Share this Local experts post social media advice for small biz

February 25, 2011
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Unlike big businesses who hire experts, small businesses may take a DIY approach to the use of websites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, and other variations on the theme.

The Business Journal asked four savvy social media practitioners in Grand Rapids for their advice for small businesses looking for fans, friends, links, likes and viral videos.

Pete Brand, MindScape at Hanon McKendry

Brand was a co-founder of MindScape in 2001. Hanon McKendry acquired equity in the company in 2008.

“Don’t be intimidated by the technical side of social media. Many small businesses avoid using social media because they’re uncomfortable with technology and can’t get beyond that hurdle. Social media is simply another communication medium, similar to the telephone. It provides companies the ability to meet with their customers and prospective customers where they are and engage in conversations about what is most important to them.

“Social media allows businesses to gain credibility, not only with their fans and followers, but with ‘friends’ of fans and followers. You can see what they’re talking about, learn what’s important to them and capitalize on the valuable information they share. Plus, you can leverage the trust people place in their friends’ opinions. A recent report shows that 90 percent of people online trust recommendations from friends versus only 55 percent who trust advertisements placed by the brands, themselves.

“Social media gives you the ability to raise brand awareness simply by engaging your customers and prospective customers in meaningful dialog. As you do, each of your discussions is visible to your contact’s 500 (or more) friends on their social network. That's pretty powerful stuff!”

Angela Brown, communications specialist, Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce

Follow Hope College alumna Brown on Twitter, #gracc. More than 80 percent of GRACC’s members are businesses with 50 or fewer employees.

“To be effective, social media should be integrated with your entire branding, marketing and public relations plans. If your Twitter and Facebook posts aren’t backing up what your customer sees on your website or reads about your company, you can be perceived as untrustworthy. People like to do business with those they trust, so make sure your social media efforts build your brand, not erode it.

“Use free tools to make your social media efforts easier. Free downloads like Tweet Deck, Co-Tweet and others make it easy to monitor your brand, respond immediately, send posts at specific times, track different subjects and more. You can even map your 'influence' with a tool like Klout, which gives you a score and tells you about your social media habits.

“Use a 20 percent rule: When using social media to build your business, only make 20 percent of your posts about you. When 80 percent of what you are posting is useful information to your audience of customer base, it makes that overt marketing message a little easier to swallow!”

Derek DeVries, Grand Rapids Community College

As communications technology manager for the PR department at GRCC, and a board member of the West Michigan chapter of PRSA, DeVries has leveraged social media for both organizations.

“Conduct your business and your life as though they could end up on Wikileaks (because they could).

“Focus on customer service as one of the most important things you do: As the traditional media fades in influence, word of mouth is replacing it, and your interactions with customers are the single most powerful communication opportunity you have with them.

“Create a large footprint: Publish as much good content about yourself and your organization and make sure it's tagged and indexed well. You can't predict where or how people will find out about you. Increasingly, it's through search, so the larger your footprint, the likelier it is that someone will find it.

“If your business is geographically based, like retail or entertainment, get into Foursquare. You have an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of what will become a pervasive form of brand interaction with consumers.”

Beth Dornan, Amway Corporate Communications

Dornan is one of several Amway communications staffers who focus on social media. Amway’s social media participation is a globe-wide assignment, as the $9.2 billion company now finds its largest market in China.

“Engagement: Social media is a conversation, and the best conversations are two-way. If you're only talking or Tweeting about yourself, your company or your brands, people will stop following and listening. Sure, you want to share news about your company. But also share blog posts that intrigue you, authors that delight you and images that inspire you. They'll probably intrigue, delight and inspire others, as well.

“Language: Whether you're representing yourself or your company or brand through social media, you're still a person, so you should sound like one. Leave the corporate-speak at your website and talk with others through social media just like you would if you met them face-to-face. You can be on-brand and personable at the same time.

“Many companies view social media as another vehicle to send their messages, and Facebook, Twitter and other networking sites do provide that opportunity. But a more important role for social media is to help companies and brands understand, in real time, how they're viewed by their customers. Social media provides continual feedback and ongoing opportunities to engage with customers to resolve concerns, create understanding and forge relationships that can lead to customer loyalty and advocacy.”

Prof. Tim Penning, Grand Valley State University

An associate professor of communications at GVSU, Penning teaches public relations and is also a PR consultant.

“Don’t go in unless you can be there. Jumping into social media because it’s a hot new thing can be a bad move if you don’t have the time or understanding to do it well. You have to be social. If you’re not, you’ll look like someone who goes to a party and stares at the floor.

“It’s a conversation, not a proclamation. Social media is about relationships and two-way dialogue. It is not a broadcast channel to “target” customers. That may happen, eventually, but you have to be social. You have to listen. And you should respond when people direct a comment at you. Otherwise, you look incompetent or arrogant.

“Have objectives and strategies. Like any communications planning, you should set for yourself some specific and measurable objectives. Why are you getting into social media? Is it simply for sales? Lead generation? Establishing thought leadership? Building a network? Whatever your objectives, keep in mind the appropriate conversational norms of social media, and then set some thoughtful strategies to achieve those objectives.”

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