I wrote this article in January 2009 for a Risk Management magazine. Social media was just starting to be used for business purposes. It is so funny to read this now, in February 2015, Facebook has 1.23 billion users.
Old Rules of New Marketing
The old rules of marketing a small business have gone away. Advertising platforms that once could be relied upon to saturate a given market are not as effective anymore. Mass mailings, advertising in the yellow pages, telemarketing, are the old school marketing endeavors that customers know how to avoid. So how is marketing changing? And what is everyone is talking about when they say the new ‘social media’? And how can it be used to effectively market in this electronic age? The reality is that new online marketing methods are simply tools to do what insurance agents and brokers have done for years…work at the relationship between you and your customer in a transparent manner that holds integrity and trust as the key.
Marrying the concept of relationship marketing and the new social media together is easy once you understand what social media marketing is and how to use the tools for the online work of marketing on the Internet. Social media marketing is defined as “engagement in the online community to generate exposure, opportunity and sales” and includes the uses of tools such as Facebook, Blogs, Twitter and YouTube.
Facebook was created by a group of Harvard University students to link students together, and now it has over 200 million users. To get started on Facebook it is as easy as creating a username and password, and uploading your picture. With your personal account open, you can then add a page for your business and invite your contacts to become who are also on Facebook to become ‘friend’ and interact with you in your Facebook community.
Facebook has made it easy and safe to find friends. You can invite someone to be your friend, and then they are allowed the opportunity to ‘accept’ and become your friend. Facebook has three main sections, the Wall, Info, and Photos. The Wall is where you can create a ‘post’ which is a simple response to the Facebook question “What’s on your mind?”
Answering this question is where your marketing begins. You have the opportunity to impact your online community by engaging with them in an honest and extraordinary way by sharing yourself, and what you know about your professional with your fans and friends. Your social media marketing is truly just an extension of your face-to-face relationship. What professional, or even personal insights can you post here that would help your friend, or your customer in their business today? Perhaps you can create a post on a recent seminar you attended and what you learned, or how you helped a business reduce their risk by introducing a simple training protocol. A post can be as simple as “it’s a great day to do what I do” and your positive influence and online persona will spread to all who have made you a ‘friend’ on Facebook. Your online messages should be as casual as the conversation you would have at a breakfast with an old friend. Your personality, your likes, your response to global concerns, or local ones, can be posted on your Wall. You can also add attachments to files for further reading, or links to other web pages on your Wall. In your online world you are a central figure of the ‘conversation’, the ring-leader of building the relationship by being yourself, and engaging your ‘friends’ in the benefits of doing business with you because they know you.
The online sphere is a manner in which to keep your friends informed and therefore reinforcing your relationship in a way that is valuable to them. They become willing participants in your life, your business, and more apt to share what their needs are, and how you can help them if they know you.
Blogging is another social media marketing concept that is similar to Facebook and in fact can be used together to increase your exposure. A blog is simply a web-log (creating the term, blog) or a diary of sorts, of commentary that is relative to your customers, friends or associates. There are lots of ways to get started with a blog, and the software is easy, and most of it is free. The two more popular blogging software services are WordPress (www.wordpress.com) and Blogger (www.blogger.com), and both of these are free. To get started takes just a few minutes to create a username and password, and post some information about yourself. From there, you just start writing! From here, it is important to build readership with good writing, and content that informs, and also has your personal insight on a subject.
Your blog is a way to establish your credibility and leadership in your industry but sharing what you know. Your blog can answer questions, can comment on what people are asking for now in your industry, or can direct some attention to a product or service that you have recently been researching. The key to a good blog is to be honest and transparent in your writing. Be the voice of authority and leadership, in a manner that is consistent with who you are as a person.
If the thought of writing 200-300 words every few days to post on your blog is intimidating, you might consider hiring a trusted writer who can put your words into a readable format. If you do hire help with blogging, review the writing to make sure it reflects your personality and style. To expand your blog’s visibility you can read and comment on other relevant blogs, and leave your blog link, so readers on another site can link over to your site. Creating links to other sites, other articles is a great way to increase your own readership. Can blogging really help to increase your marketing exposure? The answer is Yes, but it does not happen overnight. It requires commitment to the medium. Your posts have to appear timely, posted consistently, your messaging thoughtful and real, and it also requires dedication to linking to increase your exposure. It does take time, but the payoffs are exponential.
Twitter is the latest entry into the online social media. It’s fun and fast. Twitter is a ‘micro-blog’ where the posts are only 140 characters. It is great way to keep your ‘followers’ up to date on where you are, and what you are doing. Like Facebook, you build a network, by ‘following’ others, and they in turn ‘follow’ you. A quick Twitter post is called a ‘tweet’. Your tweet can be a insight, a response to another post, a link to your blog or other online area. Twittering can be done from your phone, and is as simple as texting a message. Again, an easy sign-up, and get started, perhaps with a co-worker, to get the hang of how the mechanics work, and see how much fun it is.
YouTube is not as much of a social media marketing forum for interactive conversation as FaceBook, blogging and Twitter, but it has a role in sharing information through video. You can view videos of almost any genre on YouTube. You can make one and post it on YouTube too! You can also, and probably more commonly, link to a YouTube video on your blog, in your Facebook, or in a Twitter post. YouTube videos are a great way to illustrate a point, or share some fun.
There are lots of other social networking tools out there, and they can all be used with success by keeping a few things in mind. The first and most important is to be consistent. That means consistency in your voice and persona, and in your frequency of communication. In other words, post often and be yourself.
Secondly, follow your personal standards in adhering to the basic rules of integrity and trustworthiness. Libel and slander are real and dangerous pitfalls of the online world. You can be held accountable for what you write, so err on the side of caution when speaking honestly about how you feel about someone, or something. We do have freedom of speech, but not when it defames someone else’s character.
Finally, have fun! The online world is a new way to build your personal network in ways you may not have even thought about. It is time consuming to get started, but once your writing ‘groove’ is found, you can turn the network into increasing your net worth. And don’t be afraid to ask for help. The more you learn, the more you may want to dig deeper into understanding the power of links, and using keywords to stimulate interest. There are plenty of professionals who would be happy to spend and hour or so with you to get you to the next level of understanding.