Social media has leveled the playing field for small business owners in today’s marketing environment. It’s all about two-way communication with customers. Building a social media brand is a major factor in small business success, but the key is being niche focused. Beyond having a website, you need to make sure that you are out there demonstrating your expertise and dominating your niche at every opportunity. No one is calling 411 or looking in the yellow pages for vendors, it’s all about what comes up in the search engines. Don’t forget about LinkedIn, too. Many experts, consultants and professional service providers are sourced through LinkedIn. Here are the answers to the top 10 questions on how to build a social media brand. How important is an online brand to a small business owner? Once a month people should Google themselves to see what is out there on the internet about their business. If nothing comes up in the search engines, that is a problem too. Start building online credibility with a LinkedIn profile and a helpful website. I would also add a Twitter account, Google+ profile, and Facebook Fan page as well. Retailers and service businesses should have a Yelp profile too. What is the biggest mistake small businesses make when building an online brand? You must consistently talk to the same customer online every time you share content and understand that it takes 7 contacts to make an impression. Many people think it’s going to start raining money in their small business as soon as they start using social media. Not so! It’s like building any other relationship. It took me 2 years of tweeting, blogging and sharing other people’s information to be recognized nationally. How does one go about developing a strategy to build a brand online? Start with three C’s of social media Content + Community = Commerce. Your content is currency in social media. Once you pick a target audience, you must listen first to find out where they are spending time online. Then you must use your content to become part of the conversation on that social networking site. When you start to engage with people by sharing their content and commenting on blogs, that’s when you starting building community. Once you have established trust within your online community that’s when you can sell to them. If you try to sell too quickly, you will torch the relationship. Think of social networking as “Give to Get.” Can you explain what you call “The Triple ROI of Social Media”?
- Return on Investment: All social media accounts are free. Your investment is your time. A smart social media program returns the time you put in, in terms of engagement with customers and prospects as well as word-of-mouth referrals.
- Return on Influence: By sharing quality content, small business owners build influence, which they can eventually monetize online and offline.
- Return on identity: Everything in social media is about building your brand identity.
What is the HELP mantra? The HELP mantra is how I think small business owners should approach social media: Help Others, Engage People, Listen Carefully and Promote Yourself With Care. Traditional selling is dead. Use a 4:1 ratio of sharing other people’s content over your own. Your content will do the selling for you. No one will engage you if you lead with “Buy my stuff, buy my stuff.” They will always respond to great stories about how you can solve their painful business issues. What is your best advice for a business owner trying to build their brand online? Before you do anything, clearly identify your niche target customer. Research the keywords people use most to search for your topic, service or product. Then develop your content strategy to stand out amongst your competition. If you are planning to use blogging as your strategy, start working on an archive of blog posts at least 3 months in advance so writing does not feel stressful to you. How important is it to choose the right social networks? Which ones work best for what, ie. LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, Tumblr etc.? Everyone does not have to be doing everything. Twitter is a terrific listening device and is great for driving traffic to a blog. I convene my #Smallbizchat community live each week on Twitter, which has been a major factor in growing my online audience. LinkedIn is the most formal social network. It’s perfect for people who need to network with key decision makers. Facebook groups and fan pages are great for engaging with retail customers. Google+ is also becoming a major factor in communicating with your entire social rolodex. Don’t forget about Pinterest too. If you have lots of great visuals Pinterest is perfect for target customers with that interest. Tumblr lets you effortlessly share anything. You can post text messages, photos, quotes, links, music and video from email and from any devices. If you use blogging as a key strategy, any of these accounts will help you spread the word. Should a small business owner stay on message at all times? Is it ever okay to go off message? It is critical to stay on message in social media. It should be obvious who your customer is by what you share online or what you write on your blog. If you change your message too often, you will confuse people. It’s ok to share personal things about yourself, so that people know that you are a real person, but be strategic. Are there any special tools or apps on any social media sites that you would recommend? why? I like www.Hootsuite.com to manage all my social media accounts. You can have up to 5 social accounts with the free version, but if someone is helping you with social media you may want to invest in a pro account. How does one go about earning a community of subscribers, followers, friends, etc? Engagement is key. If someone leaves a comment on your blog, respond back quickly. In order to attract subscribers, followers, likes and connections you need to give them what they want – valuable content. Then, engage the people who like your content. Highlight a fan each week on your Facebook fan page, run a contest on Twitter. Be first to answer questions on LinkedIn to highlight your expertise. On Tuesday May 8th 1-2pm ET I will speak with @FedExOffice during a live Tweet Chat #FedExOffice about how to build a social media brand as part of the Our Office Is Your Office Tweet Chat series. Do you have any more ideas on how to build a social media brand? Your idea could be worth $50 bucks. @SmallBizlady will offer two $50 gift cards for two more great ideas about building a social media brand. To be considered, post your comment on this blog post until 10pm ET Friday, May 11, 2012. Winners will be announced on Twitter on Monday, May 14, 2012. FedEx Office has no involvement in the selection of winners. This is sponsored by @SmallBizlady. Disclosure: FedEx Office compensated me to write this post and participate as a small business expert during the FedEx Office Our Office Is Your Office Tweet Chat series. FedEx Office also provided the $50 gift cards. The ideas in this blog post are mine and are not ideas or advice from FedEx Office. About FedEx Office: FedEx Office, an operating company of FedEx Corp., has more than 1,900 stores and locations in the U.S., Canada, Japan, South Korea and the Middle East, providing convenient access to printing and shipping expertise with reliable service. The company’s network features retail stores, centralized production centers, corporate on-site print centers, and on-site business centers at hotels, convention centers and universities. Services include copying and digital printing, professional finishing, document creation, direct mail, signs and graphics, computer rental, free Wi-Fi, corporate print solutions, packing services, FedEx Express and FedEx Ground shipping, Hold at FedEx Location and more. In addition, InformationWeek 500 recognized FedEx Office® Print Online and FedEx Office® Print & Go solutions with the 2011 Most Innovative Products award. Products, services and hours vary by location. For more information, please visit www.fedex.com/office. For more tips on how start or grow your small business subscribe to Melinda Emerson’s blog http://www.succeedasyourownboss.com.
Graet article Melinda. My advice with social networks is get back what you put in. Too often individuals or busineses post irrevlavant information, in turn making them just another account. I try to post the most current stories and information that is revelant to me and my industry. In turn, I become a informative trust worthy asset people turn to for current issues. Also, look for similar people or companies that follow you or the topics you cover. It can open up new doors of networking possibilities that can propel your social network or even your business. Essentially, use these social platforms as a way to get your name or opionon out there. Yet, keep an open mind to retain rich content and build beneficial relationships along the way.
Sorry about the grammar, I wrote it on my phone
Jessica Laracuente says
Thank you for this article! My advice would be to redesign your logo to display what you do. Make your posts, articles, tweets all relate to your business in some way. Stay on top of your industry and post advice, questions and did you knows along with phots as much as you can. Lastly talk about your industry as much as you can. Become an expert and people will seek you out…. This is all my work in progress! Thanks again!
Don Lafferty says
All great advice, Melinda. My advice: When building out your social platform, be sure to use a profile picture of your smiling face, not a logo. In the social media environment, people want to connect with the people behind the brand.
Choose profile pictures appropriate for the specific social network, and don’t be afraid to swap pics frequently as events occur in your life and your business that might refect in your profile pic, especially the banner pic you use in Facebook Timeline.
Patrice K. Cokley says
Hi Melinda! This is by far my favorite post of yours. My advice/idea I’d like to add would be to make sure your brand and marketing materials are consistent across all social media platforms. The same fonts, color schemes, profile picture, etc should be used to build your brand so that others know that they’re connecting with the same person.
Great tips for small businesses! My advice would be to those just starting out in the social networking world, don’t go for everything all at once just to see what sticks. Instead, really devote your resources to a few of the social media networks that make the most sense to your product and niche and give it your all.
Totally agree with the HELP mantra. It’s the same idea I share with people, too.
One additional idea I like to suggest is to be generous – share, share and share some more.
Give away some of your best stuff, don’t try to sell everything. People want to know you before they buy from you. Help them get to know you and help them at the same time by giving away free content; let them see who you are through your products and services (free e-books, teleclasses, blog posts, etc.).
To your continued success!
Dina Mann says
I love pinterest. I use it to showcase images on FB and Twitter and Pinterest’s search brings in more people that might never be able to reach our brand.
Excellent tip, Dina!
Great tips, Melinda! Having a theme is another way to develop your brand. For example, the site Modcloth.com has cute & catchy names for their merchandise and they are having a naming contest that spans across all of their social media platforms (e.g. Mondays the contest is on Twitter, Tuesday is on Facebook, etc.). This is a way to show off your brands personality when you’re developing social media content.
Ashley Neal (@smallbizatlanta) says
This an excellent post. Thank you for putting into perspective the amount of time it took you to get well known nationally via social media. I also like that you highlighted the most popular social networks and the activities that are best achieved by using them.
My advice for utilizing social media:
When sharing content change the title by asking a question related to the article. This makes it look like you are not spamming your social networks with the same post if you decide to tweet more than once. It also is a great way to get your fans and followers interest.
My advice: Go Visual. Very visual by the way. All platforms are design for a full visual experience, people love to see your products not in a traditional way but in a creative, different and casual way. Take your time, find out how is being used your product, explore. This kind of interaction will boost your engagement up to the sky. The more you are like people, the best.
Good work Melinda, I really appreciate thx, will always check back for recent posts thx..Any one looking to get up to date, affiliate marketing tips, check out Free success tips @ easywealthbank
Simone Godette says
i believe that its impossible at this point and time to be a successful business owner and not have some sort of social media exposure for the company. In this media savvy consumer world, businesses have to market to their audience through a social media outlet. FB, Twitter and the like all have apps for mobile phone and as I learned in my graduate Digital E Commerce class recently E-mobile technology is going to be the forum for every business that wants to be relevant. Every consumer is mobile and you have to catch them where they are…usually with smartphone in hand. Small businesses have to relate to this technology in order to be successful a have an increase in business and profitability.
Funny thing. We also give away the same $50 with a random participant in our quick survey (just one question!) towards Facebook’s IPO: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/viewform?formkey=dHNrcmtobmFmN0loc0JUWUJtUkphUXc6MQ
Our 2 cents would be: Share something useful and valuable with your community. If you don’t believe your product is any good, don’t bother. When the “Why” is clear, the rest follows.
John Carrera says
Thanks for the info Melinda. Here’s my advice on social media for small business. If you find that managing social media is becoming too time consuming, hire (unpaid) interns. This seems like the most obvious solution. There are so many recent college grads looking for any work right now, paid or unpaid just to get some experience (like me). And recent grads are the social media generation. I was a business major with a concentration in marketing, and I needed to start somewhere. DataVelocity needed a marketing intern to help start their social media efforts, and I got an opportunity to get some experience and help their business. It’s a complete win-win that can cost your company nothing if you don’t want it to, and in this economy, recent grads will be grateful just to get an opportunity (as I was).
Thank you for constantly posting such helpful information.
My advice for social media activity is to be approachable. Your fans and or followers need to feel like they are able to speak to or ask you questions. That attitude helps to keep your followers and reel in more.
Try ensuring that your followers/customers/fan base reflect who should be receiving the services you provide especially on social media networks. I think that is a subtle but huge branding message.
Cathy Larkin (@CathyWebSavvyPR) says
Great post Melinda. I think that small business owners & consultants need to anchor their social media brand with a strong website and blog and content that their ideal customer values. Have a solid home base that is not all about you and your company, but is all about providing your target audience with the information they would find most valuable & actionable.
Start with identifying those ideal customers, and uncovering the 3-5 topics they want/need to hear about; what are they interested in that you can provide for them. Have your website, blog and social media activity and info you share be related to those 3-5 areas of interest. This helps you connect with the right customers – they begin to see – over time that you really “get” the issues they are dealing with. And they see you consistently talking about these things on your blog, on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or where ever they bump into your brand.
Once that connection is made, you have laid the foundation for getting hired, or someone buying your product/service. Put your self in your customer’s shoes, or sitting behind their keyboard, and give them what they need – and you are half way there.
Rochelle Haynes says
Melinda – As a fairly new business owner, I’m very new to social media and what it can and will do for our company. Your suggestions are on point and my business partner and I will take them to heart while building and branding our company. Thank your for your insight.
Karyn Climans says
I think you’ve said it all! Great article.
More wonderful advice!
We are just beginning to understand the power and potential social networking can have for our small business… We will be using these fantastic tips to improve our approach.
We cant thank you enough for all your amazing advice and insights… You are helping us to grow our small business every day!
Best advice is don’t give up – you made the comment about it took you 2 years. I think there’s an expectation that sales will start as soon as you launch but it takes time to build a relationship – just as it does in real life. You have to be consistent, not too pushy, show your humor and gradually build up trust. If you go out selling from day one, you’ll turn people off!
Be prepared to invest – it takes time to manage your social media (not necessarily hours a day but you need to be checking for comments and posting your own on a regular basis). You likely will need to spend a little money on advertising to help kickstart your fan base. There is only so much that you can do by appealing to friends/family, etc….especially if you are looking to expand your reach – but social media sites let you target ads so you can really get to the people you want to get to.
Great Article Melinda! I think a great way to extend your social media brand is to incorporate it into your overall marketing plan and business development. Take it offline where some of your Target audience still lingers. Put social media plugs on traditional advertising and marketing pieces and capture new loyal brand advocates where its not overcrowded.
Great post Melinda! I agree with @PatriceCokley this is my favourite post thus far!
The only other tip I would add is be true to yourself and your brand when networking and participating in social media networks. This is in line with your comment regarding staying on message. As we build our brand in the eye of the online community and look to build their trust, we need to be ourselves and let our brand align with our true nature. You cannot be one person online another in business/life. It will eventually show through in your posts and will tarnish any trust spots you may have developed along the way.
Angela McGeachie says
Have a plan of action and know what you want Social Media to do for your business.
Take things one at a time and learn each platform before you jump in.
Follow Melinda and others on twitter and every day you’ll learn tips and tricks.
Go to small business seminars in your area that offer “brown bag lunches” for a small fee or free courses. You’ll learn something new and get a chance to network.
I want to thank you for this post. I am currently taking a social media class where I had to start a blog, twitter, and face book. I must confess it has been a little challenging, but with blogs like yours, I will manage to make through the class.