Social Media is not a fad. It is not something that is going to go away nor is it going to be replaced by something bigger and better. Most businesses have embraced social media and all that it has to offer. Perhaps you, yourself have taken a ride on the social media bandwagon. But, even if you have a well-established social media presence, are you really getting the most out of your online relationships? Are you missing opportunities to truly leverage your business relationships online in order to reap bigger rewards and sales in the real world? Following are 5 easy ways that you can take to utilize your online business and real-world relationships to increase your overall social media ROI.
1. Give and Receive On-Line Introductions
Don’t just wait for others to approach you through social media. Until you have established your online brand, telling others who you are, what you do and what you have to offer, you cannot expect others to find you. You are always your own best advertiser. You need to reach out to everyone you know and want to know to get the word out. With social media, as well as in the real world, you do not necessarily have to approach people blindly. Rather start utilizing the business relationships you have developed both off line and on over the years to meet those you would potentially like to work with.
If you have not already done so, go to the social media platform of your choice and look for and connect with any and all previous business colleagues you have engaged with in the real world throughout your career. Seek out past employers, co-workers, supervisors, colleague and business associates you have worked with, even if you have had a career change to a new industry. Connect with those in your previous industries as well. The likelihood is high that they too will be connected to others you may want to connect with in the future.
Now that you’ve built up your list of connections, look through your connection’s “friend” lists and ask for introductions to those they know that you would also like to meet. If you have a colleague that you feel will benefit from an introduction to another of your connections, make the introduction for them as well. And always maintain positive interactions with your connections. You will find that most people are more than willing to introduce you to others they know so long as you have had a good report with them, themselves.
And do not just limit yourself to online introductions. The same things you will find in social media often hold true in the real world. At real-world networking events, people do not want to be “targets” but feel much more comfortable when someone they already know introduces them to others. If you know you will be attending a networking event, rather than walk up to complete strangers, if possible, make the connection via an introduction.
2. Leverage the Expertise of Others
Leveraging business relationships does not always equate to simply making sales nor does it refer to “using” others or doing anything seemingly sinister. Leveraging business relationships is common practice in business and often results in developing mutually beneficial business relationships that help to improve the business offerings of all parties involved.
Let me give you an example of how this could work in your favor. You have a friend or business colleague who owns her own printing company. You have a customer/client who prints his own business cards and letterhead. Rather than simply passing along a business card, offer to make a referral or to talk to the printer on his behalf. When speaking to the printer about the project, you may be able to negotiate a better rate on your client’s behalf and may work up a “deal” of your own for referring business her way. Another example would be if you had another friend who ran a business fixing office equipment, your friend employs fantastic technicians and manages them with service dispatch software, your relationship will be mutually beneficial and both of your businesses will grow. Overtime, you will likely develop a strong working relationship with the printer and perhaps other businesses as well and gain some new business perks along the way.
3. Expand Your Reach
One of the key aspects to social media is that you are not limited in your connections to only those who like or follow you. Rather, once someone likes or follows your profiles, you then have access to all of their friends and followers as well. The more you connect with, the farther you reach will go. Always be on the lookout for new opportunities to connect with people. Pay attention to activity feeds that show you who your connections have recently connected to. Use common connections as a conversation starter when trying to make new connections on your own. Join groups and like pages of businesses and groups with like-minded individuals. Joining groups will more often than not lead to new people sending you connections requests simply because of your common group affiliation.
Stay current, consistent and interesting in the things you post. Social media has a domino affect. So when people see something posted on a social media platform that they feel others will find interesting, they share it. In fact most news feeds and blogs also feature “Share” links to make it easy for you to share their information with others. Once one person shares your information, the likelihood is others will as well. As you make more connections, your posts will increasingly be shared with others. Give your followers something they will want to share and they probably will!
4. Word of Mouth Marketing
It can take years or even decades to build a positive brand image and only seconds to destroy it. Word of Mouth marketing is people telling others people they know their thoughts on a company, product, service or overall brand. Whether in person, over the phone, via email or through one of the many social media platforms that are out there, Word of Mouth marketing can make or break a business.
Be mindful of how you handle customer situations, particularly those in the public realm. How you react to consumers and potential consumers and how you handle different situations will get noticed. So it is important to build a strong brand with customer service excellence.
Perhaps one of the best examples of this is BP. (See: Brand Identity: Protecting Against Negative Good Will). The oil spill was televised worldwide and it became clear almost immediately that BP was incapable of handling the situation as quickly and efficiently as it should have. You may not be aware of this fact, but franchise owners and not the company itself individually own most BP gas stations. Yet many Americans refused to use BP gas stations as a result of how things were handled in the Gulf by the company and because their friends, family and peers spoke negatively about others who still got their gas at the local BP gas stations. I recall seeing commercials where BP franchise owners were pleading with consumers to continue to support their local BP gas stations because the company did not own their stations. However, many BP stations were closed as a result of the negativity that went along with the situation.
This is why it is so important for business owners to pay very close attention to what others are saying about their brand. Use the power of social media to listen to your consumers. If people are sharing positive thoughts about your brands with others, thank them publically and offer them incentive to continue to spread the good news. If you find people that are saying negative things, handle it professionally and expeditiously. In the open forum apologize for the person’s distress and offer to take the discussion offline by giving that consumer a place to vent to you directly, with the promise that you will handle it personally. And no matter how many flames they are throwing at you or your brand publically, do not add fuel to their fire.
Here’s a great example of a negative Word of Mouth situation and how it is typically handled by @panerabread on Twitter:
Although you may be thinking that recommendations are essentially the same things as word of mouth marketing, I assure you they are very different. Word of Mouth is people telling people their thoughts on a particular company, product, service or brand and can be either positive or negative. Recommendations, however, are positive expressions that another person willingly shares with the individual they are writing about.
As you build your connections base, you will inevitably connect with someone with whom you’ve had a very positive experience working with. Why not ask that person to share that experience, in their own words, with those who come to visit your profiles. Recommendations are essential in building your brand and reputation. People like to work with people who come highly recommended by others. One of the best aspects of having recommendations on your social media profiles is that even those who are not yet connected with you can see what others have to say about you, your company, your product and services and your overall brand.