If you only understand one thing about social media, it should be this: social media is truly social. Networks like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and more are where today's Americans congregate to share personal news, tell stories and--this is important--offer advice. Advice like where to get your car serviced or your hair cut, as well as whom to trust with your next home improvement project.
In fact, one-third of all social media users have made a purchase decision based on a social media recommendation. See? It's not all cat photos and kindergarten graduations.
Web Site vs Social Networking Many businesses are comfortable claiming a Web site as their online presence. But if you spend even just a few minutes prowling around on social media sites, you'll discover there's an abundance of conversations going on that are relevant to you, your customers and your business--perhaps even about your business specifically.
Even a well-trafficked Web site won't offer you any insight into what's being said. And frankly, if you're not participating in those conversations, or at the very least monitoring them and doing reputation management, you are missing an opportunity to both protect your brand and grow your revenue.
A strategic social presence allows you to build a relationship with people and earn their trust before they even visit your Web site, Thanks to the connected nature of social networks, you also may benefit from additional exposure to their friends and family, who may ultimately need your services as well. You are always talking to an audience, not just an individual.
Taking a First Step with Facebook
If you're new to the world of social media and are going to establish one online presence, you should do it with FB. Simply put, it's where the people are--all night, all day, all the time.
While FB first took hold in the youth market, it is now embraced almost equally by most age groups and genders. That said, if you're going to yourself out there, you need to be ready, willing and available to address your audience. FB users expect a certain level of engagement from businesses. Think of it as a cocktail party of a picnic. If you're standing in a circle of people and you don't answer a question directed at you or don't contribute to the conversation, people are going to lose interest and move on.
A FB page requires a daily commitment. Just like other users, you need to log on regularly (see box) and be a part of the conversation when it's appropriate. If you don't, it's entirely possible you'll become the subject of the conversation--and not in a good way. Also keep in mind that if you don't post, there is not content for people to engage with. Without engagement, you will have very low visibility within your followers' news 'feeds.' It's like search optimization for FB. The more 'likes,' clicks, comments and 'shares' your content gets, the more likely your content is to show up in that person's feed in the future.
60% of FB users check their page first thing in the morning on a typical weekday
25% of FB users check in at least five times a day
63% of FB users check their page before going to bed
Assuming you're ready to commit, the first step is to build a profile page, and include the basics of your business--name, hours, location, Web site, etc.--as well as some compelling images or artwork.
Next comes the all-important step: listen and learn. That is, before you begin putting up posts about what you think is interesting, pay attention to what potential customers think is interesting. If their interest is interior decorating, note that and friend local businesses in the field. If they're talking about curb appeal, seek out an interesting article on the topic and share it.
In addition to what they like, pay attention to what consumers don't like. Common complaints about other companies might lead you to discover a gap in the market that you can fill. Or you can offer some industry insight to help people appreciate why certain aspects of projects are handled in the manner they are.
The good news is you don't have to be a master of every topic that comes up but you do have to be able to contribute to the conversation in a meaningful way.
What's not meaningful is pushing your business with every post. Social media experts advise that no more than 20% of your posts should be self-promotional. Any more than that and you risk annoying followers and losing friends.
When you do self-promote, do it wisely. 'Before and after' images of your latest project are ideal. You can easily share commentary on the nature of the challenge and how you solved it. Be sure to always invite satisfied customers to add their own thoughts on your work and the finished product. Conversations like this can quickly move into meaningful discussions or question-and-answer sessions with potential customers.
When possible, keep it visual. Studies have shown that photos, videos, infographics and memes (i.e., an electronic image passed from one Internet user to the next) all drive up FB user engagement considerably more than a text-only status update.
In addition to your work, share a bit about yourself. If you're the coach of a little league or soccer team, or just sponsor one, talk about it. People like hometown heroes. They want to connect with people who share their values and do good work both on and off the job.
Be Ready to Respond
In addition to being ready and able to respond to general questions and queries, you also need to have a strategy for handling negative comments. While your first instinct might be to simply delete them, you are more likely to generate even more negative comments.
A better approach is to be gracious, and perhaps even grateful, that someone has bothered to share their concern with you. Be honest and forthright in your response and help others to understand how the issue arose and what you're doing to resolve it. You may be pleasantly surprised how others will step up in support of a timely and sincere response.
Beyond the Profile Page: Targeted Marketing
In addition to communicating with friends and followers, you can use FB to attract new customers. With a level of precision unmatched by any other medium, FB allows you to target individuals based on location, age, gender, other FB connections, general interest, and precise interests. And we do mean 'precise.'
For example, if you're looking for 45-year-old females in certain zip codes that have specific interests in color or decks, and are fans of HGTV or Love It or List It, FB can help you find them and put your name in front of them.
Alternatively, you can aim for what FB calls 'broad categories.' These include larger audience groupings such as home and garden, DIY, real estate, as well as more general demographics.
Launching a social media presence should be a process. Take the first step and create a professional presence on FB when you're ready. Remember, this is not a broadcast channel, but an opportunity to have an interactive conversation with your prospects, customers and advocates. Once you create your page, remember that you've set the expectation that you are a social business. People will use the page to meet their needs, which may or may not conform to your strategy. Businesses that are successful in social media know that they must align their strategy so that the two become one and the same.
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