I don’t think there is a small business owner in the US that hasn’t at least considered using social media to help get more customers. And if you’re in business, getting new customers is most likely the #1 challenge you have to face as an SMB. Luckily, we’re surrounded by awesome examples everywhere we turn, from winemakers on Pinterest and real estate agents on Facebook to acupuncturists on instagram. Social media is a marketing wonderland that any business can use to reach new customers and engage old ones.
What’s changed is the amount of social media noise you have to compete with. But while the playground is a bit crowded, it’s still better than the alternative of “spray and pray” marketing, banner ads or paying for potential exposure in the Yellow Pages (if that still exists). Once you get the hang of it, social media is an amazing tool to help build trust and brand awareness with potential customers in a human way. The key to achieving mastery is to formulate a strategy so you’re not operating blindly.
A good start is to choose platforms where your customers spend their time. When I first started getting serious with social media, I had already experimented with multiple platforms to see what was a good fit for my business and, more importantly, for my personality, mostly because I know that I’m more consistent with activities that I enjoy. While there are lots of ways to approach social media marketing, here are 10 tips to get you started:
- Focus on influencer marketing. It’s a huge world out there and a surefire way to spin your wheels is speaking to everyone on the web. You have to figure out who your target audience is and who their influencers are. Think about providing value to them. Ask questions, share ideas, solve problems and talk.
- Listen first. It’s like starting a new job or looking for a date: You have to listen more than you talk, especially at first. This will help you understand the language of the land and the social etiquette of your particular tribe. You don’t want to be that person who’s missing all the social cues, speaking at the wrong time or just talking about yourself.
- Organize for scale. Once you’ve identified your target audience and a few of their influencers, find a tool that will help you create a few targeted lists so you can listen to and engage with small groups of people. For Twitter, I like using HootSuite and TweetDeck. For Google+, I use circles to create lists of customers, potential customers and influencers. For Facebook, I have a series of lists that help me organize folks I want to pay attention to. The key here is to filter out all the additional noise so you can focus on the next step of building relationships.
- One relationship at a time x10. Don’t worry about meeting everyone at the party. Pick a few people you want to meet and get to know them. At any one time, I have a list of 10 to 20 folks that I would like to get to know. For me it’s a combination of potential customers, folks I want to collaborate with, influencers in my industry and profession. I follow their online conversations, I read and share their relevant content, I comment and ultimately I introduce myself when the time seems right. It’s no different than face-to-face relationship building or what you might do at a conference. This is the brick-by-brick approach that has helped me land the biggest deals of my career, create amazing friendships and collaborate with some of my marketing idols, like Marcus Sheridan, Barry Feldman and Ann Handley of MarketingProfs.
- Be Honest. Great relationships and businesses are built on integrity. Don’t make shit up. I can’t say it any more bluntly than that. I remember my grandfather making deals with a handshake. He used to say that was all he needed if he trusted a man. In the world of noise and hype, that trust is more valuable than ever.
- Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. Maybe vulnerability is not the right word — it could be authenticity or it could be about being quirky and true to yourself. To me it’s about adding a human element to your interactions online. People want to connect with real people, and part of being human includes our soft sides.
- Be consistent. The best way to grow your social influence is by sharing and commenting regularly. I’m a firm believer that you’ve got to share interesting content at least several times a week, though several times a day is better. It might be hard at first to generate enough content to keep up with the pace of posting awesome stuff that your customers will want to consume, but that’s just the cost of being exceptional, which leads me to the next point.
- Create amazing content. Many people will tell you that you can build influence by sharing other people’s content. I think that ship sailed long ago. Content marketing is on a meteoric rise because it works. To stand out in the crowd, create your own: photos, slides, infographics, videos, articles and news that will keep your audience engaged.
- Provide exceptional value. One of my favorite inspirational books is called The Go-Giver. The premise is that you need to think about serving others, finding ways to delight and generally put the interest of others before your own. You need to continually put yourself in the shoes of your audience and figure out how to be useful. If you want more on this subject, read Jay Baer’s book, Youtility.
- Create conversion opportunities. Building your influence online is all well and good, but won’t help your bottom line if you can’t figure out a way to convert influence into customers. Once you have engaged your current and potential customers, it’s important to provide opportunities for them to buy. I have an informal formula that I use with our offers, which is very much in line with Gary Vaynerchuk’s Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook. I like to give more than I ask. It’s that simple. The more value your audience perceives that you have provided them, the more they will be receptive to your asks. And, if you do it really well, potential customers will call you asking to buy your stuff, because they already know, like and trust you.
If you still don’t believe me, take a look at this infographic. A Guide to Small Business Social Media Mastery.