Part 2: Taking Advantage of the Online World (chapters 7 and 8) Using Social Networks to Your Advantage, Putting it All Together

10/26/2014 10:32 AM
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This article is part of an book on bringing a small business online.   You can get free PDF version on top of this page or a kindle/paperback HERE

Chapter 7: Using Social Networks to Your Advantage

 

In this chapter, we will talk about how you can use social networks to increase interest in your business. The different networks offer unique advantages, including the potential to advertise on them. You need to evaluate which ones will be most helpful to your business.

Understanding the Different Networks

As a small business owner, you should take advantage of online social networks. To do that, you must first understand some of the specifics of each network you are considering. Who belongs to it? What primary purpose does it serve? How large is it? What information does it ask its members to provide, and how does it store and sort that data? And finally, how can you use the network to your advantage? Let’s look at Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter to illustrate this point.

On Facebook, members create a personal profile. They determine who their friends are, who can see details about them, and who can see the articles they post on their Facebook pages. Your Facebook homepage is set up to resemble a newsfeed, with the news made up of everything your friends have posted to their Facebook pages. Items in a newsfeed can be liked, disliked, and commented on by anyone seeing them, creating ongoing conversations among groups of friends. Facebook tries to predict what members would like to see in their newsfeed, and it filters updates based on these predictions. Interacting with members of your network on Facebook is often described as attending a party—the subject matter is conversational, personal, and full of likes and dislikes.

Facebook also offers an advertising exchange and you can place ads for your business targeting the right type of customer in the right context. For example if a Facebook user has been posting updates about a home remodeling, a general contractor can have ads about his business appear in the target user’s newsfeed. 

Tom runs a fishing charter service. “People come for the fishing, but it’s also about the experience,” says Tom. How does he enhance and communicate the value of the experience he offers?  “I post a lot of pictures from different trips on my Facebook page, and I tell customers that they should connect with me on Facebook so they can see their pictures. When I tag them in their pictures, the photos pop up on their Facebook pages. They love it, and best of all, all their friends can see the pictures. I get a lot of calls from people who have seen their friends’ pictures from my trips and are interested in booking charters of their own.”

LinkedIn is organized as a network for professionals. It shares some characteristics with Facebook, such as members having the ability to manage whom they link with and what data is visible to whom. Conversations on LinkedIn tend to focus on professional topics; you will not find funny cat videos on LinkedIn newsfeeds.

On LinkedIn, members identify themselves with their professional interests and expertise.  Members can create and join groups, in which people of like interests can share ideas and recommendations with each other.  LinkedIn Groups are a good way to gain entry into a community. If your major customers are in the business world, for example if you want to reach lawyers or large company executives, LinkedIn is a good option. If you want to reach yoga instructors, Facebook could be a more effective channel.

Twitter is a network defined by its very short communications. Each post, or “tweet,” can have a maximum of 140 characters, making tweets the Internet’s version of the one-liner. Unlike with Facebook and LinkedIn, anyone can sign up to follow and receive tweets from another person on Twitter. Businesses often use Twitter to monitor when someone mentions their product or service, gives a compliment, or complains. On Twitter you can also broadcast information about promotions, specials and new products and services to people following your business.

Susan runs a food truck that offers healthy menu items for lunch. She changes the menu every day and goes to different locations at different times of the day. “We use Twitter to let our clients know about the lunch specials and where our truck is going to be. It has been very effective in getting new and repeat customers,” says Susan.
Advertising on Social Networks

 

Before we discuss advertising on social networks, we should also discuss the fact that consumers are now accessing these networks from their mobile devices.  As a small business owner, you must be aware of this when building content or creating advertisements. If you build something that is difficult to read or navigate from a smartphone or tablet, you are likely to miss out on many potential customers.

Facebook supports two forms of advertising. Sponsored updates appear in members’ newsfeeds and sponsored ads run down the right side of the computer screen. Not all Facebook members are individuals; companies and organizations create “fan pages” to disseminate information and to alert followers about upcoming events and promotions. As a small business owner, you can build a Facebook page, attract fans, and provide them with updates about your company, products or related topics.  The tone of these updates should reflect the nature of your company. For example, a CPA will have business-like updates, while a personal trainer may well have more informal ones.  Ideally, your fans will like your updates and share them with their friends, thereby exposing your business to thousands of potential customers in the networks of your “fans.”

LinkedIn offers similar news-feed capability, though it currently does not support sponsored ads or sponsored updates. Your contacts can “like” and comment on your posts, thus exposing you to people in their networks and providing your business additional visibility.

In a perfect world, whenever you posted updates on your Facebook page or your LinkedIn newsfeed, you could count on your post being seen by all your fans or contacts. It doesn’t always work this way. Facebook for example tries to predict what its members want to see, so not every post will make it onto every fan’s newsfeed. Also, as newsfeeds are updated chronologically, fans who don’t check Facebook regularly might miss your update. In reality, your fans will see less than 20 percent of your updates. So updates are a good means to engage with your existing clients, especially when combined with a newsletter, but they may not help you broaden your customer base.

Advertising on the social networks, on the other hand, is an excellent mechanism to reach new clients. As a small business owner, you can target Facebook members based on location, age, interests, recent posts, and recent comments.  You can then pay for sponsored updates to appear in the Facebook newsfeeds of these individuals. These targeted updates let you market to customers who may otherwise be very difficult and expensive to discover.  In addition, Facebook provides you with analytical tools that let you understand the effectiveness of your sponsored updates. These can help you improve the effectiveness of advertising on Facebook.

Creating Your Own Business Networks

We are entering the next generation of online communities.  State-of-the-art Internet platforms such as Ocoos are building the next generation of virtual communities on the Internet.  Small businesses that use the same platform to develop their online storefronts will have an easier mechanism to link to each other. Within a platform-specific virtual community, businesses that provide complementary services can recommend each other and provide space on their website for a partner business. For example a wedding planner can recommend the florist or limousine service she works with regularly. Or the florist can recommend the wedding planner. Each business could also designate a section of their website for promoting their partner business.

The impact of these platform-based virtual communities can be significant. Customers who would have found your business through an Internet search or from review sites like Yelp or Trip Advisor will now be directed to you from other businesses that have already earned their trust. This provides additional value to your customers. Once they have built relationships with one business, they now have “expert” references that they can rely on. These are more valuable than recommendations from unknown consumers on sites like Yelp and Trip Advisor. When they reach your business, they are better-qualified prospects and already inclined to become customers. In this way, all of the networked businesses benefit from each other’s marketing efforts.

Overall, these virtual communities create a powerful web of interconnected businesses on the Internet. This helps raise the profile of entire groups of companies in the network and enables these companies to compete effectively against their rivals, both big and small.


Chapter 8: Putting it All Together

 

With many demands on your time, it is easy to put off doing the work needed to market your business online. Hopefully we have shown you that this work is worth doing. And after you have done it, you need to develop habits that will let you enjoy the benefits of creating an online presence for your company. In fact, the one thing worse than having no web presence is having one that is outdated.

Because it is important to manage your web presence on an ongoing basis, we wanted to outline a routine that can work for most small businesses. This will keep your online storefront up-to-date, and it won’t require too much time or effort on your part. Think of this as the successful routine of an Internet-savvy business owner.

Weekend: (1 Hour)

  • Social Media
    • Update social mediaFacebook/LinkedIn/Twitter/Business Networksconcurrently.
    • Why?  Some of your customers spend a lot of time on social networking sites and this creates new opportunities for your business.
  • Web Analytics           
    • Review the previous week’s visitors to your website and look for trends.
    • Review the effectiveness of any advertising.
  • Build Relationships
    • Review previous week’s customer list.
    • Write and send thank-you notes to customers and update CRM information.
  • Send Reminders
    • Email customers to reconfirm next week’s appointments.
  •  (SEO) Write Blog Post
    • Customer story, industry news.
    • Share blog on social media.

Monday: (15 Min)

  • Daily Client Notes
    • Close day and add notes on today’s clients.
  • Add offline transactions into system for future analysis.

Tuesday: (20 min)

  • Social Media
    • Update Facebook/LinkedIn/Twitter/Business Networks.
    • Browse and respond to any posts.
  • Daily Client Notes
    • Close day and add notes on today’s clients.
  • Add offline sales for day.

Wed: (15 Min)

  • Daily Client Notes
    • Close day and add notes on today’s clients.
  • Add offline sales for day.

Thursday: (20 min)

  • Social Media
    • Update Facebook/LinkedIn/Twitter/Business Networks.
    • Browse and respond to any posts.
  • Daily Client Notes
    • Close day and add notes on today’s clients.
  • Add offline sales for day.

Friday: (15 min)

  • Daily Client Notes
    • Close day and add notes on today’s clients.
  • Add offline sales for day.

What happens as a result of this routine and these habits?

  1. Better Marketing: You will enjoy a strong social media presence, effective email marketing, and timely customer follow-ups.
  2. Smarter Business:  You will gain insight into how your marketing is working, knowledge on what is driving online traffic to your business, and information on sales data including which dates, times and customers are most valuable.
  3. Loyal Customers: Tracking notes will provide you with better knowledge of your customers. Weekly, monthly or yearly follow-ups and reconnection will boost customer retention and repeat business. Service reminders will reduce missed opportunity. All of these lead to better time management.
  4. Improved Search Engine rankings: Just one blog post per week will create 52 pages on the web related to your business and help improve search engine rankings.

Conclusion           

We know that many businesses are still not taking advantage of the opportunities and capabilities that currently exist online. We built the Ocoos platform to provide an easy means for small business owners to get online and capitalize on opportunities created by the Internet. We wrote this book to explain what some of these opportunities and capabilities were and then to detail how you could deploy them in your business.

Being a little apprehensive of a new technology is understandable. But the Internet wasn’t designed to be difficult. It is intended to help make our lives easier. At every point along its evolution, it has moved toward simpler, more accessible ways of doing things. There has never been a better time to go online and start exploring what your business can accomplish.

We have given you the starting points. You now understand the basics of how marketing and finance have been impacted by the Internet revolution. You have learned how people find businesses online and share their feedback about those businesses. You know what questions you should ask yourself when deciding what kind of web presence you need for your business, you understand the options available to you when building a website, and you know how to use social networks to promote your business. You now appreciate all these benefits and are keen to take advantage of them.

There is no reason to delay getting started. Learning any new skill requires some effort, but practice will make it easier. The first time you try to post an update on your business’s Facebook fan page, you might be a bit unsure. But as you do it repeatedly, it will become second nature to you and you will start to realize the benefits of your efforts.

When you take your business online, you build stronger customer relationships, you improve your company’s visibility, you boost your marketing efforts, and you operate a smarter, more efficient and more profitable business. That is what the Internet can make possible for you.



©2013 AdvTravl Inc (DBA Ocoos) All Rights Reserved

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