Staying on Track

You’re a savvy business owner. You know the value of social media as a tool for marketing your company and connecting with clients. You’ve created a social media strategy. You’ve explored the possible outlets and chosen the ones that best fit with your goals. You have followers. Now what?

This is the moment when all your hard work can pay off. It’s also the moment when the real work begins. Social media is all about communicating with your clients, building and maintaining relationships with them. It’s also an excellent tool for building your brand because it gives your clients a chance to connect with your company on a regular (nearly daily) basis.

These connections are important. After all, where would you be without the people who support your company? You need to interact with them, but you also need to be aware of how you’re being perceived in the online world. So, how do you manage and keep your brand on track in the overwhelming world of social media?

Pay attention to the buzz.

There was a time in the world of business when the only way you could see into the minds of your customers was to set up a suggestion box. You would then wait to discover what everyone had to say about your products and services.

Well, social media is like an instant suggestion box. Here’s a real world example:

Keep an Ear To The Ground

A friend of mine runs a catering business from her home. Recently she received a Google alert that her company name was mentioned on a client’s blog. She immediately checked out the site and discovered very mixed reviews of a party she catered. Most of the guests raved about the quality of the food. Just as many commented on a new chicken recipe she debuted there. The verdict was in—the recipe was a disaster. She knew right then that she needed to adjust the recipe or cut it from her menu.

Like my friend, you have to pay attention to what others are saying about you. Social media is a great place to keep up with how your brand is perceived. Set a Google alert for your company name, links to your site, or specific phrases from your content. When you get an alert, check it and respond.

Keep personal views out of the picture.

Your company Facebook page isn’t the place to share your thoughts about an upcoming election or social issue that is currently in the news (unless your company is closely related to politics or social causes). In fact, sharing your personal opinions about controversial topics on a business fan page can harm your company. Your clients are likely from diverse backgrounds; you run the risk of offending people and losing customers (and money) if they discover you have different beliefs than they do.

People identify very closely with their core beliefs, and they like to associate with others of similar belief. For example, people looking for a web designer need someone who will be able to identify with their brands and be able to communicate with them through the website.

Even if you’re an award-winning web designer with years of experience and an impeccable talent for design, you can lose clients if they find out your core beliefs differ from theirs. They may feel that if you don’t share the same beliefs, you won’t be able to identify with them and convey who they are through your work.

Save the op-ed pieces for your personal social media accounts. Don’t mix business and pleasure, especially online.

Stay positive.

Sharing is Caring

You’ve heard the saying that it’s easier to attract flies with honey than vinegar. The phrase may be old and tired, but the philosophy is still true. People gravitate toward what makes them feel better about themselves. Social media outlets are certainly not the place to badmouth your competition or journal about your daily woes. It doesn’t send the message that you’re worth your customers’ time and money.

At the end of the day, you want your customers to choose your company because what you have to offer is superior to the competitor’s offerings. If your goods and services are superior, they will discover that on their own. Experience is far more powerful than your words, so you don’t need to point this out. Keep your brand focused on the positive aspects of who you are and what you offer. Everything else will fall into its rightful place.

Consistency.

Chain restaurants are successful—not because they serve better quality food than their family-owned counterparts—but because they offer consistency. Whether coasting along an interstate in theU.S.or wandering a city square inMadrid, weary travelers know what to expect when they see the golden arches of McDonald’s. It’s not that the mass-produced hamburgers and fries are tastier than the local establishment next door. (In fact, one might argue that the local establishment likely has better food than the chain.) Instead, the customers like knowing exactly what to order and how it will taste.

This is branding at work. Branding is successful because of the consistency. Your customers know what to expect from you, and they like to know just what you will offer them. Social media gives you another format for developing and promoting your brand. Yet, there are many different platforms available, and each platform has its own audience with varying needs and interests.

Regardless of how you interact in social media, your visual image and message should be consistent. For example, Facebook fans like the ability to interact and share with each other through status updates, photo sharing, and tagging friends. This creates a more informal atmosphere than LinkedIn, where people post resumes and network with others on similar career paths. The language you use may change. On Facebook, you can use more casual language than you would on LinkedIn, but the message remains the same: I care about your successes in life and how I can help you achieve more.

With this in mind, use the same contact information and taglines wherever you post. You also want to use the same profile picture across all platforms, so your clients recognize your face or logo no matter where you are.

Be personable and engaging.

Neutrality

In a retail world seemingly dominated by the big box stores, local mom and pop establishments still manage to survive—and thrive. This doesn’t necessarily make sense to those of us who look at the bottom line equation of “lowest prices=highest sales”. Why are people willing to spend more money—especially in a struggling economy—for the same goods and services they can get elsewhere? It’s all about relationships.

When you shop at a local store, you’re more than just another face on the other side of the cash register. The local shopkeeper eventually recognizes you and, over time, you develop a relationship. You talk about your lives. You share pictures of your family. There’s a world of difference between being greeted with “Is plastic okay?” and “How was your daughter’s dance recital?”

You return because you share part of your life with that person. When was the last time you walked into a big box store and saw the manager rush off to the stockroom to retrieve a new flavor of coffee set aside just for you to try? My guess is that it hasn’t happened. The nature of mass production and sales doesn’t allow that same level of connection to develop.

Social media is a way to replicate this relationship building. You may not be able to actually see your clients and customers on a regular basis, but you are able to connect with them. Take whatever amount of time you have available to read status updates and comment. You don’t have to engage in lengthy conversations. Just a simple “congrats” or “glad to hear this” can go a long way toward letting your clients know you care and are interested in them as people.

One on One with Social

Your social media strategy should include the amount of time you have available to read and respond to your clients’ comments. Set aside a few minutes each morning and peruse your status feeds while enjoying a cup of coffee. While watching your favorite TV shows, hop on your computer or phone during commercial breaks to catch up with your clients. Show your customers that you’re interested in more than just taking their money, and you can gain a customer for life. Let them associate your brand with your interest in them as people.