More and more customers are using social networks so it is vital for companies to be active on them too.
Social networks allow companies to interact with customers, convince them of the quality of their products, improve their online visibility and get better results on search engines. And all without spending a cent: most companies manage their Facebook and Twitter accounts in-house, not even using one particular person for the task.
The five basic rules
An active presence on social networks is time-consuming and there is no guarantee of concrete results. You therefore need to optimize the time you spend on them whilst following these five rules:
- The goals must be clear. Does the SME want to be known as an expert in its field? Does it want to attract new customers? Or does it want to increase sales via its e-commerce platform?
- A name which is easy to remember. The ideal is to use the company name. But if this is too long, a shortened version can be chosen. This should be short and look like the company name. For example, the Twitter handle of the New York Times is @nytimes.
- Never sell directly. Web-users browse social networks to get information or for entertainment. A direct sell might turn them off. You need to be more subtle: interaction with customers naturally leads to sales of goods or services. For example, an organic grocer could have a Facebook page containing advice about food and recipes. Users will naturally want to visit it to find the ingredients referred to online.
- A succinct and attractive presentation. On social networks, a company only has a few words to present itself. So its introduction must be lively, pique customers' curiosity and provide them with an idea of the offering.
- Creating a website. Social network accounts must provide a link to a website where customers can find more information about the company and potentially buy its products.
Which network should I choose?
Today, there is a myriad of social networks, each corresponding to a different type of clientele. It is therefore essential to choose the right platforms on which the SME will be active. To make the decision, you can ask your customers which networks they visit or look at those used by your competitors:
- To reach as many people as possible. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Xing or the Chinese Sina Weibo are the dominant social networks on the web. Facebook alone has over 1.3 billion active users per month. These platforms are ideal for networking and improving the company's referencing on search engines. Google+ is currently less popular, but it has the advantage of being connected to Picasa and YouTube. It is also possible to abuse the use of these platforms – for instance, some brands pay celebrities to post tweets praising their products to their fan community.
- For an optimal presentation. Picasa, YouTube and Pinterest help companies put their visuals to the best possible use. A restaurant could post photos of its terrace or its dishes on Picasa. A small production company could post a sample of videos it is producing on YouTube.
- To get yourself noticed. Yelp, Zagat, TripAdvisor and Foursquare are the ideal tools to find out what your customers think. Faced with an increasing number of options, customers are tending to rely more and more on other internet users, who they perceive as neutral. A good rating and enthusiastic comments about a business or its services can have a huge effect on sales. Restaurants and hotels will find these platforms particularly useful.
How to start the conversation
There are three ways of being active on social networks:
- Posting content. Sharing interesting information created by the company itself, such as articles or videos.
- Relaying other people’s content. This allows the company to present itself as an expert in a particular field, by passing on articles or videos from other users.
- Interacting. Thank customers when they appreciate products or answer questions from users.
Is this effective?
It is always useful to be aware of the impact of your activity on a social network. Statistical tools are usually built-in, for example to view traffic on a Facebook page or Twitter profile.
Source: Small Business Marketing Kit For Dummies, Barbara Findlay Schenck, John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2012.