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Small business owners ignore social media at their peril

Thousands of small businesses are already reaping the benefits of having social media integrated into their everyday business routine, writes Michael O’Brien.

Michael O'Brien Marketing manager, Big Red Cloud

WILL I OR won’t I engage in social media marketing? It’s a question on the minds of many small business owners and it’s as confusing a decision now as it was when social media first emerged just over 10 years ago.

First of all, why is social media confusing? The truth of the matter is that too many small businesses are taking the plunge without understanding what they are engaging in and why.

Blindfolded due to lack of preparation, they are setting themselves up for failure. Fact is, same could be said for any business discipline.

For example, would you jump into a sales campaign without first knowing the size or expected size of the market? You’d have some research to show the existing pricing and what prices you can expect to be able to charge. You’d have a degree of knowledge that will inform your decision making process.

Sounds perfectly reasonable and logical. It’s the same with social media. Take away the reason and logic and you have confusion which leads to disenchantment and abandonment.

That’s a pity because social media is not that confusing. Many people are really surprised at just how straight forward it really is – once they’ve gotten the basics. To unlock the potential of social media you must first watch and listen. Sound simple, well it is.

As its most basic level, social media is a (vast and growing) collection of watering holes where people come to swap and trade stories. These stories are often embellished with images and videos.

Listen

To listen, you simply use the search functions on Google, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram where you can search for the terms that best describe the business you are in. Don’t rush this part of the process.

Listening is an acquired skill as our first impulse is to go charging in waving special offers all over the place. We are in the business of selling after all!

Be patient, the reward of listening is that you will build a picture of all the watering holes and who gathers where and at what time. Your ear should also be tuning into the types of conversations that are taking place and the language used.

Critically, you’ll also begin to notice how value is added to social media conversations. Trust is attributed to those who are genuine and provide intelligent commentary to the group. By default, after a while, you’ll turn off those who are always shouting – that is those throwing out “special offers” and “discounts” at every opportunity.

Engage

Now you are ready to engage, to add value by offering your expertise and insight to the issues and problems raised by the community. As you participate, your brand association with the topic will grow and you will become a trusted insider in the community.

Time is a key constraint when it comes to engaging in social media. Small business owners are busy as it is without these extra demands so it really is important to pick those social media channels that afford the most profitable exposure to your customers and prospects.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest are four of the leading social media platforms, but there are many others.

The social media landscape is ever changing so this year’s hero could well be next year’s villain. Check out the Conversation Prism, it will give you a bird’s eye view of the social media landscape.

If it serves one purpose it will be to reinforce the fact that you must be a master of a few rather than spreading yourself too thinly across too many.

Smartphone penetration in Ireland is now over 85% and growing. It’s not just the millennials that are engaging in social media, it’s across all the socio economic sections of our society.

Ignore social media at your peril

Ignore social media at your peril sounds alarmist. It’s not intended to because it’s not. No one, not even Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook, would claim to know where social media will be in five or 10 years time, but he does know that it will be a lot different than it is today.

The social networks are alive with millions of conversations and chances are your brand is in that mix. Those conversations will take place with our without you. Your golden opportunity is to engage and take part in those conversations, turning customers into advocates and prospects into customers.

There was a time when we’d have to wait for days, even weeks to get feedback on our products or services. Now it’s instant and what’s more, we have the opportunity to reward those who are loyal and reimburse those who have had a less than positive experience.

Thousands of small businesses are already reaping the benefits of having social media integrated into their everyday business routine.

The lesson for your small business is clear. Get involved: listen, engage and reap the benefits.

Michael O’ Brien, Marketing Manager at Big Red Cloud, simple online accounting software for small businesses 

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About the author:

Michael O'Brien  / Marketing manager, Big Red Cloud

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