Sunday, July 25, 2010

Start Up Sunday series - Week 8 - Online Marketing & Social Media

Start Up Sunday – Week 8 Online Marketing & Social Media

These days, the world is far smaller than it ever was – we can converse in real time with people from all four corners of the world via the internet. We are inundated with information all at times of the day and night. Whilst this can lead, at times, to information overload or major repetition (evidence Sky News rehashing the same topic over and over again, from every conceivable angle when something even remotely interesting happens), but from a business perspective it means that there are people out there, possible clients, who want and actively seek out information – information we can provide them about us and our business in an easily accessible, inexpensive and readily available manner.

Small businesses, generally speaking, do not start out with mega marketing budgets. These usually are factored in over time, as the business begins to make enough money to cover those types of costs. Whilst that makes total sense, the question remains – how do you get your message out to your potential customers if you don’t have a budget? How can you compete with the “big boys” if you don’t have a budget to match their marketing strategies?
The question is at your very fingertips. The internet and the use of social media. Most people have heard of Facebook and Twitter and many people use it regularly to catch up with friends and colleagues. But how do you turn something used for social purposes into a vibrant, exciting business marketing and promotional tool?

Firstly, you should know that setting up a Facebook page or a Twitter account costs nothing. It is entirely free. You can set up a business page very simply and add an image of your logo or one of your products. Include details of your website, blog, contact information – add photos and say something interesting about them. Make a page you’d like to read as a possible customer… ask yourself what you’d like to see and provide that. Then you can go ahead and invite your friends and family to join.

When you’ve built up at least 25 fans, you can change your Facebook fan page to what they call a "Vanity URL". When you first create your Facebook fan page, the web link will pretty much just be a string of letters and numbers and will be long and not very attractive. To make it more like your own site link, that contains the name of your company, click on to At the bottom of the page, you'll see a link called "set a username for your pages". Click on it and then you'll see a drop down - click on this and you should see your "business fan page". At that point, you should put in the name of your company/fan page, ie Soaperstar. Word of warning, at this stage you have to make commitment to using that name - you can't go back and change it later so make sure you've clicked the right thing!!!

After doing all this, you'll have a nice simple Facebook Fan Page address instead of a mass of jumbled up letters and numbers after the dot com. This is handy to quote on your business cards, the end of your emails, on Twitter, your blog, the end of forum signatures etc.

Setting up a Twitter account is really easy also – use an ID name that includes your company name; mine, for example, is @Soaperstar… some names are already taken so try something that is readily identifiable as you. Always, always, always fill out your complete profile – this will help you if people want to find out more about you before they decide to follow you. Personally I won’t follow anyone who doesn’t have some information in their profile (at minimum location and a blurb about themselves, but it’s far better if they have a link to their website – an excellent way to drive people there also). Choose a picture as an image of your and/or your company. Mine is really simple but people know it’s me/Soaperstar. My advice is don’t change it too often or at all – this is because a lot of people rely on the images against account names to recognize a person… change that image too often and people won’t remember who you are.

If you're using Twitter regularly, I would personally recommend that you download Tweetdeck, click; it's free and it manages the process far easier. You can set up columns for your friends or for specific people you want to keep a track on. If you want to use hashtags (which are used for subjects of interest to people - if lots of people use it for the same subject, it's called trending) then add your hashtags, ie #weddingplanners and/or #weddingfavours to your Tweet. Then people can search for all the #soap tweets if they want. Also it makes it a more trending topic.

Ok, so now you’re all set up. What do you do next? Well, here comes the bit where it is going to cost you … but not in money. One of the real keys to good social media interaction is that you have to spend time on it. Social media works so well because you form relationships with people – you create a page, you show your products, you give them the link to your site… but why should they visit, why should they look at your page, why should they talk to you? Another key ingredient in the successful use of social media is making networks, which basically means making friends. Whilst you may have invited your family and friends onto your Facebook page or chat to them on Twitter occasionally, you’re not really going to make your fortune from them so you need to extend beyond them. However, they can be important to help drive their friends and colleagues to your page so encourage them to invite others to join. An incentive often helps so, depending on your product or service, offer a giveaway or a discount for your Facebook or Twitter friends. People love a bargain, especially in these recessionary times and if they think they just have to send a few invites to your page or recommend you on Twitter and have a chance of getting something for free, then they’ll do it.

One of the problems people have when they first start on Twitter (and Facebook to a lesser extent) is that they have no clue how to start a conversation or get someone to chat to you. How do you make friends? You do it the same way you do anywhere else - online is no different from offline. When you don't know someone but think they might be nice or interesting, you say "Hi, how are you, having a good day?" or something, to them. It's not going to rock their world (but it might make them happy, sometimes a nice hello is worth its weight in gold) but it's going to say that you're a decent nice person... generally speaking, the reaction will be "hi, I'm fine, how are you?” And so it starts. Just like it does no matter where you are - yes, it feels a little awkward at the start but it does in real life too. You cannot get to know someone without starting off with a Hello!

So now I hear you saying, "Ok, that's fine, just say hi, what next?” What's next is keep up the conversation, or chat to others in the same way ... talk about something interesting, something they might want to talk about. For example, imagine you're selling ski equipment - a hard sell but you could start out with a shout out to everyone saying "I've just come back from a ski holiday, it was fantastic, anyone else been on one?". You'll no doubt get an answer or two .. ask them some questions, be interested. Don't jump in with "oh wanna buy some equipment?".. drop the fact that you sell equipment into the conversation but don't make it the topic of the conversation. They'll know now that you sell equipment but it doesn't mean that you're a nameless faceless person selling equipment and nothing else - you're a human being, interacting with them, being interested, being funny (hopefully!) who happens to sell ski equipment. Keep up that conversation over time, make friends, chat when you get online and who will they go to for their ski equipment if they need any?? Their friend, who's a nice person and funny and who, handily enough, sells ski equipment. Get it? That's the beauty of social marketing and the key to it - you have to be a person, you have to be real, you have to be YOU. You are the company yes, but you're also a person with feelings and thoughts and opinions, not just a person selling ski equipment. So share yourself, whilst you're sharing your business.

That's the thing to remember about social media and marketing - it's sociable! You need to interact with people, chat, talk about things, give an opinion, be yourself. Drop in some tweets or Facebook updates about your business in the mix, link it to what people are talking about, let them know that you sell handbags or soap or ski equipment or whatever and do it in a way that it seems to meet people's needs and wants.

You will slowly but surely build up a network of friends, some of whom will become your customers, some not. They are people that see you as a person .. but a person who runs a business and when they need what you provide, the first person they’ll think of is you.

If you're a small business starting out, think about your marketing strategies, your budget available to you - see what time you can offer to social media (it does take time to build up friendships, online or offline, so dropping in and out once a month isn't going to cut it, I'm afraid). Don't be afraid to be yourself, show people that you're someone they want to get to know, be funny, be interesting. Get your brand out there via your profile, your personality and your business related tweets but don't make it just about the business - the business is you not just the brand.

Some key do’s are:
  • Put time and effort into keeping both your Facebook and Twitter pages up to date and interesting
  • Plan a certain amount of time a day that you’ll devote to marketing and choose the time of day wisely. Not that many people will be around at 3.00 am but more may be online at 7.00 or 8.00 pm – work out when the best time is for your particular audience 
  • Be personable, be yourself, be pleasant  
  • Do be honest – if you don’t supply something, can’t supply it or can’t provide a service, be honest and say so  
Some key dont's are:

  • Don’t swear or rant and rave about customers or suppliers – it’s not professional or businesslike
  • Don’t think a “hit and run” approach to social media will work – it won’t. You’re wasting your time if you think you need to drop in once a month and say nothing.
  • Don’t underestimate the value of social media to your business – you are talking to a huge potential market out there. One of the most famous business Twitter users is Dell, which said that $9m of its 2009 sales came directly through Twitter and Facebook combined . It has been argued that smaller businesses also benefit from using Twitter, since they can compete on equal terms with larger businesses within the Twitter platform . In the UK, a survey indicated that 17% of small British businesses were using Twitter, mainly to attract new customers.

On Friday 11 June 2010, Mashable (one of the most influential blogs reporting on social media) reported on a survey they held asking users to define social media. They noted 20 key words that were used by people as their personal definition: 
  • Collaboration
  • Network
  • Conversation
  • Sharing
  • Relationships
  • Multi-dimensional
  • Inclusive
  • Information
  • Community
  • Personalization
  • Empowering
  • A Radical Shift in Communication
  • Real-time
  • People
  • Content Distribution
  • Self-expression
  • Unity
  • Dynamic
  • Discovery
  • Power of the Crowd
These words are hugely powerful and illustrate for anyone starting out in business how important involvement in social media is – to network with real people in real time, to build relationships with people, to distribute your company information in a dynamic powerful manner to reach your intended audience. I personally find these words are inspiring for a small business owner because it proves that one person can involve themselves in a community of like minded people, building and maintaining relationship with friends and customers alike.

I hope that this blog post has helped you understand the importance of social media as a key marketing tool for small business.  Now... make sure you set that Facebook and Twitter Page up today - link your new pages in the comments below and we at Creation|Collaboration will be very proud and happy to follow you!!


  1. Another great article. It can be hard to get your head round social media. But stick with it and the penny will drop. It's works a treat for me.

  2. Me too... but when you get busy it can be hard to find the time to work at it so then you have the conundrum of how to balance the physical work with the work online (especially when most people think you're "playing" online even when it is actually work).

  3. Yes, when you get over the scared, I don't know what to do phase everything slots in place.
    Social media is the best possible resource for new business and is taking over from magazine advertising as the best place to get your message accross and be in front of the customer. Great post x