By Sheryl Connelly
One of the top questions asked by today's business owners is, Why do I need to be on social media? Its usually followed closely by, Can I really make money using it?
Allow me to dispel the myth: You are not required to use social media to promote your business. No matter what that well-meaning marketing person or business coach says, theres no hard and fast rule in business saying you absolutely need to use social media to properly advertise your self-storage facility. So go ahead and kick the peer pressure to the curb.
To address the second question, Ill ask one back: From where does most of your new business come? If you said word-of-mouth or referrals, then youre among the lucky population who has the potential to really make money using social media. How? Social media is the new word-of-mouth.
Before you get too excited, understand that to garner sales leads from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or any of the social-networking websites, it takes healthy doses of patience and strategy. If youre a business owner who's withstood the recession, you probably have patience in spades, but its putting together a strategy for social media that seems a bit daunting. You may question which networks you should use or what you should say.
Think of social media in terms of a tennis match. Youre using human engagement and dialog to drive preference and loyalty. Think back to the tennis greats. Sure, their talent was exceptional, but it was the way they engaged everyone in the game. In particular, John McEnroe, with his brash comments and passion, kept us on our seats and talking.
Social media is a lot like that. We want to watch some action going back and forth, while being invested in a passionate conversation about something in which we believe. Always keep in mind that social media isnt the conversation, its simply the hypothetical tennis court where the conversation takes place.
There are hundreds of social-media tools out there where conversations are happening. Which ones should you use? None of them ... at least not yet. Dont concern yourself with the tools or platforms available on social media in the beginning. Develop your strategy first, then decide which tools fit best into it. To get you started, Ive outlined seven simple steps to help you develop that elusive social-media strategy.
Step 1: Develop Your Pitch
For non-writers, this may be a tough exercise, but try to determine what youd say to someone to succinctly convey what your company doesin 120 characters or less. Think of this as your social-media elevator speech or commercial. If you were stuck in a room full of cell-phone users with only Twitter to communicate, what would you post? Yes, I know youre allowed to use 140 characters on Twitter, but you want to leave 20 characters for followers to re-tweet your message with a little message of their own or @mention back to you that their own followers can see.
Step 2: Evaluate Your Current Relationship With the Online Community at Large
What does the online community already know about you? On a scale of one to five, with one being not aware and five being that you have an active community of advocates for your business, where do you stand?
If online consumers know nothing about your self-storage business, its probably best to start by developing your social-media community through online brand awareness. If you have a somewhat active community of people who rent from you once, you may want to work on increasing customer loyalty. Active community of advocates? Increase sales. You get the picture.
Step 3: Decide What Kind of Campaign This Will Be
At the end of the day, you have to be able to measure outcomes, so exactly what do you want that result to be? Now that you know where you stand with your current online community, it makes this step easier to determine.
Warning: Strengthening brand awareness, deepening customer loyalty and increasing sales are all worthy outcomes, but dont try to do all of them at once. Pick one and stick with it for a pre-determined amount of time. I recommend a three-month campaign strategy, meaning you will be developing your online community messages and content to support that one strategic objective for a full 90 days.
Step 4: Research How Your Target Audience Uses Social Media
You cant replace good research when it comes to estimating return on your social-media marketing investment. Forrester Research Inc., an independent technology and market research firm, is a fantastic resource to use when determining how your target audience is using social media. Check out its demographics map at www.forrester.com/groundswell/profile_tool.html. Once you understand the consumer-usage behavior, you wont waste time using the wrong networks to get in front of your target audience.
A word of caution: You may feel pressure to address all demographics on social media because it seems so easy to link network accounts. Dont try to be all things to all people. Focus on no more than three social-media demographics within a campaign. You can always target another demo next time.
Step 5: Discover Your Remarkable Difference
Social media is fueled by passion. Find that one thing that your business does better than anyone else and build your campaign around it. For Volvo, its safety. Apple capitalizes on its ability to innovate. Disney constantly seeks ways to show how magical it is. Whatever that one thing about your business is, be passionate about sharing it, and the tribe will follow.
Step 6: Infuse the Human Factor
Social media is about people sharing what they enjoy, find funny or support. Dont feel like you have to do all the work yourself. Allow employees or customers the spotlight to do what social media was designed to do.
Step 7: Identify How You Will Measure Success
Last, but certainly not least, you must decide how youll measure the success of your campaign. If you skip this all important step, youre doing little more than throwing ideas onto a wall to see if they stick.
The beauty of online tools is theyre trackable. Use productivity tools such as Hootsuite, SproutSocial or Google Analytics to add a bit of accountability and measurement reporting to your campaign. Then you can truly say when and if your efforts are yielding a return.
Ultimately, the determining factor of success on social media is: Are you making more money now than before you started using it? Sounds eerily familiar to all your other marketing tactics, doesnt it?
Once youve outlined or formalized a strategy for using social media to promote your self-storage business, you can then choose which networks or tools make the most sense for you. Contrary to popular belief, social-media success is not about creating business profiles on every social-network platform known to man. Its about using the right networks to build a tribe of believers in your business that will spread the word to their friends so you gain new customers and grow your revenue.
Sheryl Connelly is CEO of Marketing Media Management, a boutique, full-service, online marketing agency specializing in using social media and digital content to help advertise and promote small businesses. For more information, visit www.managemmm.com .