Cracking the social media puzzle

Using social media channels to help promote your business can be a daunting prospect for those who prefer more traditional means of communication, but could you be missing out on a central piece of the marketing jigsaw? Fiona Carter offers a helpful guide for beginners. 

Using social network marketing provides any business with a cost-effective opportunity to interact with potential customers to find out what they really want. Research shows that customers want to be listened to and they are more likely to be swayed by validations from others than by aggressive advertising.

This is all particularly useful to plumbers and HVAC contractors who rely heavily on word of mouth to promote their business and this is about the sense of trust in the quality of your work – which is obviously essential in this business. As you know, by creating a conversation and building up relationships with your customers they are more likely to trust and value you as a professional and retain your services.

Social media is just an extension of this. It works by interacting with customers or potential customers; the only difference is that it is not face-to-face communication. But using social media can be a very useful way of dealing effectively with any customer concerns, queries or complaints and can therefore help protect your reputation.

Rapid response
Even if you are not interested in social media, others are! For example, if a customer has a gripe about your work they may well resort to Twitter or Facebook to air their grievances. If you are on Twitter or Facebook then you will quickly be made aware of any potential problems and will hopefully be able to nip them in the bud. Without your own social media accounts, you may miss both good and any less favourable comments that could be made.

Social media marketing should be viewed as an important part of any marketing strategy, as it is an effective way to get more visits to your website, gain attention for your business products and services, build up your customer base and ultimately result in a more profitable business.

There are not many businesses who wouldn’t want either more customers or better paying customers. Using social media will help you build up your customer base – it’s also worth bearing in mind that even if you decide to not get involved, there are likely to be many competitors who will take a different view!

Where to start?
Well, there is so much out there so I am going to concentrate on the four forms of social media which will be the most likely for you to get the best return for your investment. Remember, it is possible to use social media for free, although you can use various add on advertising packages. The biggest challenge is in getting started.

Twitter is good for getting your name out there and letting people know that you exist. It is very useful for market research and helps drive people to your website. This is something that you need to do regularly, really at least two to three times a week. You need to start following others that are relevant to your business and then they will begin to follow you.

But rather than just sending out sales messages, it is best to engage with your audience by sending ‘tweets’ or retweeting others with your own comments to show that you have your own unique perspective on these. Once someone has followed you, they will receive any tweets that you make. The real skill lies in developing a two-way dialogue and avoiding sales-based messages by tweeting about your customers’ concerns and interests rather than yourself. You can do this by asking questions of your customers that show you value your their opinions.  For example, ‘how satisfied are you with the performance of your central heating?’ But be prepared to respond and hopefully find a resolution which may (or may not!) include hiring your services.

This is also an opportunity to share hints and tips which once again help to build up trust. Industry training topics can be used to good effect here.

Twitter is probably one of the easiest forms of social media to use, and one of its strongest characteristics is that it is immediate and excellent for alerting people to time/date related events, special offers or news. Currently you can only write 140 characters and spaces, but there are future plans to expand this.

Facebook works in a similar way to Twitter but probably takes longer to build up a list of friends. However, you can use it to build a good reputation for your business. Good examples of plumbing and HVAC contractors using Facebook can be seen where they include photos of their work and display customer endorsements.

Including a video on Facebook will allow you to demonstrate your personality and passion for what you do. Both Twitter and Facebook are informal in the style of communication and you can be playful and have fun with it, but they still have the potential to generate powerful results.

But, as with Twitter, it is important to remember to try to build up a two-way dialogue and give useful information to potential customers – not solely pushing your business. Facebook allows you to develop a timeline that reflects the growth of your company and the milestones it has reached. To be successful, write quality content, have an engaging manner and then connect with your audience.

LinkedIn is very much a business-to-business tool for professionals and allows you to create a keyword optimised profile (see jargon buster panel). You can participate in discussion groups and connect with potential customers. In terms of priorities, I would recommend focusing on Facebook and Twitter before moving on to this.

YouTube is currently the second biggest search engine, and the power of video on this site is immense. These can vary from expert interviews to ‘how to’ slide shows. A properly constructed video accompanied by a title which is keyword optimised makes it easy to find and will have its own unique website name. Ideally it is best to add explanatory notes to your video containing important messages.

Of course, the cost of this can vary, but ultimately it is better to have some input from marketing experts, even if you don’t want to go the whole hog and commission your own video.

Key aims
In summary, your social media marketing needs to be part of your marketing mix and budget, and the aim of the game is to:

  Create a ‘buzz’ about your business
  Focus on two-way communication
  Build up a network of contacts, such as people who follow you back on Twitter, become friends with you on Facebook, or follow you on Facebook
  Listen to your customers
  Generate leads
  Build company/brand awareness
  Create offers by sending tweets or posts to your contacts

Seeking advice
So if you are now convinced that you do need to incorporate social media marketing into your overall marketing, what is the next step? Many companies try to do all the social media marketing themselves or get their teenage children to do it for them (with differing degrees of success!). There are of course agencies that will manage the whole process for you, but at a cost.

Another option is get professional help and guidance in the early stages of setting up accounts and deciding upon a strategy. This should be tailor-made to both your experience and your budget and would need to include training so that you or your colleagues can do weekly or day-to-day updates on your accounts.

So if you are concerned about growing your business, investing a bit of time, effort and marketing budget on social media can certainly pay dividends. For many people it all seems like too much effort, especially when you have your core business activities to be getting on with and invoices to chase, but just half an hour spent on social media at the beginning or end of the day – plus 10 minutes here and there between jobs – could prove to be time well spent.

About the author: Fiona Carter is MD of 3Beez Solutions, offering tailor-made marketing, advertising and PR services, including digital and social marketing solutions for small businesses. For further information, please visit: www.3beezsolutions.com

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