Businesses add Social Media to reach customers

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By Tom Wilmoth

“The times they are a changin’.”

    Bob Dylan surely wasn’t thinking of the Social Media when he penned that song back in 1964. But his conclusion might be applicable, just the same: “You better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone, for the times they are a changin’.”
    There’s no doubt in these times, businesses, in order to succeed, must embrace the use of the Social Media.
    “You need to know what it’s all about,” stated Sandra Tanner, a tourism development specialist. “You need to know what you want to get out of Social Media.”
    Tanner, who works with the Virginia Tourism Corporation, held a workshop on Social Media Planning last week at the Region 2000 Small Business Development Center. She said it’s important for businesses to secure their brand on the Web and learn to use Social Media to tell their story.
    “Know which communities are best for you,” she said. “Create rules of engagement.”
    And then, Tanner said, “measure your success.”
    It’s important to be familiar with Web sites such as www.tripadvisor.com and www.yelp.com because “that’s where people are talking about you,” she said. Businesses need to visit those sites to see what people are saying about them, and be prepared to respond, especially if comments are negative.
    The Social Media can be used by businesses in a number of ways:
    • to create buzz or conversation about your business or product;
    • to create more brand-awareness;
    • to drive more business to your Web site or door;
    • to increase customer leads; and
    • to gain knowledge about your customers, service or product.
    “Sometimes constructive criticism can really help you make a difference in your company,” Tanner said. “Never be afraid to talk to your customers (through Social Media) and ask them questions. Don’t be defensive. Thank them for their response—and analyze it.”
    She said Social Media is one tool to help with your business—a tool that in many cases is free. She said the VTC has one employee who does nothing else but monitor and update its Social Media sites.
    Social  Media can provide a business the opportunity to tell its story. “You need to solve your customers’ biggest problem,” Tanner said.  That means creating a hook by getting the customer to stop and read your pitch.
    What does that look like?
    Restaurants can put their specials of the day on Facebook. A customer looking to have lunch then has instant access to that information, she said.
    According to www.pewinternet.org, the fastest growing user group of social media is those 50-to 64 years old. Tanner said her 70-year-old mother is a new user, adding that many elderly now use sites such as Facebook to keep up with their grandchildren.
    “It’s not just Gen X or Gen Y, anymore,” she said.
    Tanner said she and her mom now make their hair appointments using Facebook.
    “Eighty-seven percent of Smartphone users access the Internet via their handheld every day,” Tanner said. “Anything I want to know, I can find out (on the Internet).”
    She said a business needs to test which Social Media communities work best for them. Email, while not a true Social Media site, gets information out to the masses, but must be used effectively. She said potential customers don’t want a lot of email that doesn’t pertain to them, so it must be sent out selectively.
    Tanner said businesses can look at what others are doing, and how they are using the Social Media, when making decisions about which forms to utilize. She said Twitter and YouTube can be effective sites.
    “Let your story be told,” she said of using YouTube. Tanner said companies find creative ways to make videos that can feature their products, or have testimonials from customers. More than 70 percent of adults use video sharing sites.
    “Make sure that it’s positive,” she said. “Once you put it out there, it’s out there for a lot of people to see.”
    And, of course, there’s Facebook.
    Tanner said it’s important to monitor your business Facebook page. “Make sure you can handle the negative comments that are on there,” she said. Facebook is a good way to get information out there (to your customers).”
    Take this, for example. A business that has 500 fans, who also have 130 fans, can potentially reach 65,000 people with one Facebook Blast.
    Tanner said blogs can also be effective for a business and that businesses need to monitor navigation marketing sites. “Check and make sure the directions (on those sites) are correct for where you are,” she said.
    She said it’s also important to check the customer review listed on them. “Those can make a difference as to whether a customer comes (to your business) or not,” Tanner said.
    Other options include using linkedin.com to connect to other business professionals and using QR codes.
    She said it’s important to know the risks of using Social Media:
    • how will you handle negative comments?
    • who is going to manage your site?
    • how much time will you spend using Social Media?
    • who will determine the content used?
    Then, Tanner said, it’s time to dive in. That means creating a plan, knowing your customer, understanding the sites and how they work and signing up and utilizing them.