Lots of small businesses – especially new ones – are jumping into social media because it’s the hot thing to do. But achieving results is something else entirely. You need a strategy and framework for creating the kind of experiences consumers want and demand in the digital era, says Rick Mathieson, vice president for Silicon Valley-based Creative Advertising & Interactive Media and a leading voice on digital marketing.
Here are five rules from Mathieson on using social media to launch or jumpstart a small business.
Rule #1: Ask Why, not How: Just because social networking is hot, that doesn’t mean it’s right for every new business. Don’t just ask yourself what your social networking strategy should be. Ask why it should be, and why your target customers should care.
For example, the small Seattle-based firm Jones Soda couldn’t afford pricey TV commercials to launch its brand of beverages. So it uses social media to connect with consumers in highly personal ways. Jones Soda Facebook “Fans” can upload photos that might be printed on Jones bottles and labels. Today, it has over a million submissions and has used thousands on bottles.
“We allowed the labels to be discovered, and that gave consumers a sense of ownership,” says founder Peter van Stolk. Paying a celebrity to sponsor a beverage has been worked to death by big soda brands. “For all the money they have, our big name competitors should be thinking more originally, but they don’t. If they ever do, I’m dead,” says van Stolk.
Rule #2: Focus on Events and Offers: While some pundits can find social media success by simply sharing their “stream-of-consciousness,” chances are you can’t. For most small businesses, a more strategic approach is in order. Think of social media as digital direct mail — the ability to deliver limited-time, social network-only offers.
Countless small pizza shops, for instance, offer specials on social networks to attract customers, says Mathieson. Some are now pulling as much as 40 percent of their business from such efforts. According to a new Rice University study, Facebook fans of one Houston-based cafe chain visited 20 percent more often and spent one-third more than non-fans.
Rule #3: Keep It Social to Keep Them Coming Back: Youth-oriented discount travel company STA uses social media to help customers meet others who love to travel, and who may be part of the vacation packages they purchase. Users can read about other people’s adventures through their own words, tips, photos and videos. And they can ask experts about travel related issues. Best of all, the company offers travel prizes monthly. And Twitter and RSS feeds will even send STA subscribers the cheapest flights so they can stop spending hours online searching for the best deals.
Rule #4: Be Creative about Selling:The price of developing apps for Facebook is dropping, and with ingenuity, can be revenue builders. Pizza Hut recently launched a Facebook app that lets customers place orders directly. The time is coming soon when a local sandwich shop will be able to do the same.
Los Angeles startup ice cream truck company Coolhaus takes a different approach. In addition to differentiating itself with ice cream sandwiches designed with architectural principles and names like “The Frank Lloyd Light,” Coolhaus roams Los Angeles and updates its location on Twitter, says co-founder Natasha Case. The idea is to entice people out of offices and onto the street for an “ice cream social” that racks up serious sales.
Rule #5: Be a Good Social Listener:Social networks are also a great way to solicit customer feedback. Perhaps you’ve heard of Dell’s “Twelpforce” (or Twitter help force), a team that fields questions, offers suggestions and sends Twitter-specific promos to followers. Small businesses can use social media in the same way, answering customer questions and providing purchasing guidance.
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About the Author: Daniel Kehrer, Founder and Chief Content Officer of BizBest Media, is a senior-level leader in digital media, content development and online marketing with special expertise in startups, SMB, social media and generating traffic, engagement and leads. He holds an MBA from UCLA/Anderson and is a passionate entrepreneur (started 4 businesses), syndicated columnist, blogger, thought leader and author of 7 business and financial books.