Using Social Media to Level the Playing Field

OK, so you have bought an ad in the newspaper (yikes!), you spent thousands of dollars to build a website and you seriously considered that billboard space on the freeway.  You have done all of these things to match up with the bigger company down the street, but you haven’t increased any of your traffic at your place of business.

You then decided to quiz old-school businessmen and they tell you that you need to network.  “This is 2010,” you say.  You wonder if that is still a valuable strategy.  They are right!  Except in today’s business world, networking can be done, in part, online.

You have heard the hard-to-believe stories about companies using Twitter.com or Facebok to attract new customers and double their businesses.  I have heard those too.  Now, you are trying decide if social media is for you.

For one, while social media is a great tool, it by itself is not a “magic cure.”  Networking, by its definition, assumes communication and conversation, which means that it is a two-way street.  You have to engage “friends” in conversation.  These online friends are potential customers, and, to be sure, potential evangelists for your business or brand.  Your ability to engage your customers online gives you an advantage over the big businesses who might be using social media as a glorified email marketing strategy.

A couple of years ago, I visited an upscale restaurant in Fort Worth.  I never would have afforded it, but we were given a gift card as a treat that made it possible.  The food was awesome, and the service was outstanding.  The setting was wonderful.  What put this experience over the top was that the owner and head chef came out to meet the customers!  A year later, he had a book signing at the bookstore where I worked.  I recognized him and escorted him to where he would be signing his books.  He probably didn’t remember me, but I remembered him!  I am not usually an upscale restaurant kind of guy–I prefer a place like Cracker Barrel–but if I ever have the money, I would definitely consider going back, just because the owner came out to meet me.

Word-of-mouth has stood the test of time, and social media is a new vehicle to accomplish that.  Think about it, when you are looking for a new barber or dentist, how do you find one.  You simply ask trusted friends.  That is what social media is about.

According to social media guru, Shama Kabani, it is better to manage a couple of social media profiles well rather than to have several that are not managed well.  And more, she says in her book The Zen of Social Media Marketing which will be released in book form in April, we need to have a hub, and online presence, in which to direct the customer too.  Ideally, that hub would be a website or blog.  I believe, it is better to have a website which has the feel of a blog.  There are a couple reasons for this.

First, a blog is conversational, therefore, it reinforces the idea of conversation and of engaging the customer or your online friends.  Merely having a static, brochure-like website is stale and non engaging.  You can separate from your bigger company competition if you have the feeling of friendly and conversational when customers come to your website.

Second, a website which is built to have the feel of a blog, and possibly built on a blog platform such as WordPress, is active and the search engines love active.  Each time you update your blog or site, the site will ping the search engines to let them know that it has new content.  Over time, the search engines recognize that your site is active.  Active sites receive higher rankings in the search engines.  Also, when you update your site with articles or news, this creates some backlinks to your site.  As Darren writes in the article I linked to, backlinks are not the most powerful thing you can do, but they do help.  And by the way, always cross link your profiles with your website or blog.

It takes a while to put a social media strategy in to place.  You have to be intentional.  I recommend you working on it as if you were at a networking event or conference.  Ask questions, answer questions, engage people and seek out experts in your field.  Build up a base of friends or followers.  The rewards are great.  Not only will you tap into another market–a loyal market, but, eventually, your website rankings in the search engines will begin to rise, and the only thing you will have spent was time.

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