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Getting Social to Build Your Business

Visalia Direct: Virtual Valley
March 4, 2013 Deadline
April 2013 Issue

Getting Social to Build Your Business

Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Yelp and more. If you want to grow your business today, you need to know the power of social networking. You also need to be prepared to change your social media strategy quickly to keep up with trends. Social networks come and go, as quickly as the “likes” and “trending” data they report.

In the late 1990s, I recommended basic Web pages and e-mail addresses to my clients. Today, deciding which types of online presences are best for a business or organization presents a challenge. Whether you focus on business-to-business (B2B) services or retail sales helps determine the best online strategy for your company. The more public exposure your company seeks, the more important a social media presence will be.

The basic Web presence still serves a purpose, and inexpensive hosting services cost the same as a stack of good business cards. But, for most businesses a simple site is insufficient because your competition might do more.

To interact with your clients, nothing beats social media. Used wisely, with focus and restraint, social media like Facebook and Twitter build your image and remind customers of your special value.

First, some words of caution, because social media have caused more than one business to stumble. Keeping the risks in mind will help you use social networks effectively.

Because unhappy customers, and some dishonest competitors, might use social media to complain about your company, you need to understand the value of restraint. Never, for any reason, respond publicly to any complaint, criticism or taunt posted to social media. The best way to respond to people is directly, via e-mail, in a professional tone. Even then, respond only to customers with an earnest effort to correct any service issues.

Complaints and rumors might be posted to social media whether or not your company has social media accounts. You simply do not know what people are sharing if you aren’t on the networks. By joining social media, you can watch perceptions of your company and consider how to counter any misperceptions or real problems. Smart companies watch social networks so they can adjust their strategies quietly and efficiently.

In addition to not confronting complaints publicly, wise business people do not post attempts at humor, the latest Hollywood rumors or strident political notes. There are exceptions to these rules for professional comics, entertainment reporters and campaign consultants. Posting anything that might offend a customer simply isn’t worth the few laughs or cheers a comment might receive.

Finally, just as you shouldn’t respond to complaints publicly, you should never post complaints to social media unless being critical is what you do for a living. The more positive you are online, the better the perceptions of you and your company. Again, exceptions exist, such as working as a restaurant critic or consumer reporter, but most of us aren’t professional curmudgeons. Thankfully, I can complain publicly about bad technology and poor writing because that is what I do.

Once you know what not to do, you’re ready to craft a social media strategy.

As with a general Web strategy, I encourage organizations to register any domains, identities, groups and pages that customers might assume represent you. For example, my wife and I have owned the same domain, Tameri.com, since 1994. We also have registered TameriGuide on Facebook and @TameriGuide on Twitter. This helps us protect the “Tameri Guide for Writers” image and build relationships with our media partners. I have several additional Facebook and Twitter identities for various projects, and I carefully segregate what is posted from these accounts.

Our Web pages feature links to the appropriate Facebook and Twitter pages, and the social media accounts link back to the Web. These interconnections can improve your search engine results and help customers locate your business in a variety of ways.

The Tameri site includes a blog, which we also link to Facebook and Twitter via the NetworkedBlogs.com social media service. When we update the Tameri blog, NetworkedBlogs sends a link to our Twitter followers and our Facebook fans.

To create a Facebook page, search Facebook for “Create Page.” Facebook will guide you through the steps to create a basic page for your business or organization. The more information included on this page, the better. However, remember not to use a home address or personal phone number on a business page.

Creating a Twitter account is even easier. Visit Twitter.com and click the “Sign Up” button. While Twitter allows you to quickly create an account, that also allows other people to create accounts you might want. That is why I suggest taking any Twitter account name you want to protect from misuse.

If you are in retail, particularly dining and entertainment, then you should create a business Yelp account and a Foursquare account. I discourage some businesses people from joining these networks as members. If you count local restaurateurs and retailers among your clientele, why risk aggravating them?

Yelp is popular among self-proclaimed “foodies” and fans of live entertainment. Creating a business account allows you to track what customers write about you (http://biz.yelp.com). Yelp also provides tools to foster a positive image on social networks.

Foursquare enables friends to share recommendations for businesses and services. Like Yelp, Foursquare also helps a business track things like repeat recommendations. Foursquare encourages business to post Quick Response (QR) codes in public so people can instantly “check-in” on Foursquare, Facebook and Twitter.

Foursquare claims most individual members scan codes when they want to support a business, the opposite of trends on other review sites. Generally, people are more likely to share negative reviews. That makes joining the Foursquare network one of the best social media strategies for a retail or entertainment business.

Even after you decide which networks to join, remember that popular networks fade and new social media stars appear spontaneously. I advise business clients to learn which social media college and high school students use. Facebook went from a college fad to the hottest place for retailers. Something will replace Facebook, just as it replaced MySpace and Friendster.

Get social, be positive and grow your business.

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