Is social media important or just hype?

Ask small business owners about the value to their business of social media and you will get a wide range of responses.  Some owners are completely committed to social media and use it to generate sales opportunities, engage with their clients and find new members of staff.  Others claim it is a complete waste of time and never achieves anything tangible.  For them, it doesn’t live up to the hype.

I guess the majority will fall somewhere in between.  They are the ones that instinctively know they should “be on social media”, but don’t know how to make the medium work for their company.  Some will feel it takes too much time and effort for what they get out of it.  Others exercise better time management but still find they get very little out of social media.

It is all about getting the right balance.  From my perspective, I think most small businesses would benefit by being active on social media.  There are pros and cons for sure and you would be wise to think these through before launching yourself onto one or more social networking sites.

It is quite possible to engage with your prospects on social media, perhaps more readily than by using traditional prospecting methods.  How you engage with them will determine what you do and don’t achieve from the connections.  There are many social media sites you could embrace, too many to realistically consider them all.  Which one(s) do you pick?

The answer is to pick the ones that your prospects tend to use.  That way it allows you to make connections that could develop into something tangible.  Safe bets are currently LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter but look out for any industry specific sites that will give you access to key people in the industry you target.

The issue I found with online social media was that it became strangely addictive and there were always interesting links and posts to follow.  It is essential that you become very time-aware, otherwise the amount of time you spend on social media will grow almost un-noticed.  I recommend you set a time limit for accessing social media sites and structure what you do when you are online, to make best use of that time.  If you simply log-in with no action plan, large chunks of time will simply disappear.

Once you have signed up to your chosen social media site(s), the next step is to find your way around the features and to start reading what other people are posting.  You need to get a feel for the type of post that gets a response before you start posting your own materials.  If the site has Groups or Clubs, you can think about which ones of these you will join.  The people in these Groups will be more focussed and their posts more targeted to their community.

When you are ready to become more active, it is best to start by contributing to existing discussions.  Try to add something that others will find interesting or of value.  You want to try to build a reputation of somebody who always contributes something worth reading or giving a link worth following.

Your aim is to attract connections and become well connected.  For now, forget about the argument over quantity or quality of connections.  When you are just starting out you need to build a critical mass of connections as soon as you can.  Use these connections to help you connect with other people you are interested in (such as your prospects).

When you have connected with a prospect, look for areas of common ground about which you can exchange messages and gradually move your dialogue away from the social media site and towards telephone calls and (if geography allows) face to face meetings.

 ACTION IDEAS

  1. Even if you have tried social media before, give it another chance by finding one that your prospects use.  Sign up to it and monitor how people use it, the nature of the messages and overall etiquette.
  2. Begin contributing to existing discussions, adding information of value to the others.  Remember that at this stage you are not selling, you are looking for people to connect with.
  3. Develop your relationships with people who connect with you and gradually move the conversation onto business matters.  Look for ways to help others as much as possible, before asking for help from them.
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