Social Media and SMEs

Social Media is no doubt a buzz word and everyone wants a part of the action. The key is to figure out how to really use social media tools to your advantage. Done right, social media can play a huge role in acquisition and retention of clients as well as overall client satisfaction. Done in a half-baked way, social media will become a time-consuming hobby that won’t benefit – and could potentially damage – your brand. (Yes, I mean your Facebook ‘fan page’ that you created seven months ago which has been sitting there unmonitored since…do you even know what people are writing on your wall?)

On the web, ignorance is not bliss

If you are not aware of what people are saying about your brand in the online world, you are just plain lazy! With a variety of free buzz monitoring tools (See this great article for a full list with descriptions) you simply do not have an excuse for not knowing what the talk about town about your brand is. Only when you know what people are saying can you respond and manage the perception of your brand in the online world.

People will talk about you

It’s up to you how much of what is being said is negative. Timely responses to complaints or personal messages of thanks for purchases made can turn potentially tricky situations into opportunities for you to shine! Free tools like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Foursquare, Qype and Yelp are there to share information. Existing customers, future fans and even the ‘haters’ all have access to it and it’s up to you to follow along and make your own voice heard too. If you feel overwhelmed by the technology, remember – these sites are all driven and populated by human with needs. Can you fill those needs? If yes, there is a market opportunity just waiting at your fingertips.

Keep it simple

There’s no denying that it’s daunting to first step into the social media waters. There are many big brands (with huge budgets!) that are pushing all the limits of creativity in this sphere and while these big budget online ‘splashes’ can be fun and successful, it’s often the simplest actions that have the greatest impact. Just by acknowledging mentions of your brand online to those potential brand ambassadors you are using an opportunity to form a relationship with a real person. You know that special feeling when you get a personalised note to thank you for staying at a hotel? See this as the same, but in the online sphere – it’s quicker, it’s cheaper and the impact is the same. And it needn’t take up all your time, either. Set aside 30 minutes each day to scan through any online mentions of your brand and pop a quick “thanks for dining with us”, “great to read your glowing review” or “how can we improve your next visit” via twitter and make someone’s day. People like to be recognised but it’s not often that they get the opportunity to connect the restaurants, services, stores or other venues with the business owners behind them. Use that opportunity to connect and you can be almost certain of a return visit.

Don’t go incognito

No one wants to get a message from a ghost, so why would you hide your true personality online? Don’t use a generic Twitter handle for your brand – make sure customers know that you are the actual person tweeting. If you are the owner, create a profile that reflects that. It is surely more special to receive a direct message from the CEO of a company than a generic message from a nameless soldier in the brand’s line-up, right?

Show that you care

It’s easy to show your customers that you are ready to listen to them and are willing to respond. How? By displaying your Twitter or Facebook handle on your website or on those brochures you’re printing you are showing the world that you are ready to communicate with them. You want to hear what they say and you’re willing to respond to it. Bring it on – good or bad!

In social media, less is more

The smaller the business, the better positioned you are to engage one-on-one with your clients. Respond to each and every person that mentions you via Twitter. (Investigate Twitter Lists to help separate different categories of clients into groups, which should help you offer a more customised customer service, something that is only feasible with fewer clients.) Here’s an easy example: Who are your most frequent customers? Make a Twitter List called “Regulars,” and add your regulars on Twitter to it. Now you’ve given your regular customers some online prestige and you can easily send them special offers that they will know they’re only privy to because they’re ‘regulars’.

I think we’ve barely seen the top of the social media mountain (consider that we didn’t even consider something like Facebook a mere five years ago!) and that the real social media bubble is still heading our way. For now, we need to stop fighting it and start embracing the opportunity to communicate with our fans and enemies, ensuring that our brands are seen in the best possible light.

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