Bev James

Are you becoming a social media ostrich? Do you have your head in the sand concerning the speed of change happening in e-marketing? If so, you may be losing your market share and your business may be suffering.

Like many people, I was sceptical to begin with about the commercial benefits of social media, and I took my time to start using Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to promote my work and my businesses. However, far from being the time-stealer I suspected they might be, the positive benefits of building an online network are proving invaluable. I recently held a workshop where 20 per cent of the delegates attended in response to an announcement via Twitter, which meant the advertising cost to me for that 20 per cent was zero. Because of Twitter I had built a relationship with them before we had even met.

A recent news story suggested that if Facebook was a country it would have the third largest population in the world after China and India. When Twitter was launched by Jack Dorsey in July 2006 even he would not have envisaged that Twitter would now have over 500 million users. Social media is having a major impact on world events, on news, on entertainment — and on business.

One of my aims now is to encourage business owners to make better use of social media, by creating news, being where news is, building relationships and connecting to fellow professionals by engaging in online groups and discussions.
As MD of The Entrepreneurs’ Business Academy I am always keen to find out how our members use social media. I recently sent a survey to several hundred business clients to get an understanding of their attitudes. The results may provide lessons for us all:

How would you rate your level of ability with social media?

71.6 per cent of those who replied to our questionnaire said that they were now using social media — but only 5.5 per cent classified themselves as highly proficient at using it; 8.5 per cent said that they were not currently using social media for business purposes. That means that most people have a long way to go before benefitting commercially from the full potential of social media.

How did you get involved in social media?

The vast majority of people who use social media are self-taught. Only 20 per cent of those who replied had learnt their skills by investing in a course: almost the same as the number who had been helped by friends and family. But sharing and chatting on Facebook and Twitter are not the same as having a business presence. It is vital to learn from people who are using social media successfully for marketing and publicity campaigns in business as well.

What are the main channels of social media you are currently using for business?

By far the majority of respondents (76.4 per cent) said that LinkedIn was the channel they used most often for networking business to business. This was unsurprising as it is a great way to get yourself noticed by other professionals — but it won’t necessarily help you to get noticed outside your own professional niche. Businesses get noticed at the point where clients are looking for information themselves. This can be achieved more readily via Twitter and Facebook than any other means. About 57.5 per cent of respondents are using Facebook and 52.8 per cent are using Twitter for business purposes. You don’t have to give away any personal information. The key is to keep your business persona separate from your family or private pages.

Only 16 per cent of respondents are currently using YouTube to promote their skills — possibly because posting video content can seem daunting, and it is true that it is better to have no video than a bad one. However, websites that incorporate video content hold browsers’ attention for longer than those that don’t. A good quality video commands attention and allows potential new clients to ‘get to know you’ before getting in touch. Not everyone feels comfortable in front of a camera and many may need coaching before taking the plunge; but it is worth putting yourself to the test.

If you are using Twitter, how many followers do you have?

If you depend on new prospects to build your business, Twitter is a great way to gain attention. Twitter is all about entertaining and uplifting people. An effective tweet or re-tweet will encourage people to ‘follow’ you and to learn more. Twitter is now taken very seriously as a marketing tool. Corporate businesses now build ‘Tweeting’ in to their marketing plans. But small business owners are often concerned it is time consuming, and are unsure of what kind of content to post or whether it will be worth it. That may explain why 42.3 per cent of the respondents who said they use Twitter had fewer than 100 followers. Only 6 per cent had more than 500 followers. If you want people to interact with and follow you, you should know what you stand for and what your message is. Penny Power’s Know Me, Like Me, Follow Me is a very good book that can help you understand how the business landscape is being shaped by collaboration, reputation and relationships.

What do you mainly use social media for?

The vast majority of business owners use social media solely for networking purposes and to share knowledge and information. Less than 3 per cent are actively using it for customer analysis and feedback. This is a missed opportunity. Monitoring and measuring the effectiveness of your communication strategy is essential. Unless you know what has worked, how can you make changes that will deliver even better results?

Once you have a good number of connections (500 to 1,000 is a good target to aim for) you can Tweet surveys to find out what your contacts and followers are interested in, and deliver more of what they want. Social media isn’t about selling, it’s about building relationships and adding value. When you use Twitter to look for opportunities to RT (Re-Tweet) comments made by those you support and follow, others will add their comments too - and you’ll be surprised how many people will return the favour.

Fewer than ten per cent of those who responded said that they did not use social media at all. The most common reasons for non-use were either because they felt it was too revealing or because they didn’t know how to get started — but over one third of these respondents would welcome the chance to learn more about social media.

How long have you been using social media for business?

Finally, we asked how long respondents had been using social media for business purposes. The figures are increasing rapidly. Replies suggest that the numbers had increased from 5 per cent three years ago to 30 per cent during in the last year.

Used well, social media provides valuable PR while building a network of self-selected followers; it can save you money while increasing your market profile. It works without you having to do any more than entertain and stay in contact.

What have you got to lose by trying?

My free Do It! Guide to Social Media has been written to help both new and experienced users to embrace the new world of marketing and get themselves noticed. Social media marketing is no longer an optional extra, but something that will evolve and is here to stay.
I wish you well.

You can access Bev’s free Do It! Guide to Social Media at: www.bevjames.com/Social-Media-Rapport

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