I’ve now worked in public relations (ahem – strategic communications) for eight years.
The goal of strategic communications tends to be straight-forward:
Make clients look good, gain them positive press, and get them known. The greater their (positive) media presence, the more sales.
That’s a gross oversimplification, but today’s thoughts are on the common difficulty of selling small to medium-sized corporate clients on why they should invest in social media.
Why Small Businesses Should Invest in Social Media
It’s ironic that more than a decade into the social media era, for many companies, hiring a “PR consultant” still equates to “get me on the front page of the New York Times.”
According to Cision, “98 percent of the Fortune 500 now rely on social media.”
But many smaller businesses as well as individuals (with smaller or no PR budgets) still don’t get it.
Don’t me wrong – they know *what* social media is; they just don’t understand its business value.
After all, why invest time and money in something with no seemingly direct return on investment?
Social media’s value lies in distribution and brand-building – using different interactive channels to get word out about your expertise and/or business, and directly engaging the public (including potential clients and/or competitors) in a way that builds your credibility and your fan base.
It’s this fan base – those who come, over time, to trust your expertise and look forward to your thoughts, who will refer you to their friends and associates, and – if you are indeed as good as you probably are – increased sales will follow.
After all, friends trust their friends; the best marketing is word-of-mouth.
It’s not easy, and it won’t happen overnight.
But just as social media has transformed both the velocity and one-time predictability of the news cycle, so too has it democratized the internet–and lowered the cost of advertising and publishing to nearly zero.
There are many ways to enter the world of social media, but here’s one example of how merely getting in the habit of regularly tweeting could help bring credibility and more opportunity your way.
It goes like this – tweeting can drive folks to your website, where you occasionally publish thought pieces on topics that interest you to your blog, and some of those visitors then opt in to receive a periodic email newsletter from you. A very small percentage of those (say, 3 percent) then buy whatever you’re selling
Tweeting –> Brand Awareness –> Website Traffic –> Profit
As your social media base (via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, visits to your website and blog, etc.) increases, you’ll likely get noticed by other thought leaders (“influencers,” as it were) and receive invitations to collaborate – write a guest post on their blog, or agree to be interviewed for a podcast.
This gradually increases your exposure until you are invited to speak to real live people in (gasp!) real life.
And suddenly, you wake up one day to realize you are a recognized expert (yay!), and what started as 140 character tweets into nothingness has led to real-life speaking engagements and invitations to write features for other publications.
Or, in the case of Donald Trump perhaps, that you’ve become President.
Step 1: Tweet
Baby steps – In the 10 years since Twitter has grown from a joke (140 characters? Srsly?) into a legitimate news source, it has influenced such events as
- The 2008 Presidential election;
- Fundraising efforts following the 2010 Haiti earthquake;
- The rescue of Chilean miners trapped underground in 2012; and
- Coups in Egypt and the Republic of Georgia, when traditional communication channels were unavailable.
Today, Donald Trump has tapped into the zeitgeist of the moment – mobilizing a core constituency of disaffected and deeply frustrated voters, largely through his masterful use of Twitter.
Not that your tweets need to effect the broader world (no pressure!) but using the service is also fun – a way to mix and match your personal style and expertise in order to build your fan base. And drive them to:
Step 2: Your Website
You have a website, right? It could be your business’s, or your personal Facebook page, but folks who discover your tweets and like your message will naturally visit your site to learn more.
And that’s where you can truly drive influence, by gaining readers for:
Step 3: Your Blog
Blogging has come a long way from the online diaries of yesteryear (remember LiveJournal, y’all?). Now, ordinary people use blogs to establish their expertise and voice.
Blogging is the most important thing you can do in the social media realm to build your credentials. It allows you to improve your writing skills and develop your unique voice (the mythical “authenticity” consumers crave), while opining on your subject matter expertise.
If your content is good, your fans – built through YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, etc. — will subscribe, share your posts, and want to read more.
Step 4: Interaction
You thought we forgot that part, eh? Social media is just that – social, not static.
It’s a place to find like-minded friends and share, as well as to engage your readers and customers.
So one should enable comments on your blog and actively respond to folks via platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat. After all, this is your community, and listening is key.
Step 5: Invitations for Collaboration
Despite its 313 million active users, Twitter still represents a fairly small community as percentage of the world populace.
In fact, its user-base has flat-lined relative to other channels like Facebook, Pinterest, and Snapchat.
What this means is, if you’re good, you’ll be noticed.
And folks will gradually get to know you and eventually invite you to collaborate with them – perhaps by being interviewed, asked to contribute guest posts, or even to write a feature article or column for an online trade publication.
Until, finally, you begin to receive:
Step 6: Invitations to Speak
With the credibility built online, you will eventually be invited to speak to small groups. Perhaps soon after that, larger groups.
And the number of people who know you and–more importantly–know you for the expertise of your choosing, dare I say, “your brand” (gasp!) will grow exponentially.
At the end of the day, social media is simply one more tool in a toolbox.
But it is incredibly (and increasingly) effective at brand building, even if you’re just a local business with zero marketing budget.