Today's Tech: Social Media 101

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If you feel lost at sea whenever you hear someone say your business needs to leverage social media, Facebook, SEO keywords and an online presence, you’re not alone. Sometimes, it takes all your energy to get your day-to-day duties done by closing time. For many small business owners, the idea of being on social media is overwhelming, and every new piece of advice feels like another wave striking your boat.

But the world of online connectivity doesn’t have to be overwhelming. With just a little working knowledge, you can use social media to build your business.

The first essential to success with social media is setting the right goals, explained David Rogers, president of Automated Marketing Group, a company that helps quick lubes and other similar businesses handle their social media accounts.

“The first thing for bricks and mortars to understanding is how social media works and what your goals are,” he said.

Ask yourself this question: “What do I hope to get out of having my business on social media?”

This is where many small business owners get stuck, because there are many goals they could choose to pursue. But which are the right goals? It depends in part on what you want for your business overall. Are you trying to gain a larger foothold in your community? Are you wanting customers to stay connected with you? Are you trying to reach new customers? How can you accomplish these goals through your online presence?

In setting goals, it’s important to be realistic. Posting about the latest lube technologies might interest a few car fanatics among your clientele, but it won’t be the kind of information most car owners will share with their friends.

On the other hand, posting the right information online can help you immensely in getting to the top of the search results on Google, Bing and other search engines. You can’t afford to completely ignore social media either. The key for your business is to learn to do social media effectively, to find the things that work and to avoid wasting time on what doesn’t work.

You might ask, how does social media work? How can it get you the attention you want your business to have? The answer is a simple concept you may have heard before, though you might not have thought much about it: Social media is social.

In other words, it’s about other people. It’s about building relationships, being connected and making good connections with people online. The things that help you connect to people and be personable and likeable face to face can also work online. The things that make you want to walk away from a conversation or person and never come back will also be unappealing on social media.

To explain this in terms everyone can relate to, Rogers used the example of a neighbor who pulls out a pile of photos of their latest vacation and proceeds to tell you all about it in excruciating detail. Too much of that, and even the most well intentioned person starts to tune the neighbor out. And if that vacation is all the neighbor ever talks about, over and over, it’s even worse. You start avoiding the poor soul altogether.

The same concept applies to what your business talks about online.

“Oil changes are not that interesting to customers,” Rogers said.

His point is that if a person need an oil change, they just go and get one. They’re probably not too concerned about the intricacies of synthetic versus conventional oil. They just want their car to run without breaking down. So when your business posts something on Facebook, you want to think about what the customer cares about, rather than what fascinates you as an installer.

While it’s true some customers care about savings and specials, Rogers said, that’s only relevant when the customer needs work done. If you say the same thing over and over, he noted, people are going to tune you out.

“We want to make sure we are on the top of the client’s mind,” Rogers said. “And the only way to do that is to be interesting.”

The way to be interesting, according social media experts, is to be yourself online. And that goes for your business, too.

“Social media should be an extension of your business’ personality and your customer relationships,” Rogers said. “It matches your marketing messages.”

If it feels like you sound when you talk in person, he said, then you’re on the right track, because the things people like about you in person, they’ll like in your posts, too.

So, consider what you and your clients like to talk about when they’re in the shop. If you make funny observations about life that people enjoy, you can share those observations online too. If you like to root for the local sports team along with your clients, then share about that on your business’ social media pages. Being fun, positive and upbeat can go a long way toward bringing customers back to your social media pages every day.

Of course, there are some basic rules and tips you want to keep in mind as you work toward growing your business’ social media presence.

Tip 1: Use only the social media networks that work for your customers. In the case of quick oil and other automotive businesses, Rogers thinks Facebook tends to work best.

“Facebook sends you the notifications you need, making it easy to monitor and use,” Rogers said. “It also gives you plenty of room to tell your story.”

Twitter can be good, too, he noted. Though, it’s such a fast-moving social medium he recommends someone be watching it and interacting there all the time.

Tip 2: Monitor your social media accounts regularly. Whatever you do, Rogers said, don’t neglect your online presence.

“Posting infrequently is not good for you,” he said, “because people will learn to not expect you to talk much and they’ll stop visiting your page. Stick to a schedule, and consider hiring someone to post for you if you can’t maintain a regular schedule on your own.”

Tip 3: Be interactive. When your clients talk to you on social media, take time to talk back. Respond promptly, especially on Twitter, where the failure to respond promptly can earn you a reputation as an uncaring business. Ask and answer questions. Use social media as a way to show customers what they can expect from you.

Rogers also suggested you invite customer reviews. Don’t fear online criticism. Instead, learn to handle it skillfully.

“As hard as it is to look at it when a mistake is brought to light,” he said, “if you’ll put the emotion aside and answer the customer’s concern the way you’d want if you were in their position, it will turn things around for you. There are ways to professionally and considerately express a response. And no amount of social media and marketing will make up for poor service.”

Tip 4: Don’t respond out of anger or other strong emotions. If you get upset about something a customer says online, take the time to breathe, think about it and calm down before you respond. Rogers also suggested avoiding hot-button topics like religion and politics, which can alienate clients. He suggested keeping your business’s social media posts light, neutral and positive. The heavy stuff, you can save for your personal page.

Tip 5: Make your social media posts fast, to the point, visual, and if possible, video-oriented. The trend on, according to Rogers and other social media experts, is short, easy-to-share videos. Social media is becoming ever more visually oriented, and to get the most interactivity, you’ll want to share plenty of pictures and videos. However, don’t share things just to share them. Make sure it’s something your audience responds well to.

Tip 6: The final tip comes from Rogers, who said the most important thing on social media is to, “be yourself. Be your best self. That’s why your customers like you, and that’s who you want to be online.”

Social media is an ever-changing sea, complete with algorithms ensuring companies that self promote are less likely to be seen. So, follow these tips for a successful social media campaign — or recruit an expert to help you with this endeavor.

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