Social Savvy: To be or not to in business - Feb 2018

By Christine B. Whittemore

What’s your reaction to social media for business? Whether you’re looking to reach consumers or work directly with other businesses, chances are that your sentiments are mixed.

On one hand, many social networks are now acceptable for business use and are considered the equivalent of mass media. Just about everyone has an account and posts updates, shares photos, offers reviews, tweets, likes or upvotes-or knows someone who does.

On the other hand, social networking is messy, noisy, ever-changing and seemingly all-consuming. Everyone seems to be doing it; it’s inextricably linked to technology and sometimes intimidating if you aren’t part of the digital-from-birth crowd. What’s more, it may not seem to have immediate relevance to your business.

You have grown up with social networks. Since birth, you’ve been part of a family, a neighborhood, a school, a church, sports and work teams and other networks based on conferences you’ve attended and topics you’re interested in. Your network constantly evolves. And your business depends on that network and how you nurture it over time. That holds true for both direct-to-consumer and business-to-business operations.

Generally, social networking happens in person, over the phone and via written correspondence, whether email or other one-to-one tools such as text messages, messenger apps or direct messages. It also happens increasingly on digital social networks where the interactions are more public.

Being digitally social in business can quickly get complicated because of that public angle. Social networks function as a result of individuals interacting with one another just as in real life. That’s how networks like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn got started. LinkedIn allows you to network professionally. Twitter enables you to connect with individuals who share your interests, and Facebook is about your personal interactions. Eventually, companies became part of the mix.

Companies, though, aren’t people. Even if you are the company, there’s a difference between how you act when you’re the company and when you are yourself. If your company has employees, you have even more entities to manage socially-though their enthusiasm for your business is infectious and credible. Shared socially, it’s gold, because networks work better when real people participate. They can be powerful ambassadors for your brand in real life and online.

It’s the social business paradox. Yet it’s not that different from real life, except that the platforms are more public.

From a business perspective, you can’t hide out socially under a rock. You must be where your customers are so that you can hear them when they talk about you and have the opportunity to respond.

If most of them are socially active on digital networks, don’t you want to be available where they are, even if the interactions are public, especially if they talk about you and your competitors?

Here’s a roadmap for getting started.

Step 1. Google your company and brand name and see what shows up in the search results. Claim any profile that appears-many autogenerate because your company, office, showroom or store has a legitimate business address.

Be particularly on the lookout for Google-My-Business, the Google+ listing associated with your company when a map and reviews show up in searches, and Yelp listings. You may need to validate your Google profile locations via a postcard or a verification code. If you have several locations, you’ll have profiles for each.

Add your logo and images of your showroom, office or store. Detail your hours of operation. Include your website address.

Step 2. Check your Google Analytics website data to see which social networks drive traffic to your site already. If you haven’t added analytics to your site, do so. If you don’t have enough information, go to Step 3.

Step 3. Ask your customers and suppliers where they hang out socially online and why. If you haven’t already, start using visual social tools, such as Pinterest, Houzz, Instagram or even Slideshare in conversations with customers to help drive inspiration and problem solving. Perhaps an instructional YouTube video is just what you need to make a point.

Step 4. Check out where your competition hangs out socially and what they do there. What kind of reaction do they generate? What do you and your customers like about what they’re doing or not doing?

Step 5. Find out who in your company is active socially and on which networks. Which networking organizations do they participate in? Many chambers of commerce and trade organizations are active socially and will support you.

Step 6. Set up company profiles on the major social networks-Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+-and any others that come up based on what you learn from your exploration. Make sure your NAP-name, address, phone-are consistent across all your profiles and on your website. This is a big deal.

Step 7. Develop social media guidelines for your organization. They will document how to represent customers, whether you need permission from them to mention them or share their images, how employees should identify themselves online, support what the company does online, and participate in group discussions.

Step 8. Do some customer service scenario planning. The most practical reason to be on social networks is so you can address customer service questions, issues and reviews. Be ready to address them in a timely manner. Identify who’s responsible for first contact. Know how to acknowledge and respond, take conversations offline or private, and be ready to encourage reviews.

Step 9. Develop a content strategy and calendar so you know what to say when on social networks. This may include visuals, links and conversational updates as well as helpful information. Be ready to customize the information for the appropriate social network. Regularly drive people from your social outposts back to your website or physical location.

Step 10. Identify goals for participating in social networks. This is critical, so you know how to evaluate your business efforts and don’t get permanently lost in a digital rabbit hole.

You’ll soon discover that some social networks are more relevant than others for meeting your business goals. That’s where you’ll want to focus.

Many dealers and distributors discover that Pinterest consistently drives traffic to their sites based on pinning images from a blog article or their website on a weekly basis.

LinkedIn may be more valuable to your sales representatives. Encourage all your employees to complete their LinkedIn profiles with a professional photo and a link to your LinkedIn company profile. Have them all include the same descriptive company snippet.

On Facebook, your company will need to pay for visibility. However, you will be able to experiment with audiences, locations, demographics and interests to fine tune your messaging and your reach. You’ll learn a lot about what resonates from regularly posting on your company page.

If your goal is to educate about a complex product or category, you may find YouTube ideal.

Twitter makes sense with filters. These can be Twitter lists you create, search terms or specific hashtags for topics, conferences or even regular Twitter chats with kitchen and bath interior designers, for example.

Instagram may be ideal for connecting with thought-leaders and influencers in your space.
Get started, experiment and monitor to determine whether the value is about networking with others in your space, addressing customer service inquiries, promoting your brand or generating leads for your business.

Remember that social networks are forever evolving. Stay nimble and curious so you and your business evolve with them. Pay attention!

And pay attention to Social Savvy each month, as I dig deeper into the above ten steps to help you create a successful social media “roadmap.”