Businesses, both large and small, are feeling pressure to add social media to their marketing plans. Between Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, blogs, and e-mail marketing (just to name a few), there are already too many options with new ones showing up on the scene all the time. Once the decision is made to jump into social media, there's the strategy to consider. It's hard not to be tempted by blog posts and articles claiming to help you "Get 5,000 followers in 5 minutes" or "Increase your Facebook fans by 200% TODAY." Is this what social media is really about? Quantity over quality?
It's true that the more connections you have, the greater your reach could be, but where's the value if no one has a reason to interact with you...and, like blowing the seeds of a dandelion, it's through these interactions that your business is introduced to a new audience of potential clients. That's just how social media works. In order to build a vibrant community within your social media ecosystem, connections need to grow organically. When a satisfied client clicks the "Like" or "Follow" button, not only is it a testimonial about your business but also a signal that your client actually wants to hear what you have to say and is willing to recommend you.
The Straw Hat is a restaurant on the Caribbean island of Anguilla that uses Facebook to make social media sing. The owners, expat Americans Anne and Peter Parles, have created a virtual and interactive outpost for a wonderful vacation memory of Anguilla. Diners who enjoyed the restaurant can (and actively do) communicate with their new friends, Anne and Peter, after they return to the various parts of the globe they call home. Visit Straw Hat's Facebook page and you'll see rave reviews of the food, concerned comments about looming hurricanes, Straw Hat T-shirt sightings from all sorts of random places. One guest liked his dinner so much he posted a picture of it on his own Facebook page for all his friends to enjoy vicariously. It's a vibrant community where everyone is a friend...but it is also the very best kind of advertising available...Word of Mouth.
Part of what allowed Anne and Peter to succeed in their social media endeavor is that their approach is reflective of them as people and how they run their business. Guests of Straw Hat immediately feel like friends and posts on their Facebook page are answered promptly and graciously by Peter. As business owners, they are accessible, interested, genuine and likeable...a very appealing combination. There is no attempt to use Facebook to advertise the restaurant in a conventional sense, only to cultivate and nurture relationships. Anne and Peter know that if people like you and your product, not only will they return but they will recommend you to a friend.
Social media is a two-way street...a conversation. For it to be most effective, small business owners need to be front and center, starting the dialogue or participating in one that's been started. If there is a negative comment, use it as an opportunity to correct misinformation and to show the public that you value their opinion. Above all, it's a great time to express your gratitude for your clients' interest or loyalty. As you're thinking about your social media strategy, feel the virtual sand between your toes and visit the Straw Hat's Facebook page...I hear the snapper's delicious.
I just miss being able to call myself a digital native by a few years. I guess that makes me a digital immigrant since I can clearly remember life before the internet and do so without an eye roll. I got on the social media bandwagon one foot at a time and with great skepticism. I admit, I was originally much more of a stalker than a sharer, but I was hooked...fascinated...and not quite sure what to make of the cultural shift unfolding around me.
Then one day, while looking at my Facebook wall, I noticed a post saying "Sam T. likes Sociable!". Hmmmm....what's that? I like Sam a lot, he's a really smart guy...wonder why he "liked" that book.
One click took me to the Facebook fan page for Sociable!, a book about social media marketing by Shane Gibson and Stephen Jagger. My curiosity was piqued. One more click and I was at Amazon, reading in-depth about the new book. A third click and Sociable! was on its way to me.
I read the 200 page book in three days and my imagination caught fire. Clearly, the social media party was just starting and this was one to which I didn't want to be fashionably late. It was the perfect introduction to a new era of information sharing as opposed to the prior one of keeping your knowledge close to the vest. I started reading everything I could find about social media marketing and gradually putting the pieces of my new business together. I was obsessed with social media. As I talked about it with friends, I was amazed at how many asked for help setting up a social media strategy for their small businesses or personal endeavors. They knew they needed to incorporate social media into their marketing plan but didn't have the time to learn about it or manage it.
About a month later, I saw Sam T. Since he's in a totally unrelated field, I was curious about his relationship to Sociable!. Did he know the authors? I thanked him for the wonderful, life-changing recommendation that spawned a new business venture and asked him why he "liked" the book. He said, "Oh, that? Yeah...that was a mistake. I meant to 'like' a social networking site with a similar name and typed the wrong thing." He'd never even heard of Sociable!
The power of word of mouth is incontrovertible, even when it's unintentional. Humans are, by nature, social creatures and we take our cues from each other. Print and television advertising was originally conceived with the assumption that the viewer would relate to the spokesperson and visualize herself or someone familiar drinking that soda or using that razor. We've evolved one step further, welcome to the social media generation of advertising and marketing...it's no longer a sexy model or professional athlete trying to sell you shampoo, it's your mother! And who doesn't listen to Mom?