Small Business Social Media Survival Guide

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Social Business Reality Check: Move Beyond the Hype

Beyond Facebook and Twitter

When people think social media, they automatically think Facebook and Twitter. But social business involves more than barking at customers. Within your business you can engage customers, employees, partners, and suppliers through a variety of public and private social software platforms, and these can have a clear, tangible return on investment in the immediate term. Regardless of whether Facebook makes sense for your marketing plan, consider giving the people you actually do business with a way to interact with your company directly.

Social Tools
The range of social media offerings is more complex than you realize. Look beyond the big public sites for tools you can use inside your business.
Setting up a customer community on your Website (actively monitored and curated by your customer service team) can radically reduce your support overhead, giving your most loyal customers a chance to share their knowledge of your products with those who are just learning to love you. It can also yield valuable market insights that you can collect and aggregate into a clearer view of how your products are perceived outside your office walls.

Likewise, creating open social channels between your internal staff and your external suppliers can strengthen essential relationships and give your business the agility to respond quickly to new opportunities. Internally you can improve communication about your business processes and do a better job of sharing institutional knowledge by launching social tools on your intranet.

The single biggest reason that most businesses fail at social media (in the sense that they get little out of it relative to the resources exhausted), according to Fauscette, is that they neglect to think holistically about what social media is. In thinking of social as merely a Facebook page or a Twitter profile, businesspeople ignore a far larger world of legitimate business tools that can reliably ratchet up productivity while cutting operating costs down. Connecting your sales staff directly to your suppliers may not be as buzzworthy as scraping together 50,000 Twitter followers, but it likely offers a more provable return on the investment in time and labor.

Radian 6 and Lithium stand out as clear choices for social media monitoring on the marketing side. Salesforce--which is buying Radian 6-- now includes powerful social listening tools that can help reps get a closer look at the social streams of their prospects--in the hands of an intuitive closer, knowing that a client recently recently got married, or is about to take a vacation, can be all the intel necessary to lock down a deal.

Social Media Planning
Get input from throughout your organization to think smarter about how social media can help you meet your business goals.
A recent IDC social business adoption survey found that businesses boosted productivity by 11 to 30 percent when implementing social tools within the operational side of the business.

Teamwork

To find the opportunities that make sense for your business, start by getting your team together. Too often, particularly in larger companies, social media campaigns start at an almost grassroots level within an organization. That may sound cool, but as each department starts its own profile and dupes some underling into hammering out a few tweets a day or posting polls on a Facebook wall, the company could have a half dozen schizophrenic personalities bleating mixed messages into the marketplace by the time any two department leaders actually attempt to coordinate their efforts in line with a larger set of coherent goals.

"Get your company's internal departments in sync first," says Michael Fauscette. "Siloed companies are not going to succeed in an open social environment."

Fauscette's generalization may not hold in all cases--just look to Dell for an example of a company that met with widespread social media success despite what appeared to be a fairly ad hoc early effort on Facebook and Twitter. The company has clearly centralized its social media efforts since that time; it now integrates public-facing social streams into its partner-specific communities in a cohesive way, and delivers customer support via social tools.

My point here is that, while spontaneous social media plays can succeed, in general they stand less chance than well-planned efforts. You can pull together your spontaneous efforts into a more coherent plan once you're already in the game, but the best planning will examine your entire business from the outset.

So, regardless of whether you already have a few social streams in place or you're still standing on the shore preparing to jump in, take the time to build a comprehensive plan that can serve your entire business. You could find that your best option isn't on Twitter at all, but on your own Website.

And it may very well turn out that your customer service group--rather than your marketing staff--is the best crew to execute the plan. That's the kind of valuable insight you almost certainly would not get if you just left the planning process in the hands of the marketing department as most business do.

Here to Stay

Social media isn't even close to declining--let alone fading away. So even if you've made a few efforts that fizzled, you have ample reason to take a step back, look at the broader field of social tools available to your business, and make a strategic push back into fray. By bringing all of the leaders within your business together to find the best opportunities and to set clear, measurable goals, you can draw tangible benefits from the social Web without buying into the hype.

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