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.

Selling Santa with postcards

Four Cowboys
Creative Commons License photo credit: anyjazz65

Last week we talked about the direct mail letter that was used to secure donations of cash, in-kind items for the auction and to attract people to attend – as well as what could have been improved in the letter.

I left a few things out of the discussion at the time, so lets get back to them.

We started with some small but focused lists and I want to discuss how those were used so that you can think about the various customer groups you have in your business.

Two of the lists we had came from the organization who was the primary recipient of our fundraising efforts. They had a list of donors and supporters as well as a list of families receiving services at the two closest locations to our town. One of the locations is in our town, the other is 14 miles away so I only used the families who were local for the mailing.

I sent the same postcard to both lists because all I really wanted from them was attendance. The donors of this organization do not need to be confused by my sending them a plea letter asking for donations on behalf of an organization they already support.

If I had done that, the natural response would have been “Why is org A asking for donations for org B when I already give to org B?” I just want them to show up, buy a ticket and bid on the auction.

The families were a different story – I could have asked them for help – but knowing the demographics of the group, I really just wanted them to buy a ticket, eat and visit with Santa. We wanted them to learn that Rotary was helping their family, not just asking them for $. The best way to make that happen was to get them to the event.

As a result, I sent the same postcard to both lists. I used Click2Mail.com, primarily because they had the turnaround time I needed, plus the price was quite good for an oversized glossy 4 color postcard.

I uploaded my PDF and address list, it cleaned them and I paid. Over and done with in short order and I didn’t even have to lick a stamp.

You might be asking why a postcard? Why didn’t I hand address *these*?

I used a postcard because it doesn’t have to be opened and my message was relatively short.

I didn’t hand address them and mail them myself because postcards are open by design. I don’t have to work to get them opened, instead I can concentrate my effort on making them effective. I couldn’t do that with the donation letter because the message needed to be longer and required a donation form.

Almost forgot… The postcards were timed to arrive within 48 hours of the event.

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

*The* most important thing about your letter

Sad Letter
Creative Commons License photo credit: jilly~bean

Yesterday, we started a discussion about the promotion of an event here in town.

Today, we’re going to talk about one of the mail pieces that went out to promote the Brunch.

Don’t worry, this series isn’t all about direct mail. We’ll also be talking about video, email, postcards, newspaper, press releases, PSAs, radio and TV.

That’s right. Every single one of those media were used to promote the event. While I didn’t use all of my arrows (with good reason), I did use just about everything in the quiver. Different types of media reach different people.

There are so many ways to consume news these days – you’d better be using every means possible to get the attention of your prospects.

Of course, you will be measuring the response from them, so you’ll know which are worth the expense IF there is an expense.

One of the most important mail pieces that went out was sent to business owners here in town (and a few in neighboring towns). I wanted to concentrate on our little town because the benefit is being received here. It makes for a tougher sale to folks from other towns unless you have a relationship with them. More on that later.

But will they open it?

The most important thing about the letter is making sure that the envelope gets opened.

If it isn’t opened, it was a waste of time and money. If it isn’t opened, the letter inside doesn’t get a chance to go to work selling the event. That’s kind of a problem:)

In rural Montana, post office boxes are the norm rather than the exception. This holds true for residential and business addresses. People stand over the trash slots at the post office and sort their mail into 2 categories: trash and probably-not-trash. You probably do the same at home if you don’t get your mail at a PO Box.

Because of this, I used several strategies to make the envelope less likely to be tossed out:

  • A real stamp was used. In fact, a Christmas stamp (the nutcracker one). It’s a little thing, but it matters. It makes the letter appear more likely to be from a real person.
  • Each envelope was hand addressed. To make it feel even more “real”, a green felt tip pen was used. Computer printed labels might work fine for people you already have a relationship with – but with no relationship, a pre-printed label is another check mark on the road to the trash bin, even more so if there’s a postal barcode.
  • Each envelope had a little Santa or snowflake sticker placed on it to the left of the address. Again, it makes it look a little more “from someone I know”, which contributes to more of them getting opened.
  • No return address was used. You really have to be careful with this one. If you already have a business relationship with the person you’re mailing, then the return address WITH your name is important. If you don’t have a relationship with them, the return address will likely become a criteria for tossing the mail, rather than keeping it.

Sweating the details inside the envelope

Inside, the letter was just one page long, printed on both sides. The letter was folded and inserted so that the front page would be seen first if the letter was opened traditionally (with the back facing the reader).

On the left side of the front page of the letter, all the board members are listed. Many are well-known in the community, thus establishing some credibility. The letter was personally addressed – not with a standard business lead in, but just with the person’s name. No business name. I’m writing to the individual.

The greeting is to the individual, not “Dear Sir” or “To whom it may (probably not) concern”. The latter two greetings aren’t even remotely personal. You want the reader to feel that you wrote the letter just for them, even if it is printed on a computer. That’s why…

The first line noted that I was only going to take 2 minutes of their time (yes, I timed it, it was just a hair over 2 minutes). I want them to know that this isn’t going to take long. I don’t want the letter set aside for later.

At the end, I hand sign the letter.

On many of them, I made a personal note at the bottom in that same green felt tip pen, usually to suggest an item for donation but sometimes just to make the letter more personal.

On the other side of the letter is a donation form that is already filled out with their contact info. I already have it in my database, why should I force them to re-write their contact info?

Remember, make it as easy as possible…

PS: A Sticky Situation

Just a little side note on the attention that is paid to the success of mail pieces: I received a letter promoting the Breakfast with Santa in Opelousas. It was closed with a 1.5″ long piece of scotch (ie:transparent) tape. I was curious if there was some testing behind the use of tape, so I asked my friend about it. It turned out to be a productivity issue. We laughed about the fact that we pay attention to silly things like that, but it illustrates the level of thought that has to go into every aspect of your marketing message.

In this case, we’re talking about a letter, but the same scrutiny is necessary for any other media.

Be sure that you’re putting this much care into the delivery of your message – and in fact, the message being sent by the delivery itself.

Tomorrow – how could this piece have been improved?

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