I received an email from a person yesterday asking a common question that I have answered many times before. In fact its so common now I have decided to write a discussion piece about it.
The question is always around this:
“I have a client who wants me to set them up in Facebook. The client is in [normally professional services such as legal, finance (accounting), building trades etc..]. Do you have any advice to share with me?”
Here is my reply to her today.
The key point you need to remember when using Facebook is that its a social medium like a shopping mall.
Take a minute to imagine your local shopping mall and the shops within that mall. Can you see any financial based businesses there? You might see a mortgage broker outfit or a loan business but are they really busy? Would you go inside or stroll past looking for the gadget shop?
A shopping mall is for businesses that meet 1 or more of the following:
- They are “hip” or “sexy” such as fashion and cosmetics shops and hair salons which cater for our endless whims to be attractive.
- They deal in health such as health food stores, fitness stores that sell training equipment/clothes etc..
- They sell interesting stuff such as gadgets, sports memorabilia, books, mobile phones etc..
You get the idea right?
Now that does not mean you should not setup a “shop front” in Facebook for the business but just be aware that unless your client spends a minimum of 1 hour per business day interacting and connecting with prospects and customers AND provide interesting content their Facebook presence will fail. The client must also understand that social networks are not sales funnels in the direct sense so there is no clear ROI (yet). Your client also needs to think about how to spark the interest of the Facebook community. Unlike Lady Gaga or Dell I guess they are not well known outside of their current client base and local industry sector so how do they get face time?
Lets take a step back and ask this simple question:
Why do they want to be on Facebook?
Have they read some article written by a social media “expert” that preaches the extinction of their business if they are not in social media?
For social networking to work you need to spend time talking and connecting with people and what a lot of social media consultants tend to forget is that most small businesses don’t have the time to do this or the skill.
I would now like you to consider this line of thought.
How do people find your client online?
Well I would search in Google looking for “financial help”, “financial advice” or “help with my money budget”.
The search results that come back are the businesses that get the bulk of enquires
It is important to remember that social networks are “social” meaning people want to connect and be social. They want to see the latest funny video or the pictures from the drinking session last night. They are not looking for something particular product or service – if they wanted that type of content they would search for it.
The results from our 1 year study of how small business can use social networking clearly shows that if someone is looking for a professional service/product they will search for it first. They will search for information, reviews and interest groups (social networks).
Some social media experts will counter this by showing studies of how people want to connect with businesses within social networks. Well that’s true but what are the businesses? Vodafone? Telecom? McDonalds? Body Shop? Dell? Zappos? Notice anything about those companies?
There are some small businesses that are doing really well within social networks but I have yet to see any that are not “sexy” and do not spend at the very minimum 1 hour per day communicating.
So what to do?
On one hand I am saying social media is not for every business but on the other I am saying it can work for any business if done right.
What I am trying to do in this long-winded discussion is get people to think a little bit harder and stop blindly following what the social media experts tell you.
So lets re-cap:
- Search is by far the ultimate way for people to locate professional services and products.
- Social networking is great for building relationships and connecting with prospects IF done well and with a very a good strategy.
- Social networking costs a business in time and effort with not clear ROI.
So this is what I would do
- Create a blog for the client and have this as a source of information, opinion and discussion. This is “Home Base”. Search engines love blogs and blog software is free and offers a huge amount of features that use to cost you $1000.00’s to add to a static website.
- The discussion piece comes in via the comments feature offered by all major blog software. You now have the opportunity to build up a community in a medium that you own not by a third party such as Facebook or Twitter.
- Once the blog has good content reach out into the social networks to help out people BUT and I mean BUT make sure you drive the discussion back to your blog because you own the blog. We use several strategies to get people out of social networks and onto our clients blog and their email database.
- On your blog offer loads of free content and the ability for the visitor to subscribe to your email newsletter because email still has the best conversion rate of anything. Consider this – most social media experts contact you via email using newsletters and social network updates!!
I hope this has been helpful.
=== End ===
Like all small businesses trying to work out if social media is a “must have” for their business you first need to step back and really think about the reasons why. Also consider that social networks are free to join but they do cost your business in time and resources.
I read a stat somewhere a while back that stated “75% of all Twitter accounts are inactive”. I know this is true but I would offer that 90% are inactive. Twitter takes a huge amount of time and effort. One of our core Twitter profiles currently has close to 16,000 followers but only because we use our own social media software to help reduce the time and cost of participating.
Having a blog as home base is the first step any business should take well before you venture into social media.
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