Social Media? Really!

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By Cynthia Marsh, Patty Johnson, and Kit Goyette

Because "everyone is doing it" was never a good reason to take part in an activity as a teenager. But we're sure even Mom would agree that participating in social media, the current web-based, highly accessible, interactive marketing, communication, and publishing outlets, is a great idea because "everyone is doing it!"

We live in an age of digital and electronic communication. Texting, facebooking, tweeting—maybe you do these activities in your personal life already. Small businesses are getting into the act, too. A study from the University of Maryland, College Park, Robert H. Smith School of Business found that participation rates in social media like Facebook and Twitter have reached nearly 25 percent among small businesses. Companies are using social media, especially Facebook and LinkedIn, in their daily business practices to stay competitive and, just as important, to be relevant to their customers.

There are other reasons, too. According to Social Media Marketing Report: How Marketers are Using Social Media to Grow, prepared in 2009 by Michael Stelzner, author of Writing White Papers: How to Capture Readers and Keep Them Engaged, the top reason businesses are participating in social media is to gain exposure for their companies. Increasing traffic to the company website and building new business partnerships are also important reasons. Respondents to the study indicated, in the following order, that they use Twitter, blogs, LinkedIn, and Facebook to connect with potential customers. This study also provided data that business owners were more likely to use social media marketing (90-plus percent) than employees working for a business (81 percent).
(Editor's note: Stelzner's report is available for download at marketingwhitepapers.s3.amazonaws.com/smss09/SocialMediaMarketingIndustryReport.pdf)

The expectation is that these activities will pay off financially in 12 months or less. Why? Because consumers are telling us so: 67 percent of consumers who follow brands on Twitter are more likely to buy those brands after becoming a follower, and 51 percent of Facebook users are more likely to buy from a company after becoming its friend. One survey indicated that after only a few months and with as few as six hours spent using social media per week, more than half of the companies generated qualified leads with this marketing method.

This doesn't mean you should abandon traditional methods of advertising, promotion, or public relations, but this data should encourage you to use these methods in conjunction with social media outlets to extend the reach and impact of your message. Remember, social media is a dialogue. Interaction is the key. You say something, your respondents say something back, and so on.

It is also important to remember these key points about social media:

  • It is a tool for listening to the market, not talking at it. This is the first step toward a deeper understanding of your target audience—what they're after and how to contribute and add value to their lives. Social media also provides key insights about your business and how it is perceived in the marketplace.
  • It is a relationship tool. Use social media to build relationships with customers to further your business' reach. You can expand your customer base and build stronger relationships with specific customers at the same time.
  • It is a customer service tool to enhance your current customer service practices.

Let's Be Connected
(Friended, Liked, Followed, Linked)

Facebook

One of the easiest ways to get involved in social media is to create a Facebook page for your business. A business page on Facebook will get your name out there for users, customers, and interested parties who are searching for it on the Internet. A photo of your building's façade, your logo, and other business-relevant images can be uploaded and will be seen as a thumbnail in the Facebook "news feed."

Here's how Facebook works: users sign up for a free account and then make connections with other users on the service by "liking" them. Liking a Facebook page is not too different from subscribing to a company's newsletter. Users will "like" a page to stay updated on that user's events, promotions, and news or to show their appreciation or endorsement. When someone "likes" your page, anything you post to it will show up in his or her news feed. The Facebook news feed drives "word-of-mouth" marketing so that your message is shared across your Facebook network.

The key to Facebook success is giving visitors a reason to come back to your page frequently by adding fresh content regularly. Post information about new prosthetic and orthotic services and upload images from your office or from manufacturers. Let your visitors know when you have attended a conference or seminar by uploading a video or photos from the event. Upload a photo of a new practitioner you've added to your team or let people know when you've opened a new office. Include staff birthdays or anniversaries. Patient success stories (with their written permission, use first name, last initial) are inspirational to read. Post links about people with amputations in the news or sporting world. Your focus should be on providing valuable content so that customers seek you out. When you post interesting content, your visitors will share or "like" your message with their friends. This can create an incredible network to drive more followers, e-mail subscribers, and ultimately, business.

When someone "likes" your page, he or she can also post comments to your business' Facebook "wall." You would naturally expect that all comments are going to be about the wonderful services and products you provide, but if there is a valid negative comment posted you can quickly address the situation and answer it right there on your wall. Your other Facebook visitors will appreciate how quickly you resolved the issue. In the case of undeserved negative comments, you can remove them from the wall at any time as well as change your privacy settings.

Facebook pages also can get picked up by web search engines and give you, your company, and your website even more exposure. Include the Facebook logo on your website and in your e-mail signature, post a sign in your waiting area or at your reception desk, and promote your Facebook page in all of your marketing.

Facebook's Help Center for Business Accounts can help you create a presence through Facebook. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/help/?page=721

Twitter

Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging service that allows its users to send and read other users' updates, known as tweets, which are text-based posts of up to 140 characters in length.

Twitter has helped a number of small businesses drive customers to their facilities and helped them build customer relationships and add new names to their customer-management database. However, it may not be the best choice for every business. Assess your needs and objectives before you begin sending out tweets. If you decide to become a Twitterer, you can link to press releases, articles, and news relevant to your customers.

Experts advise that when deciding whom to follow, the first step is getting others to follow you. Look for contacts you already have, then search through their contacts to find additional people who could yield business leads or be otherwise helpful. Look for other prosthetists and orthotists, orthopedic physicians, therapists, or even manufacturers to help you find a community conversing about topics that are relevant to your own business.

To be a successful Twitterer, you must be committed to spending a few minutes each day or at least several times a week sending out tweets. You can keep track of other users mentioning your business by accessing the Twitter search tool.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is the most popular social networking tool for business-to-business users and job seekers. In addition, businesses can create profile pages that outline important details about their operations.

LinkedIn allows for questions and answers with a professional slant; it's a great place to look up background information on people before a meeting or phone call, and it's a place where endorsements are both welcome and expected. You can find groups or discussion threads on LinkedIn relevant to your business and add your expertise to the mix. When you are on LinkedIn, you can search groups for those that reflect your interests. Look for physicians, therapists, and other referral sources to link with.

Be sure to put your social media link in your e-mail signature and on business cards, business stationery, advertising and promotional materials, and your website. Invite visitors to like, link, or follow you.

Jump in. Your mom is probably on Facebook. She'll "like" your company, and you'll be on your way!

Cynthia Marsh, director of editorial services; Patty Johnson, president and COO; and Kit Goyette are with Ron Sonntag Public Relations, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which has nearly 30 years of experience in public relations and marketing of orthotics and prosthetics firms and organizations providing activities for amputees. Find us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/RonSonntagPR

What Should I Tweet About?

These are the basic content models you want to include in your mix:

Status updates. What are you working on? What has your attention at the moment?

Share links. Whether it's breaking news or valuable resources, share links that would intrigue the people who have an interest in your business.

Have an opinion. Add your own commentary to links and help people get to know you as you share information.

Ask and answer questions. Google doesn't have the answer to everything. Sometimes there's just no substitute for a human being.

Retweet. Did someone you follow share something interesting? You can repost it to your own network. It's simple and quick, and it acknowledges the person who originally sent it by giving them a little extra exposure.

Make business announcements. Yes, you can directly make announcements about your business events, deals, new products, etc. Just don't overdo it.