One of the consistent challenges to social media is the question of Return on Investment (ROI). Along with that challenge, comes a question that asks more specifically,
“How does social media actually help someone get business?”
There’s only one problem with this challenge and it’s that the focus is only on social media. Social media is most effective when it is integrated into other business practices that help a person get business. What often trips people up about social media is that they don’t see how to take a social media conversation and turn it into an email, phone or in-person conversation. While social media can lead people to your website, and in some cases can even lead to people buying products from your website, it is more of a relationship tool than anything else.
What stops many business owners from embracing social media is that they think of it as a technology. It’s true that technology is the medium and means by which people interact when using social media, but first and foremost social media is a social medium, which means that you aren’t really interacting with a computer or phone screen. You are interacting with people and just happen to be using the computer or phone screen to do so. Once business owners realize that this is a social medium and that their interactions with people can make an impression it changes their perspective on social media as a business tool, because they realize it can serve a few purposes:
- Customer service and retention: Social media is an excellent tool for staying up to date on what your clients are saying about your business or what they are saying in general. It’s also an excellent means to start conversations with clients and show interest in more than just their wallets.
- Competition and research: Social media can be useful for doing research on your competition or just research in general. Ask people questions to learn more about what they think of a product or service, or to learn what they want.
- Networking: Social media provides lots of opportunities to network with people from all over the world. Want to learn about business opportunities in another country? Network online and see who you meet from that country who can give you information or refer you to other people.
And the list can go on. Social media is also a creative medium, which means you can probably think up an idea and try it out. For example, Milan Stoneworks, a company in Portland, Oregon, did a contest of the World’s Ugliest Kitchen and used Facebook to show pictures of different kitchens and get votes on which one should be renovated. The contest quadrupled their fan base and got a lot of people interested in them. But the real question, for them, and for the rest of us is how they’ll convert all of those fans into actual clients. And social media is only part of the equation…
The rest of the equation involves using the telephone, or meeting with a person, or emailing someone. In other words, at some point, in order to get business via social media, the conversation needs to move off of social media and into other mediums. Social media is excellent for raising brand visibility and awareness of your services, but unless people are motivated to call or meet with you, business will not grow. For many businesses this is a challenge because they don’t want to come off as over eager sales people. But it doesn’t have to be that hard to transition a conversation from social media to in-person or phone conversations…
- Remember to follow-up with people who leave comments. If someone leaves a comment on your Facebook page, Linked status update, or replies to a tweet, write back! That will start a conversation. Don’t make the conversation about business. Make it about what the person is interested in and pay attention to what s/he is saying. If s/he is asking a lot of questions, suggest moving the conversation to another medium. By following up and replying you establish credibility and show interest in the person’s problem or need, and that is what interests the person the most. When you request to move the conversation to another medium s/he will understand and be open to doing so.
- If you’re sending an invitation to connect with someone on Linkedin, or Biznik, take the time to personalize your invitation. Tell the person how you met him/her and why you’re interested in connecting. Include your phone number and ask if you could meet with the person to network. Don’t send the generic invitation, which tells the person nothing about you or why you want to connect and if someone sends you a generic invite ask why they want to connect and follow up until you get a phone or in-person meeting.
- Participate on Q and A forums regularly (this can also be done via twitter or facebook). I also suggest sending a personal message to someone either thanking him/her for an answer or providing additional suggestions if it’s a question. And as always include contact info, because that might just motivate the person to call or write you.
When you treat social media as a door to possible conversations and then start thinking about how you can move those conversations to other media, it makes it possible to start turning social media connections into business connections that can help you grow your business, while also developing a relationship that will hopefully last a long time.