Do you resent the fawning over social media?
Are you a social media objector?
Do the following thoughts cross your mind when the subject of social media for business comes up?
Kids mindlessly following a trend! Kool-Aid drinkers! Time wasters! Social “Not”working!
In a previous posting (Using Social Media in your B2B Business) I discussed a few of the inherent problems of dumping large amounts of effort and time into updating your social media feeds, as well as some of the interpersonal dynamics of social media.
But I realized something really important about social media activity after discussing the subject with a colleague recently.
Today, a business without any social media activity looks strange
I’m talking about virtually any business that has a marketing and sales function.
Almost all businesses really need to adopt some of the trappings of social media, whether they are B2B or B2C.
Social media participation will probably not result in significant lead generation by itself, unless you dump a prodigious amount of effort into building an audience or following.
Social media won’t eliminate your real world networking efforts.
But I am realizing that social media has become as key to being in business as business cards, as key as a “DBA” or “doing business as” name, a website, or a brochure have always been.
In short – social media in 2012 is a new overhead function necessary to most businesses.
Social media parallels the start of the public web in the 1990s
Remember the massive hype that surrounded the “world wide web” in the late 1990s?
Anything Dot-Com was being touted as the Second Coming, the One True Way, and the Singularity. All would be on the web. The web was all. The entire business world was engaged in a massive “Kumbaya” moment of world wide web adulation.
Sometime after that: most high flying internet stocks tanked; and the internet – the web – was gradually incorporated by most businesses as a new type of marketing overhead.
Web sites came to be expected by customers. Web sites became standard commodities.
Social media right now (in 2012) is where “the world wide web” was in 1999 or so. At some point in the future, social media will be regarded as necessary overhead and in some instances a source of lead generation, but not with the worship and uncritical fan behavior that one sees today. Social media will, one day, become boring overhead.
Many businesses resisted the web when the technology was new to the public. The web in 1999 was a coarse instrument. Approaches to marketing on the web back then lacked finesse, and therefore, the web was a target of ridicule by many in business.
Just as social media today seems to attract an immature, overly enthusiastic crowd and to lack the dimensionality required for many uses – and so forms a scapegoat for seasoned business veterans.
The point is, this all has happened before, when the web was new, and eventually, we were all forced to incorporate the internet in some manner into our businesses.
Social media presence is now the “new normal”
In the last 15 years, much business has moved online, to the internet.
This implies geographically distant working relationships. This in turn implies that instilling trust is a new problem.
Actually, the problem of creating relationships of trust has existed whenever there are long distance or internet based business dealings. This was the situation prior to social media.
With the advent of social media, businesses are practically expected to provide a sense of their personality and history, and their management’s level of diligence and care through their social media programs. Most of it is perceptual, but the perception exists among the buying public that social media indicates that you are “for real”.
Why is this? I believe that customers look for “normalizing” aspects of businesses – things that businesses do that give them an appearance of doing all of the normal and expected things.
Other businesses in your space probably have some social media footprint. In fact, almost all businesses that do not have captive customer bases probably have some social media outreach.
Businesses that don’t seem to really be in business may be passed over by customers in favor of those that do. And social media footprint may just be the reason that a customer decides to give their business to one provider over another.
As an easy and straightforward example of this effect, look at restaurants.
Those that ignore the social media aspects of their business – meaning that they don’t read, pay attention to, or participate in customer reviews that are posted to very social media – like sites such as UrbanSpoon and Yelp – face lower levels of business due to their inability to see or respond to customer input and critiques.
How to establish a minimal social media presence
I would like to recommend a set of simple “best practices” that can cover many of the bases of your business’s need for social media presence.
I see two distinct quantum levels of social media effort, and associated results. Let’s discuss them quickly.
I recommend a low but fairly consistent level of social media authoring and updating. This is essential in order to be regarded as a “contender” by many customers.
A very high, active, content-rich level of social media authoring and updating is completely optional for your health and visibility as a business. (I am not recommending this particular approach in this article.)
My recommendation to keep your social media head above water is to implement a minimal social media plan.
Here is the plan:
- Have key executives (at least the owner in a very small business) establish their own LinkedIn profile pages that denote the business as their current, primary job. Note that this is absolutely essential for a professional services driven business and is highly recommended for any B2B business. The point is that the owners of the business cannot be anonymous non-entities in today’s transparent social media driven environment.
- Create a corporate Facebook “Fan Page”, which is a stand alone web page hosted on Facebook that is not associated with a natural person. If you gain 25 likes of your Fan Page, you can select a customized URL for the page that consists of your chosen name with no “decoration” by Facebook with its internal data fields. IE: your Facebook Fan Page URL could look like mine: http://www.facebook.com/softwarecopywriting
- Use a software “feed sharing” solution, such as LinksAlpha, that allows you to make a blog post once from a WordPress site and then have a notice of the post automatically inserted into your social media feeds on other sites, such as Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. The point here is to make the updating of your social media presence easy by making it happen automatically when you publish a new blog piece.
- Blog occasionally and post it to your company web site, and feature the new item in your “timeline” on LinkedIn and your Facebook fan page. This means simply: write a short, informative article that expresses your business’s position on an issue, or a helpful or informative item for your customers. Try to post at least one new article every couple of weeks. Make it easy on yourself so that you post something regularly. The idea is to show some activity – not to publish a dissertation.
LinkedIn profiles for your executive team or owner.
A Facebook fan page for your business.
Blog modest opinion and commentary pieces occasionally.
Post the links to those pieces on your LinkedIn and Facebook fan page time lines.
What if you just don’t write and don’t want to?
The sharing of written content is key to social media. If you have no original content to share, consider reposting relevant links to high quality articles from the business or popular media in your timeline.
Two warnings apply, however:
- A considerable amount of this activity is perceived as “noise” activity on social media. Many users automatically mask it out and disregard it.
- Posting a high volume of this type of material with no accompanying commentary from you will be treated as “spam” by subscribers who will regard it as insincere, impersonal noise and who will “un-listen” to your feed.
You may, however, wish to deal with a freelance writer who can produce your content on your terms in order to improve the visibility of your business.
Recognize that some social media footprint is a virtual necessity of doing business today, just as business cards have always been.
For the sake of your mental health and blood pressure, ignore the fan boys, the true believers, the snake oil salesmen, and the hypsters who have a collective memory that extends 15 minutes into the past.
I mean – ignore the entire ecosystem of social media adulation. Co-opt the essential parts of social media for your own use.
Know what your immediate and longer term goals are with social media. I propose that simple presence – “footprint” – just being “there” – is a good goal to target for most businesses.
Establish and maintain a minimal social media presence as simply and as directly as possible. Update it once in a while to show a spark of life.
And get back to work and to your business, and go make some money. Offline. Like you always have.
With your social media presence out there – as validation – for those who desire to see it.