Social Media: Time Waster or Essential Small Business Tool?

Polio outbreak campaign
Creative Commons License photo credit: coda

If someone threw a party for a big group of people who are interested in the products and services you offer, wouldn’t you want to be there?

Yeah, you would and social media can help you do just that.

Given that you’re reading this, I can’t help but assume that you know what social media is. Still, you may still wonder how it could possibly be of productive use for your business as opposed to another way to waste your staff’s time.

Note that last word in the phrase “Social Media”. Really, that’s all it is. A media.

What’s critical to understand is that it is a very different kind of media than businesses are used to dealing with.

It’s interactive and independent. It’s not controlled by a major media company, which likely keeps them up at night.

If you want to learn more about your favorite music, where do you go? If you want to hang out and discuss music with 100,000 fans of The Who, The Beatles or Miley Cyrus, you don’t go through a music industry gatekeeper to do so.

Social media enables you and those 100,000 other people to find each other. Easily.

I Leica cameras

Let’s say that I’m a big fan of Leica cameras, as Ed Dale is. (Sorry Ed, I’m a Canon guy).

If I want to have a conversation with someone about them or learn more about them here at home (remember, I’m in a fairly rural community), I’ve got a problem.

So how do I find others who are into Leica camera gear?

You can call a local camera store. You can visit your local photography club. If your community has a central web-based events calendar, you could check that out or subscribe to updates. You can visit a local photography exhibition and ask someone there. And of course, you could Google <your town> photography club.

Even after doing all that, you may find that there is a small number of people in your area who are interested in Leicas. On a photography social media site like Digital Photography School, it’s a different story.

Now imagine that your business specializes in Leicas in some way. Maybe you sell them, repair them or create accessories for them.

Wouldn’t you want to take part in the discussions that all these Leica enthusiasts have? Worst case, you’d want to listen in on them and get your finger on the pulse of what’s going on in the community of Leica fans.

If you’ve taken my advice to heart here at Business is Personal, I’m thinking you’d want to be right in the middle of all those conversations.

Join the Conversation

Even if you don’t participate in the conversations (though you should), there’s a huge amount of value there. Because of this, social media is a great research tool.

It provides an efficient way to keep an eye on what people are saying about your products, business, industry and competitors.

It allows you to easily reach out to your customers and prospects and improve your relationship with them. The more responsive you can be to your customers, the more likely you are to keep them.

Social media allows you one more way (and one more place) to demonstrate your expertise to people who need it. People want to do business with the expert.

Robert Collier said to join the conversation already going on in your prospect’s head. That’s exactly what social media allows you to do.

Rotary rings

Social media also provides you with the ability to connect with people you might NEVER have met any other way – someone who can make a substantial difference in your life or business (or vice versa).

I follow the Cary (Kildaire) North Carolina Rotary Club on Twitter.

Why? They’re a large, successful club in a high-tech town. I’m (currently) our club President in a small, new club in a small rural town. I can learn a lot from a large successful club.

I have a Rotary search setup in Tweetdeck so that I can find people who talk about Rotary. If they’re interesting and helpful comments, I eventually follow them. That’s how I found the Cary Rotary Club on Twitter.

One of their comments earlier in the week said someone from Rotarian magazine (the monthly magazine that Rotary International publishes for their members) was looking for a source to talk about social media and Rotary.

A perfect fit

Gee, is that a good fit for me and my business? Rotary members are mostly business owners. I’m a Rotarian and currently club president. Marketing is my business. It’s a *perfect* fit.

The Cary post on Twitter included the email address of the reporter, so I emailed her and soon enough we had an appointment to speak.

The next day, we had a 45 minute phone interview for a story that will appear in Rotarian magazine.

We talked about the interaction of social media with Rotary and Rotary’s 4 Way Test, as well as social media’s use in business for marketing and other purposes. We also talked about common mistakes that people new to social media might make and should avoid.

I have no idea what will come from that, but it’s exactly the kind of publicity I can use, to the perfect audience for my business. For free.

In addition, it’s a pretty cool thing to be a Rotary member who is interviewed in The Rotarian, so that’s a nice bonus (and yes, I will likely have to spin the wheel when the magazine comes out).

Back to you

Enough about me, even if it was a good example.

As you can see, there are a number of benefits to participating in social media.

Tomorrow, we’ll talk about some of the pitfalls to avoid and some things to focus on.

As you might expect, it’s personal.

Help! What’s wrong with my mailing?

Yesterday we talked about the details about the envelope and letter we sent to request Brunch with Santa donations and to sell tickets.

There were (in my opinion) a lot of things right with it. BUT…what was wrong with it?

Keep in mind it is perfectly normal to find things that are wrong with a mailing you just dropped at the post office. There’s a big lesson there: We didn’t wait to mail it until it was perfect. You just can’t do that.

If you wait until your campaign is perfect, you’ll never mail it because it’ll never be perfect. It’s like waiting until the perfect time to have a baby – there’s no such thing.

That said, there is always room for improvement. Maybe there’s a better way to state it rather than “what’s wrong?” is “How can I make the envelope and the letter even better?”

Slice em and dice em

One thing that I advise customers (and readers) to do is segment your mailing. Some might look at the letter sent to chamber members and think that I did – but that really isn’t the case.

The people on this particular mailing list fall into a couple of distinct groups: blue collar services (construction, auto body, auto repair, custom logging, trucking), white collar services (attorneys, accountants, bankers, computer consultants, real estate sales, graphic artists), hospitality businesses (restaurants, caterers, hotels, motels, bed and breakfast inns) and traditional retailers (clothing, food, auto parts, tires, coffee, etc).

What changes would segmentation bring?

If I broke that list down into the four segments I mentioned, it would allow me to make several important changes. I didn’t do so this year simply because of time pressure.

For blue collar service businesses: I would likely use slightly different verbiage that is more in tune with their businesses and would have made a more specific ask. Like the others below, the ask would be for items or services that are most likely to get the business a new customer. In their language, specific to their needs.

For white collar service businesses: I’d use some different verbiage, a different ask – more specific to the services they offer and keeping in mind that I want a donation that helps them get a new customer – and some slightly different psychology. Again, the language used would be in tune with these kinds of businesses.

For the hospitality businesses: Again, specific language to their business. In fact, I would likely split this group into food-related and non-food-related because of the differences in what I would like to get in donations, differences in industry language and COGS. For the food biz, I’m trying to create an opportunity for them to make an impression that brings new customers to their restaurant or catering service. That happened this year as well – I didn’t simply ask for a donation. I offered them an opportunity to promote their business with the best they could bring to the table. Positioning is important.

Other thoughts

I would like to have a bit more automation in place to deal with generating specific responses, logging auction assets and so forth. I’ll be working on that throughout 2009. While that automation will be somewhat specific to the Brunch, it is designed to work with any campaign – and with multiple media. It might become a system that you can buy.

A blue collar vs white collar mental image

Speaking of blue collar and white collar services, I’m reminded of an interesting way that Ford Automotive’s Social Media guy Scott Monty described the difference between white collar workers and blue collar workers: “people who shower *before* they go to work” and “people who shower *after* they go to work”. Paints a pretty clear picture, doesn’t it? You can follow Scott on Twitter.

[audio:http://www.rescuemarketing.com/podcast/WhatsWrongWithMyMailing.mp3]

What’s easier? Selling Santa or a SUV?

reluctant santa dog
Creative Commons License photo credit: dickuhne

Yeah, I know. It’s been a quiet week so far.

On and off for the last 9 months, and intensely over the last 2, I’ve been quietly working on the marketing and other aspects of a new community event and related program here in Columbia Falls.

The event is called Brunch with Santa, which is a new annual event held by my Rotary Club.

Yes, you’re right. It’s hardly an original name or event. Google around, there’s 319,000 or so entries for Brunch with Santa and over a million for Breakfast with Santa.  So what.

A blatant rip off

Yep, it’s something I (ahem) borrowed from the Opelousas Cerebral Palsy Clinic’s Breakfast with Santa event (yes, there IS an address behind that link that will let you send them money, don’t be shy as every little bit helps).

Back to our regularly scheduled program…

Last Saturday, our Brunch went into the first stages of liftoff. As of this afternoon, I just about have a little time to exhale for a few. So let’s talk about it.

First, I suppose it might help to explain what this has to do with Business is Personal and making your small business better, stronger and more robust?

Everything, my friends. Every little thing.

That’s why we’re going to talk about it here.

Selling Santa is much easier than selling a SUV

But…he still has to be sold.

Fact is, the process required to promote a community event is no different than the process required to encourage people to buy those 10mpg SUVs sitting on your lot, the snow machines in your showroom, or the bags of kazoos hanging from the slatwall in your party store.

The process required – in this economy, scratch that, in ANY economy – to get people to give cash, food or goods and services for an event is no different than the process that is required to sell them a steak, an oil change or a $2500 mountain bike.

  • You have to get their attention so that you get a chance to get them interested.
  • You have to get them interested in order to get a chance to build a desire within them.
  • You have to build a desire within them in order to get a chance to get them to take action.
  • And you have to make it drop dead easy to take action.

Whether it’s making a cash donation, buying a ticket, donating 150 servings of Mexican food or offering a piece of framed fine art as a donation, if you don’t follow those 4 steps – not much is happening unless you’re incredibly lucky.

Sales don’t happen because of luck.

Sure, luck works sometimes. That “sometimes” thing is the problem. When exactly is “sometimes”? Can you schedule it? Can you afford to wait on luck to work? No, I didn’t think so. Me either.

Execution of the logical, tested process is what gets the job done the rest of the time.

Some might say it becomes even more important that you treat promotion of an event as a regular marketing task when that event is a fundraiser in a community being hammered with layoffs. Those layoffs directly impact not only those families, but every restaurant, service business and retail store in town.

Maybe it matters, maybe it doesn’t. Are you willing to risk it on a guess?

So what did I have to sell?

I have to sell a bunch of stuff. Santa kinda comes along for the ride, but he’s part of the sales team.

First I have to sell the donors on the idea. Giving cash. Giving food. Giving time. Giving merchandise and services. None of these things happen without transferring enthusiasm about the cause to them.

Second, I have to sell the event to those who might want to attend it. Got all this food and all this stuff, uh oh, I’d better get someone there to consume and buy it.

Third, I have to sell the media on the fact that this event is worth promoting.

Finally, I have to sell the event again in the last 48 hours before it occurs. Advance tickets are great, but not everyone lives under in that kind of schedule. Those living in the now or in “tomorrow morning is long term” mode need reminders, and they need them everywhere.

Again, the mechanics of the process are just like selling a truck, an oil change or an exotic potted plant. The primary difference is that you can stir some emotion a bit more easily with a cause.

That’s where the trap snaps shut. People get lazy and think the cause will magically make everything else happen.

50% of success is just showing up

Someone once said 50% of success is just showing up. Could be, but the other 50% is pretty tightly linked with actually doing something.

Details matter.

Next time, we’ll talk about those details, and more importantly, the reasons that drive them.

[audio:http://www.rescuemarketing.com/podcast/SellingSanta.mp3]

Small business + iPhone app = opportunity

Disclaimer: I simply have to admit that it’s unlikely that I would buy an iPhone until Apple decides to discard AT&T, or Steve Jobs’ gang adds a better cell carrier to the mix. I’m simply not willing to deal with those guys if I don’t have to.

And yes, I’d probably get over it if the right opportunity (or idea) came to me.

My AT&T issues aside, your business could benefit a great deal from taking advantage of the fact that there will be even more iPhone users out there – with what appears to be the best mobile application platform built to date.

Let’s talk about a few possibilities.

Let’s say you own a restaurant. Imagine if an iPhone owner, their spouse and another couple are driving around deciding where to go for dinner.

They call up an app called TonightsSpecial on their phone. Because the iPhone has a GPS in it, it knows where you are. It displays the current specials at restaurants within a 15 minute drive (or 5 or whatever the iPhone owner decides) of their current location.

It shows the wait time for seating (if you so choose), price range, cuisine, and how to get there from the iPhone’s current location – again, since your phone knows where you are and where the restaurant is.

And with a touch, it tells the restaurant to hold a table for 4 for seating 15 minutes from now, because you’ll be right over.

Or maybe you own a motel. And some poor, tired traveler has been driving all day to get to Mount Rushmore, the kids are tired, their spouse is after them to find a motel and everything is full because it just happens to be the first weekend in August – ie: the Sturgis motorcycle rally.

Except that this traveler’s iPhone has an app on it called EmptyRoom that tells them where all the empty hotel room inventory is within 30 miles of their current location. And since you registered your hotel with EmptyRoom’s service, it knows when you have a vacancy.

Instead of that family driving past Rapid City because every hotel they checked was full, they turn left just past the airbase and follow the directions on a phone to a room that cancelled 23 minutes earlier because a biker got held up by some rain (ok, ok, that wouldnt happen with a REAL biker, but I digress).

Rather than having a room-night go up in smoke, you just did 2 things: Rented a room for the night that was probably going to go to waste and 2, pulled a tired driver off the road and made their spouse and kids a lot happier and safer.

Or, you’re a Realtor. And you have built an iPhone app that automatically notifies a client on their phone when a home that matches their needs comes on the market.

You’re busy, out making a sale, or at a closing – yet your iPhone app is telling the client where the newly-listed home is, how to get there, what the price is, and if they tap a button in the app, it’ll make an appointment using the open times in your shared Google calendar (or me.com, or whatever) to tour the place.

And of course, it’ll only do that for people you have under contract, if that’s how you want it to work.

Or, you belong to a network of independent coffee shops. Starbucks is your arch enemy, other than the nice thing they did to sell everyone on how cool it is to buy $4 cups of coffee:) So when you join the independent coffee shop network, your shop appears on someone’s iPhone when they open that app.

Again, since a GPS is built-in, it can show me the closest independent coffee shops to the iPhone’s current location. This one can be cloned for just about any independent business. Bike retailers. Pizza shops. Dry cleaners, etc.

No matter what business you’re in – and especially with service, retail, restaurants and lodging, there are a pile of iPhone application possibilities here to make your business even more personal, to deliver even more value and to take advantage of an opportunity that most competitors wont even recognize.

Sure, all of this can be done now, from a web page, or the Yellow pages. You have a chance to bring it into their hand, without extra effort, so you can draw them specifically to your business – and that’s exactly what they want, otherwise they wouldnt be using that iPhone app in the first place.

Pre-sold buyers. Everyone likes them.

Pale, Male and Stale?

Sometimes, lessons come when you least expect them.

A noted business speaker came here last year and did a great job talking about things that a community needs to do in order to attract young people to work, play and stay in their community.

This morning, I went through my mail pile from the last 4-5 days and noted that the speaker was quoted as saying something along the lines of “Look at your company. Is it ‘pale, male and stale?’ When a Gen X or (etc) applicant walks in, do they see anyone else their age?” The article went on to talk about employment and strategies to make your business more interesting to the new, young prospective employee.

That reminded me of how I spent my weekend.

Continue reading Pale, Male and Stale?