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Thoughts from a social media ‘tweetup’ of Irish SMEs.
Are you a small business? Are you on twitter? Are you wondering when this social media thingy is going to start providing you with a bucket load of leads?
Last Thursday evening, I had the privilege of speaking at a gathering of small businesses that ‘tweet’. It was organised by Samantha Kelly, @tweetinggoddess and was hosted by the wonderful Deirdre McDonald, General Manager of the Ariel House in Ballsbridge, Dublin. I was asked to speak about marketing and social media for small businesses. My problem was – I had only been given 20 minutes to elaborate on what is probably the content of many a day-long course, on the matter.
The first thing that struck me at the gathering was the enthusiasm of the 28 participants. Interestingly, only 18% were of the male variety, but it was like working your way through a box of liquorice allsorts. I spoke with a credit management consultant (@creditspace), a theoretical physicist who is a knitware designer (@naoimigillis); there was a fertility expert (@fertilityexpert), a business editor (@ailishohora), printers (@castleprint_dee), watch makers (@pridewatches) and even love letter writers (@lovelettersws). Apologies to everybody I’m leaving out here, but you get my gist. The room was buzzing, and all talking about social media.
Then I spoke, and dropped the bombshell – “I don’t believe that, for a business, social media should be either social or media”. Well, I can tell you, that statement silenced the room. I went on to explain my thoughts, in that businesses shouldn’t really try to build a ‘friendly companionship’ with their audience. This is not to say that a business should not engage, it’s just that it should not do so in the same way as we do on our personal social media sites. In relation to the media ‘bit’ of the above statement, I elaborated that historically, media tools (press, radio, TV etc.) were used for unilateral flows of information. Social media platforms on the other hand, I suggested, are a place for attracting people to find out stuff – the modern description is, inbound marketing. The rest of my ‘few words’ summarised other things that social media wasn’t and of course I also highlighted how social media can be used by businesses, both big and small. By the way, I did finish within the allotted 20 minutes, in case you’re wondering. Chatting with people thereafter was fascinating and the rest of this post is a reflection of the theme of our conversations.
While all of this was taking place we were being spoiled by canapés and other delectable goodies – baked in-house by @arielhouse.
We discussed the fact that although social media is an integral part of marketing activity, it is only one piece of it. I warned some of my new ‘friends’ against setting up numerous social media accounts because doing so would give a false sense of security that they would be automatically exposed to a world of business leads – when in fact if their customers or prospects are not there, their return will be exactly zero.
With a few people, I did find myself warning that social media will not be the saviour of their business i.e. a quick fix. Many in the room were twitter ‘newbies’ and, in fairness, appeared to realise that being on social media, is an activity to be undertaken, and not a static platform that one sets up and then ignores. I underlined that just posting content or re-tweeting is not the answer either. Created content must be relevant to a specific audience and as such, time must be spent building a database of loyal customers and / or visitors. I made the point that the ultimate goal of a business is to build a loyal customer (previous post), but that a person just ‘liking’ your page, or ‘starring’ your tweet does not ensure such loyalty. It was generally agreed that there are no short cuts and that a business owner has to have the commitment to work on customer engagement – just having social accounts is not enough.
What everybody totally understood though was that at the very root of a brand is a person. Nearly all of the people I spoke with were either one or two person enterprises and it was very obvious that these people wanted to engage with other people that were in a similar situation. I thought there was a real sense of community in the room. It felt like ‘we’re all in this together, so let’s help each other out’. It really was fantastic, and there was a sense of ‘can do’, in the air. This was epitomised by Jason of Pride Watches, who told us the story of how he set his business up in 2012, and is set to hit sales of €1m this year.
I do believe that most of the participants there accepted the point that if a business wants their ‘social’ efforts to pay off, they have to go beyond just being on twitter, facebook or linkedin. For me, I was reminded that being social starts and ends with real engagement, both online and offline.
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