By Richard Margetic - Dell’s social media guru
Social media is too hard, too scary or too ridiculous to waste time on. I hear these sentiments constantly from business owners of all ages. Of course, prolific users of social media probably find these attitudes archaic. But they are real – and more common that you’d expect.
For example, I recently met a business owner who runs a small nutrition practice. He told me that he studied Facebook for six months – researching what it does and how it works – before finally registering for an account. Six months! Seriously, Facebook is not akin to nuclear physics. It doesn’t require this level of study.
Similarly, I recently did a video interview with a business owner, profiling her work and products. At the end of the interview, she told me that she didn’t want it on YouTube. I was perplexed. She was happy for us to film, she saw us set up the cameras. I wondered if I had unwittingly offended her or if she was unhappy with the interview. It turns out that she thought the interview was just fine. “I just don’t want it on YouTube.”
Still confused, I asked if she cared if the video was uploaded to Vimeo, or Blip.TV or any of the other video-sharing sites. “Oh yes, that’s fine, just not YouTube. I don’t want to be with the silly cat videos.”
Sin #1: Overcomplicating social media
The incidents above illustrate that there is a clear lack of understanding of what social media is and, more importantly, how powerfully it can impact your business. It’s a trend that social media expert Richard Margetic often sees as well. Margetic is director of Dell’s Global Social Media. “Small business owners are afraid of social media because of a lack of knowledge but also a lack of familiarity with social media tools,” says Margetic, who was in Sydney earlier this week. “This develops an element of insecurity. They don’t want to jeopardise their business.”
Margetic says small business owners are also scared by social media horror stories that range from “stupidity” to those that spawn legal issues. “If common sense ruled, then Twitter would make sense to them,” he says matter-of-factly.
To this end, Dell has produced an updated version of it’s free resource “Social Media Toolkit: A guide to how small and medium businesses can make the most out of social media.”
Sin #2: Broadcast versus conversation
Margetic says that many business owners confuse social media with traditional marketing. That is, while they may understand that it’s a different channel, they don’t grasp the fundamental tenet that social media is a conversation.
“People look at social media like it’s a broadcast mechanism,” says Margetic. “That’s the wrong way of looking at it. And that means they’re missing the opportunity that social media brings to the table.”
You can see examples of small business owners who merely use it to “shout out” sales, promotions, marketing campaigns and company information. Social media users eventually tire of this approach, preferring to engage with businesses that take the time to interact with followers or customers.
“The benefit of social media is that it’s not one-way messaging. It’s a dialogue – you engage in conversations. Too many companies just use it as a way to broadcast campaigns…and that happens far more often than it should.”
Sin #3: Spray and pray
Too often, I see small business owners plunge headfirst into social media, because they know they need to “be there”, without a clear idea of where to expend their energy. Instead, they end up with accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, LinkedIn, and every other social networking platform out there. But few get traction because their efforts are spread too thinly thus leaving little opportunity to interact or engage. The “one-way broadcast” approach strikes again.
Margetic discusses two pillars that small business owners need to be aware of in order to make the most out of social media: value to the customer and value of the business. “You need to play in the area where they intersect,” he says.
So what does that actually mean? Margetic points out that you first need to determine the value of the social media interaction to the customer. “Understand the reasons why people are motivated to engage socially,” he says. “There could be any number of reasons: to create meaningful relationships; to be heard; to have meaningful interactions with others, and so on. All those things are what bring value to the customers.
“The other side is the value these interactions bring to the business. You need to understand the elements that drive your business – that could be anything from conversions, or web traffic and so on.
“When you focus on where the customer value intersects with the business value … that’s the core of being successful in social media.”
Sin #4: Talk then listen
Again, this underpins the concept that the biggest mortal social media sin is the one-way broadcast. Margetic says: “A fundamental truth about engaging with anyone in any situation you’re not familiar with is that you don’t lead by talking,” he says. “The very first thing you need to do is listen.”
Margetic emphasises that this is particularly true for anyone new to social media or unsure of how to develop a social media strategy. “If you listen, you will get all the signals you need to understand what your customers are talking about. You’ll understand the nuances and determine how to involve people in conversation.”
Sin #5: Assuming it costs a lot a lot of money
Clearly, a company like Dell has a big budget to spend on social media strategy and implementation. However, Margetic points out that you don’t need big dollars to embrace social media. “There are a lot of free ways to monitor conversations – using tools ranging from Google Alerts to Hootsuite. There are a number to monitor your social media presence that don’t require a dollar investment. It just requires time.”
This is where I see many business owners fall down. Many assume that mastering social media takes far longer than it really does. I spoke to a business owner last week who told me: “I know I need to understand social media. I just haven’t had the time. I’m going to do that when I’m next on holidays – I’ll have two weeks when I can immerse myself in it full-time so I can do it properly.” Honestly, it’s not rocket science. It won’t take you two weeks to understand this. (Granted, if you have 10,000 employees and need to train them in how to use social media, it’s a different story).
My personal advice to people is: just get on it. Lurk and observe. It’s like going to a party. If you’re new to a crowd, you don’t hog the limelight as soon as you walk in the room. Watch, listen and at some point you’ll be comfortable enough to join into the conversation. When that happens, the rest occurs naturally.
Sin #6: Get your tech priorities right
Margetic says he believes that commerce and social media will become inextricably combined. He also realises that late adopters may feel the need to embrace a range of new technologies at once.
While the desire to become tech-savvy is positive, it’s important to prioritise your efforts. “It’s a lot better to socialise an ecommerce site than it is to commercialise a social site,” says Margetic.
In other words, if you’re not yet selling products/services online, do this first. Focus on ways to conduct sales online. This is typically a scalable and essential element to growing a business. Margetic says you then bring in the social element.
Sin #7: Ignoring visuals
Pinterest. Infographics. Instagram. Videos. And so on. Margetic predicts that the emphasis on shareable visual elements – like photos – will become more popular.
“Images provide you with the ability to communicate information quickly,” he says. “Because of a lack of time, people will increasingly need to get their message across quickly. They’ll focus on visual entities to do this.”
We live in a world where our short attention spans are only getting shorter. Mastering the art of conveying your message in a single image will become a valuable skill, particularly if people then feel compelled to share that image with their friends/followers. This is the new “word of mouth”.
Ultimately, if you commit one of these seven deadly sins, you might end up in purgatory. However, forgiveness can be right around the corner. The key is top remain authentic, sincere and, as Margetic points out, simply “use common sense”. Social media doesn’t have to be too hard, too scary or too ridiculous to waste time on. It can be a powerful tool to grow your business. It just depends on whether you want to see it that way.
Follow Valerie Khoo on Twitter @valeriekhoo