I regularly get asked to speak to groups of businesses about social media. It usually spills into a general chat about social media, search marketing and everything in between. One common theme when speaking to these groups (and feel free to ask me to speak to your business group) is confusion and fear. People are confused about what to do and they fear doing the wrong thing. There's also a general feeling that ignoring social media is a plausible strategy. If this is where you are, read on for some plain English help and advice.
First off lets make the whole social media arena less confusing. Forget about the tech, forget about the platform (facebook, twitter etc) and think about what you're doing. In essence your interacting with people and if you can't do that there's a good chance running a business isn't for you, so lets assume you're comfortable with interaction.
One way to think about interacting using social media is to liken it to a normal face to face business networking event, only without being subjected to bad breath. At a business networking event you speak with people, find out what makes them tick, get them to share their business interests and issues and, where appropriate, let them know how you could help them.
Of course, at most networking events there will be the event bore, the person who just wants to tell you about themselves and how great they are and isn't in the slightest bit interested in what you've got to say. If you're like me you'll extricate yourself from the event bore quicker than Boris Johnson left the Marr Show studio.
So lesson one, interacting is good, listening is good and helping where appropriate is good. Shouting about how great you are and having one way conversations is bad, very bad. But how does this relate to social media? Simple, do the same thing using social media tools, listen, contribute and help. If you do this you'll become a trusted source of useful information and people will want to do business with you.
So now you're thinking, I hope, how do I find conversations worth contributing to. Well thankfully that's simple.
If you're got a popular website you can invite people to interact with you on your facebook page by making it easy for them to click through to it and engaging with them when they take the time to write something, good or bad! On twitter you can find common areas of interest using hashtags. People tag their tweets with hashtags to inform others they are talking about something specific. For example if you watch Question Time on the BBC you can tweet using the hashtag #bbcqt so other twitter users who don't actually follow you, can see your rants, sorry, useful comments.
In no time at all you can be having conversations with lots of people, many of whom may be interested in your services, but DON'T use a hard sell approach, engage with people, listen to them, help them, gain their trust.
Finally, the thorny subject of those nasty people who say bad things about us. It's a fact of life that your business will mess up from time to time and people will say bad things about it. Whether or not you use social media, people will talk about your business, burying your head in the sand isn't a good strategy for dealing with it.
Taking a positive spin on negative social media feedback, if you step in, fix the problem and turn the disgruntled person into a happy customer it's likely they will tell all their social media friends, do you see where I'm going with this?