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For Small Businesses: When Is the Best Time to Start Building Your Social Networks?

Posted on Aug 6th, 2013
Written by Lee Odden
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  • For Small Businesses: When Is the Best Time to Start Building Your Social Networks?
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    social networkingDuring a neighborhood gathering I met a small business owner and after sharing our respective backgrounds, he proceeded to tell me his troubles with not having the time to keep his website current. Competitors were seemingly overwhelming his category online. He also disclosed that his offering requires a bit of an educational sales cycle and the industry category has had some mixed press.

    As we talked, I learned that innovations in the product line have advanced the capabilities significantly, but awareness of those advancements were hardly common knowledge within the target audience.  The good news was a significant demand in search volume and conversation on social networks about the problems his product offering solves.

    I think a situation where a business has a great product, little awareness, high demand and few resources to market is pretty typical and common amongst small businesses as well as groups or departments within larger organizations.   My immediate solution involved content and amplification but where to find the resources and what approach will yield the best return?

    No marketing effort should begin without a plan or an approach that involves understanding key pain points of target customers and what the journey from awareness to consideration to purchase typically involves. Even an intuitive mapping of those customer insights is better than a pure product feature/benefit focus.

    Part of the problem to be solved in this situation is awareness and education to overcome misperceptions and communicate the enhanced features. One of the most efficient and effecting things a small business owner (aka resourced strapped marketer) could do to create content that is compelling, that stands out, is easy to find and share would be to create a blog with videos embedded of the business owner answering common questions. Answers that empathize with the customer would be most effective vs. a simple product demonstration. What causes people to need the product? What misperceptions are there that can be addressed? How can it be used outside the normal scope?

    Content wouldn’t need to be limited to video of course. Creating text, image and video content that is focused on the customer’s point of view about the product will go a long way towards attracting social shares and links.

    But, the question remains: How will people know that this great content exists? Without an active social network or advertising budget, it could take weeks or months before attracting significant sales.

    Here’s what often happens and maybe you’ve had this experience. A great content object is created (infographic, ebook, video, blog post) and then published to social platforms. Maybe several accounts need to be created on some social networks because they didn’t exist before and you want to get exposure to your beautiful, amazing content. Then what happens?

    Nothing.  Followed by, “Our video didn’t go viral!”. “Our eBook didn’t make the top Slideshare of the day!”.

    Here’s the thing: The time to start building social networks isn’t when you need them. The time to start isn’t even yesterday or last month. The time to start is long, long before you “need” them because it takes time to develop relationships. It takes time to listen, participate, create optimized content and understand what triggers will inspire attraction, engagement, sales and referrals.

    Since we cannot go back in time, then your time to start is now. Social network development isn’t just about creating profiles on the big 5 and friending hundreds of people in the hopes they’ll follow back so you can push your content on them.  It’s about creating, meaningful vs. mechanical social experiences for your community. Create value. Listen and respond. Ask and answer questions. Be interesting. Be helpful. Be memorable and most certainly take the perspective of “give to get”.

    Social networks are powerful assets for online marketers but they don’t happen overnight.

    If the small business owner I mentioned above stays the course with creating useful content, listening to customer feedback and growing a social presence, he’ll not only increase his ability to reach a larger, relevant audience, but he’ll also be able to tap into a steady stream of new content ideas, customer referrals and channels of content distribution that can reach even more prospective customers.  With a healthy social network and community, he’ll have new channels for sharing optimized content that attracts links and social shares; essential signals for search engines to rank web pages that will drive even more new customers to his business.

    What are you doing to grow your social networks? Are you dedicating time on a consistent basis? Are you training other people in your company on social platform 101 topics? Do you have a social media content calendar shared amongst your team?

    Image credit: Shutterstock