I met with someone today and had a great conversation about using social media (SM) to promote her business. She manages promotions for a new retail business and is exploring all sorts of media avenues for advertising and promotion. She's doing some great stuff and is excited about the prospects for her business. She also has some wonderful ideas for using SM as part of her promotional portfolio of tools. The conversation reaffirmed some thoughts in my mind that should be shared. I want to discuss two thoughts: 1) the discussion about your business is likely to be happening already and 2) SM is about relationships over "just selling" product.
If you think of SM (eg, Facebook, Twitter, foursquare, MySpace, ...) as different means of engaging in a discussion with people (customers, potential customers, critics, etc.) then you are on the right track. I recently heard Max Spiegel (Twitter @MaxSpiegel) describe SM as walking into a dinner party and mingling. In that environment, you'll often walk into conversations that have already begun. In the same way, it's very possible that your business or product(s) are already being discussed online. You can choose whether to engage in the chat or walk away.
If the chat's about you, you'll probably want to stay engaged and sway the discussion, respond to positive and negative comments, and otherwise show that you know what you're talking about (build credibility). As a business owner, this communication will truly be two-way. You will get to hear from the public in ways that you couldn't before. It also allows you to respond to them as well as provide promotional messages. Do keep in mind that SM users usually like to engage, not simply receive updates. So plan to listen to them and respond as needed.
As you send and receive messages, you will be developing a relationship with your followers/friends (depending upon which SM service we're discussing). There is a critical difference between having customers and having relationships. Though clearly related, many customers want to have a relationship with many types of businesses. If you have a retail store selling food or other ag-related products, you might be a good candidate for effectively using SM to generate relationships. Many want to connect with their food source. However, relationships take time to develop and manage. If you want to develop relationships, there are a couple things you need to do.
1. Make time to engage. If you have to, make an appointment with your computer to check your SM accounts for comments/questions or other feedback. This needs to be done daily. You also need to provide fresh content frequently.
2. Get a smart phone. Although definitely not required, they sure help! Check your accounts from your phone, post updates, pictures, links to other materials, etc.
To be successful, you'll ultimately just need to work SM management into your daily management routine. We humans invest time in the relationships that matter to us. From a business perspective, few relationships matter more than the one you have with your customers, collectively or individually.
I'm curious to hear feedback on how you see business owners/managers managing their SM presence. Let's hear it!