ALC English Journal Article January 2014

Social Media

QUESTION: I’ve heard many businesses use social media tools like Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and Twitter, but we’re not using them in our business. Why do we need to use these in the business world? Aren’t these tools just for personal use?

ANSWER: Absolutely not! But change is uncomfortable, and initial resistance is normal. When ATMs were first introduced many people refused to use them. Now people consider them routine. These social media tools have become vital to the professional success of both individuals and organizations.

A small business can look BIG! These days a website isn’t enough of an online business presence. I run a one-person consulting business, and I use all of these tools! “Wiefling Consulting” has a Facebook fan page, a Google+ page, and a YouTube Channel. And of course I use LinkedIn for professional networking. In addition, I maintain a separate online presence for my “Scrappy Women in Business” book on Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and Twitter. Surprisingly, I find that I have a bigger “footprint” on the Internet than many of the multi-national companies that are my clients!

Resistance is futile! Some businesses hesitate to use these tools because they can’t control everything that happens. But even strict policies banning employees from participating in social media won’t prevent your customers from talking about you online. Over 70% of B2B (business-to-business) companies have a Facebook Fan Page now! It’s time you joined them.

Follow these five stages on the journey to making your business “social”:

  1. Monitor conversations about your company.  Even if you don’t actively participate in online communities, you need to know what’s being said about your business and your industry. This is the minimum required to be a responsible non-participant.
  1. Join existing conversations. Build your credibility by sharing useful information in forums where people are already talking about your company or your industry. Be authentic. Don’t make excuses if your company is criticized. Be grateful for honest feedback, and take immediate action to address valid complaints.
  1. Establish your social media pages. Build your community initially by inviting customers, colleagues, and suppliers to follow you. Keep them by consistently sharing something of value. Give people a reason to follow you, a reason to return to your page, and a reason to share your page with others.
  1. Engage your community. Invite active community members to contribute in more meaningful ways, such as by writing guest blogs, or posting product or service reviews. Crowdsourcing ideas for your business can also actively engage followers.
  1. Go viral! Post items that your followers will share with their communities. Discounts, freebies, and contests with even modest prizes, can produce tremendous returns. Intuit, a supplier of small business accounting software, invited small business owners to submit stories about their businesses. These business owners then invited their friends to “like” their stories to win the competition. Even though the prizes were modest, over 100,000 potential new clients were attracted to Intuit’s website by this contest!

Don’t be fooled by the name “social media”. These tools are an important part of every company’s strategy to engage customers, suppliers, employees, shareholders, and the communities in which they do business. It takes very little time and money to build and maintain this kind of presence on the Internet. Nobody would be silly enough to try to travel to the moon in a boat. Don’t attempt to run your business using only last-century marketing tools!

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