Most people are now on some type of social media (read: the internet), so naturally most businesses have followed them. Some lessons learned promoting businesses:
Why are you doing this?
There’s a coffee shop about a mile from my house. It hasn’t changed much over the last 80 years. It’s popular and well known throughout the town. Its coffee and chocolate milkshakes are good. Its Twitter account sucks.
Having supported itself for so long with local customers, and with no indication of a desire to expand, there is no reason it needs to be tweeting.
Like a lot of other companies though, it mistook social media as just another advertising platform, and a free one at that. That’s a bad way to be effective in the social media game because it quickly becomes evident that all you are doing is repeating, Coffee here. Buy it.
You can get away with Coffee here. Buy it. if it’s a television or radio commercial, but when people have the ability talk back and decide whether they are going to follow you or not, it won’t work for very long.
Simon Sinek says, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” Social media is not just another way to advertise. Doing it well means that your, or your company’s heart, has to be in the message because more than traditional ads social media cuts to the heart of what you’re all about. (Sinek’s talk is worth watching if you’ve got the time.)
Use platforms that make sense
There’s no right way to business. Like people, they come in all shapes and sizes. And there is also no right way to promote a business.
If you think Snapchat, Instagram, Soundcloud, a blog, or YouTube will help, go for it. If you just want to stick to the giants of Twitter and Facebook, go for it. Is Google+ still a thing? Go for it too. Think all of the above will help? Go for it.
But first, make sure you know what each one is all about. If you have no intention to produce videos regularly, then you probably don’t need a YouTube channel. If your target audience isn’t full of youngsters, you’ll probably be wasting your time on Snapchat.
A lot of social media is about what is going on right now. Don’t link broadcasts to a sporting event or concert more than a few minutes before it is supposed to start. Most people won’t remember the post an hour from now.
Also, be aware of what time of day it is. Just because you are working late doesn’t mean your followers will be awake to read your posts.
Considering the last section, it may sound ironic, but you can write plenty of content ahead of time. Sites like Hootsuite and even Facebook itself will let you schedule posts in advance. This will keep your content appearing consistently throughout the day rather than all in one burst that can easily be missed.
Gary Vaynerchuk calls social media “word of mouth on steroids.” That’s great when people love your brand, but also means anyone can criticize your business in front of a few million people. This scares the hell out of a lot of companies, and they will do everything they can to protect their reputation, including deleting anything that is not overwhelming support. But deleting critical posts from your Facebook page aren’t going to fix anything. It’ll probably just tick off the complainer more.
This comes from television, but it is a great example of how letting people speak their minds can be even more devastating than blocking them: In 2007, C-SPAN decided not air a speech by the radio host Michael Savage because it was pre-taped rather than something they were able to record live. Savage accused the channel of censorship and encouraged his listeners to write in complaints to the network.
Rather than simply deleting the emails and acting like nothing happened, which would’ve been easy as a TV network, C-SPAN founder Brain Lamb printed a few out and without any malice in his voice read a few on the air. Somehow he kept a straight face (language warning):
Lamb really did not even try to justify the decision not to air the speech, but after hearing the letters, it is doubtful most regular viewers would have been upset about the decision.
Complainers Are People Too
There is an alternative to deleting criticism: Engage it. Explain your side of the story. Some people will never be satisfied and you can cut off communication if that becomes apparent, but a lot of people will actually engage with you if you are reasonable. Like any other area of life, people just want to have their voice heard.
Not only could you win them over, your conversation may also be seen by others and they are a lot more likely to have a positive view of a brand that talks to people rather than just deleting or ignoring negative posts. Just remember to never be rude yourself, no matter how warranted it may seem.
Vaynerchuck likes to refer to Twitter as a cocktail party. You are allowed to talk about more than your business. (Remember Coffee Here. Buy it. only is bad.) Referencing current events or humor is still not something that most people expect to come from businesses, and it can be a pleasant surprise to see a company not just trying to push its products non-stop.
Companies can, however, cross the line, as John Oliver points out. (NSFW warning)
As he points out, people won’t be upset to see a company not tweet about current events, so don’t feel obligated to talk about anything. Make sure you take the time to think it through and come up with a good post first.
Look at the Numbers
If you’re trying to get a point across, your audience should shape your message. Facebook in particular will give you detailed stats about your fanbase. Age, gender, what time your followers are logging on the most, your most-liked past posts. Use this all to your advantage.
Ignore the Numbers
Like most things, followers are about quality over quantity. I’ll take 50 dedicated fans over 1,000 apathetic ones any day.
I once had someone question why I would reply to people who only had a handful of Twitter followers. That shouldn’t matter at all. Fans are made one at a time. If you just want to yell Coffee here. Buy it. get a TV commercial or a billboard, if you want to connect with a fellow human being tweet.
I once saw a tweet from a girl who said she was celebrating her birthday at the ballpark where I work. Our PA announcer makes Happy Birthday wishes all the time, so I added her name to the list. After the game she tweeted again about how awesome it was to hear her name announced, she had no idea how we knew it was her birthday. (I never told her either.) How many followers did she have? I don’t know. I don’t care. We made her happy, and to boot did it for zero cost. Mission accomplished.
Social media is like running. Most people can run. Most people cannot run a marathon. Most people can tweet. Most people cannot engage their fans for eight hours a day.