that no competitor can match.
While some might not lump this tool into social media, I certainly think any tool that allows you to collaborate with and serve your customers qualifies. Using an online project management tool such as Central Desktop allows you to create an entire customer education, orientation, and handbook kind of training experience one time and then roll it out to each new customer in a high tech client portal kind of way. This approach can easily set you apart from anyone else in your industry and provide the kind of experience that gets customers talking.
5) Network with potential partners
Building a strong network of strategic marketing partners is probably the best defense against any kind of economic downturn. One of the surest ways to attract potential partners is to build relationships through networking. Of course you know that, but you might not be viewing this kind of networking as a social media function.
If you identify a potential strategic partner, find out if they have a blog and start reading and commenting. Few things will get you noticed faster than smart, genuine blog comments. Once you establish this relationship it might make sense to offer a guest blog post. If your use a CRM tool (and you should) you’ve probably noticed that most are moving to add social media information to contact records, add your potential partners social media information and you will learn what’s important to them pretty quickly.
If you know how to set up a blog already, offer to create a blog of network partners so each of you can write about your area of expertise and create some great local SEO for the group.
So, you see, you don’t have to bite into the entire social media pie all at once. Find a tool, a technique, a tactic that makes your life easier today and provides more value for partners, prospects and customers and you’ll be on the path to getting some real ROI on your social media investment.
What social media tactics have you discovered that allow you to do more of something you’re already doing?