By Grayling Atomic

Social media has grown with such velocity that many businesses are afraid of embracing this medium, or don’t know where to start. The idea of running a social media platform can be daunting and for some, it may not be clear why they should even bother. We’ve put together a few tips that will hopefully help you take the first small steps and begin engaging with your stakeholders (customers, advocates, influencers) in the digital world.

Why bother?

Engaging through social media has many benefits. It is an opportunity to listen and find out what you’re customers, potential customers and competitors are saying and doing. It can be a great tool for research (ask for feedback on a new product or suggestions for new features or services) and most importantly it is a way to engage with customers or prospects when they are not in your store, on your website, meeting with you face to face or on the phone. Social media enables you to stay top of mind for longer and can help to drive more business.

“Hello, how can I help?”

Customer service is a major issue for every business. Many companies are terrified of seeing anything negative written about their business, and this can lead some to avoid engaging with their customers publicly online in the first place. It is important to keep one thing in mind: no matter whether you are engaging on social media or not, conversations about your business will take place. It is always better to face the criticism and address any issues raised immediately than ignore them, or worse have no knowledge that a dissatisfied customer is spreading the word about their experience. A good example of how this is done well is Vodafone UK’s twitter account.

Where to start?

If a company wants to begin engaging the best starting place is to identify the conversations it wants to be a part of. Is it a local forum, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Quora or a combination of these and some others? The easiest way is to listen first and then decide. Flowtown has a clear diagram that highlights demographics of various social networks to help you decide which platform is right for your business.

How to manage on a day-to-day basis

Many businesses (regardless of their size) worry that social media will take over their daily workload and become an unmanageable beast; this is something to be aware of but is not necessarily the case. The likelihood of a small to medium sized business suddenly being overwhelmed by masses of tweets or Facebook posts is small. Instead most businesses have to be highly proactive in building their communities and engaging with their audiences online.

How to do that?

• On Twitter, you can start by identifying influential people in your industry and begin following them, add your customers, partners, vendors. Soon you will see a small community emerging. You can engage in a similar way on other platforms including Facebook, LinkedIn and others.

• Cross promote your social media channels online and in the ‘real’ world. Tell your community how they can ‘friend’ or ‘follow’ you and what they will get by doing that.

• Comment on issues that your followers would be interested in. Is there a topic in the news that is relevant to your community? Share it with them and share your thoughts.

• Offer your audiences something they wouldn’t be able to get elsewhere. This can be a promotion, an invitation to an event or the opportunity to trial a new product/service. Give them a reason to come back and to spread the word about you.

• Use the ‘20/80’ rule. This means that an account should only discuss company activities for 20% of the time and the rest of the conversation should be much broader, for example discussing interesting articles or information that is relevant but not directly about your company. This helps to ensure you don’t spam followers and is more likely to keep people engaged and encourage them to share information with their friends or colleagues.

• Give your presence a personality. Engage. Ask questions. Don’t always focus on business.

These few tips should get you going. The best way to understand the potential of social media is to give it a try. Listen first and then engage. Social media offers a lot of benefits; it would be a shame to leave them all to your competitors.

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