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Social Media’s Not For You. Or Is It?

by Janet Kyle Altman

Entrepreneurs have embraced social media in increasing numbers, but there are still many who are convinced it’s not for them.  I’ve been in marketing for nearly three decades and I’m as skeptical as you are. But once I set aside my skepticism and thought about my business, it made sense.

“Why is your CPA firm on Facebook?”  I get asked all the time.  “Why would a CPA firm be twittering, or blogging, or posting videos on YouTube?”  This question is the 2010 version of the one I was asked ten years ago – why does a CPA firm need a marketing department?

It’s simple – we’re an entrepreneurial  business like any other.  And no matter how technically expert our CPAs are at tax planning for your business, assessing whether you’re protected from fraud, or helping you evaluate a potential merger or acquisition, we won’t stay in business long if potential clients don’t know us.

Ignoring social media is a mistake for any business that earns revenue from customers, has competitors, or isn’t the Kleenex of your category.  If you’re questioning whether your business should engage in social media, consider these three questions:

  1. Is your business built on relationships?
  2. Do you have competitors?
  3. Does everybody you want to do business with already know your name?

Build relationships

As far as I know, a business without customers is a business that’s failing.  For centuries, marketing people like me have been figuring out how companies can start new relationships with potential customers, and keep existing customers happy enough to pay their bills and maybe even tell their friends about the great product or service they’ve discovered.

Entrepreneurs and their employees spend considerable time building relationships through networking (at the Chamber, at the Rotary, at the kids’ softball game.)  They hand out business cards and make lunch dates.  They start dialogues with potential clients through direct marketing.  They target lists of companies or individuals they want to know and work with.

Social media is a new way to do that same old thing in new ways.

  • Tools like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter let you target and link to the people you want to meet, just like looking at the list of Chamber members to decide what committee you want to be on.
  • They help you stay in front of those people by sending them useful information, just like clipping an article from the newspaper and sending it with your business card.
  • They make it easy to help someone (the best way to build relationships!) by doing things like distributing their son’s resume to a network who might give him a summer internship.

And while it may seem like it takes a little time to keep your online relationships active, consider how many more people can appreciate you and your company than you’d be able to meet by spending the same time at a reception or a luncheon!

Differentiate from competitors

If all of your marketing only promotes your category and not what’s special about your company, why would anyone choose you?  Every business is special, and social media lets you share your special benefits with your target audience, or even create new ones.  Just a few examples to get your creative juices flowing:

  • A specialist in foreclosure law starts a blog to share new developments  in this changing area, hosts a webinar, and then post snippets of the session on YouTube.
  • A French restaurant holds a contest for the best “wish I was in Paris” video.
  • A community theater company holds on-line video auditions and creates a community-based video series that’s shared with all participants and beyond.
  • An interior designer posts a weekly photo album on Flickr and asks people to write why they want to live in that home.  A weekly winner gets a free design consultation based on photos they send you, and a package of products that some of your other contacts want to sample to homeowners.

Build brand awareness

Here’s a story I’ve been telling for years. On Saturday night you host a big dinner party at your home and your klutzy friend Freddy spills a big glass of red wine on your white carpet.  Years ago the payoff for this story would have been the flyer for the carpet cleaner that showed up in Monday’s mail, demonstrating that, with frequency, low cost direct mail will eventually hit your customer at the moment they need you.

Today, you’d search immediately online for a carpet cleaner (and hopefully Freddy would pay the bill).  The internet has given consumers an easy way to be proactive about our shopping, and we use it constantly.  Being at the top of the google search, or at least high up on the list, is like being the one carpet cleaning postcard in the mailbox on messy Monday.

And social media is great for search engine optimization.  Make sure to use key words and tags that you’d want people to find you with.  Create backlinks with other sites.   I’m oversimplifying when I say that increased presence in cyberspace means a higher ranking with Google, but that’s the basic concept.

Define your plan so you can see it work

I’d encourage you to test the waters a little and see what’s out there.  But before diving in and splashing around with energy but no direction, sit down and develop some specific objectives for social media.  A great feature of this tactic is its measurability – you can set targets for the number of visitors, fans, time on your site and see your results!