Social media, at its core, involves using technology to engage your customers and build relationships. Major social media platforms developed in the past several years, such as Facebook and Twitter, bring expanded opportunities for engagement and sharing your message. But social media is not about any one tool or platform, it is about developing a way of doing business that focuses on building rich relationships with your customers.
Social media works best for businesses that lend themselves toward community. So if you want to truly leverage the promise of social media, you might very well need to rethink your business, or how you do business, to see how you can create a community of passionate users where one may not have existed. A good start is to ask the question, “What is it that my typical customer is passionate about?” If you can’t answer the question, you have some work to do!
Not only do you need to embrace social media, you likely need to master it to have a successful online business in the year’s ahead. But the mastery does not involve going through the motions of having a generic Faccebook fan page, or scheduling daily automated Twitter posts. Mastery means becoming a great online communicator – whether it is through customer followup emails, e-newsletters, You Tube videos, posting LinkedIn answers, or just writing stellar copy on your website.
So what does it take for social media success?
1. You, as a small Ecommerce merchant, need to be able to understand, embrace, and execute, using the social media technologies that are developing around you. Investing some time to understand the current tools is key. And if you truly don’t like to put yourself out there and communicate with the public, you will need to find someone else who can represent you and your business with authenticity and passion.
2. You need a clearly defined community of users. If you don’t have a current community, you might have some work to do in redefining your business, or building your expertise, so people will want to pay attention to what you have to say. Defining a community can present some challenges for small Ecommerce site owners. If you sell office supply products, is there going to be a community of users out there who are passionate about what you are selling? If not, you might need to take a slight different approach such as developing a blog about office-place productivity or another related theme that will attract interest from your target audience.
3. Measure your success. Social media monitoring is a large topic. In a nutshell, you will likely want to set goals for number of followers, fans, or active blog readers. You will also want to use a tool like Google Analytics to correlate the traffic coming from your social media sites that results in purchases on your Ecommerce website. Ultimately, if you can’t figure out how to drive direct revenue, you will need to make some adjustments to your marketing plan.
Ways You Can Play
Here are a few of the more common social media tactics that are being used for building online engagement and how they can fit into building a community when you are starting from the ground floor.
Twitter (a form of microblogging) is great for getting communication out to your userbase. But if you don’t have a userbase, building one on Twitter can take a lot of work and is likely not the best place to start.
If your long-term success is going to be based on your establishing expertise in your field, then a blog will likely be a cornerstone of that strategy. If you are just getting started, be sure to plan out a theme-based string of blog posts. Many bloggers do one or two posts and fizzle out. Be persistent and commit yourself to high-quality regular posts.
Leveraging a Facebook following to drive traffic and generate orders is a proven formula for success. Some small businesses are successful in gaining a good number of Facebook fans – 500 or more – and get a resulting steady flow of traffic to their website. If you have thousands of fans and many are actively interested in what you have to share, you are in a great position to see some real revenue from the social media engagement. Getting the critical mass of fans is the hard part and can involve paying for Facebook ads, running creative promotions, and launching an all-out assault.
4. Facebook Application Shopping Carts
Every day new social Ecommerce platforms are being rolled out. Although it is a little early to see any with a proven record of success, consumer acceptance is on the way. Unless you have a large marketing budget or a strong urge to be bleeding edge, you probably don’t need to move your Ecommerce onto Facebook, but you do want to watch closely how the major players – Facebook, Amazon, Google, and a flurry of startups – are building social shopping applications.
5. Your Website
That is right, a good, old-fashioned website is at the core of most social media strategies. Remember to approach your website in the same way you approach your other social media venues. To the extent you can invite users to be a part of your online world and connect positively with them you are likely to keep them as a long-time customer. Don’t neglect to have all your hard-earned social media exposure accessible on your website.
6. The Endless Opportunities for Online Engagement
There is no limit to creative ways that you can build your online communities and establish your expertise. You can host webinars, post YouTube videos, utilize a service like Slideshare to upload presentations, or even create an Iphone app. If you have a B2B (business-to-business) model, Facebook might not be the place where you will connect with your users. You might need to work a little harder to develop online learning opportunities for your user base and connect through different channels.
The success of each of these tactics hinges on building a critical mass of engaged users. And therein lies the rub. A big-name brand like Coca Cola, or even a smaller name brand, like Leatherman, with their 16,000 Facebook fans, can leverage their army of followers in powerful ways. If you have 20 fans on Facebook, your ROI will be limited until you can successfully build your base.
Developing the Social Media Mindset
Social Media is not about the tools – like Facebook and Twitter – it is a mind set. And, if you are not willing to embrace that mindset in the years ahead, you will have an increasingly challenging time finding success in the online arena. But if you are willing and able to jump in fully with your online engagement, you will be able to build a corp of dedicated users as well as your own platform for success.