You might choose to avoid social media in your personal life, but is ignoring it commercial suicide? Not necessarily, say consultants Tim O’Grady and Jan Minihane , but the rise in using social networking for business over the last few years has proved that it can, and does, work.
In 2008 Roland and Miranda Ballard started producing and selling burgers from Roland’s parents’ family farm.
Three years on, and their Muddy Boots brand has been listed at number 48 in a list of the “Top 100 Social Brands” thanks to their use of Facebook, Twitter and blogging. Their ranking beats the likes of John Lewis, Marmite and Walkers Crisps, proving that in the world of social media, size and financial resources don’t guarantee success.
The good thing about using social networking for business is that it is new and evolving – there are no hard and fast rules to abide by. It is a level playing field, with many small businesses now competing against major international brands. The question for a lot of people is: “Where do I start?”
The first step is understanding exactly what you want to achieve. Do you want to talk to your customers? Ask their opinion and get feedback? Increase the number of customers you have or the amount your current customers spend? And which ones do you want to talk to – past, present or future?
Social-media sites like Facebook and Twitter aren’t great platforms for delivering a sales pitch, but they are brilliant for listening to what your customers want, asking for support for new or different projects or generating loyalty towards your brand and products. If you packed a room with your customers, what would you say to them or ask them? Social networking gives you that opportunity on a daily, hourly and minute-by-minute basis.
Next step is to find out where those customers are. With 29 million users in the UK, chances are they are on Facebook. Farm-based businesses often do well on Facebook, so if you rent out a cottage, produce a wonderful food or drink or have diversified into activities or experiences, people will enjoy seeing what you have to say.
But it’s not all about Facebook and Twitter, there are other fantastic tools out there that are free to use. Foursquare allows customers to “check in” on their mobile phone when they are on your premises. You can then reward loyalty and encourage repeat check-ins by offering a discount or a free item. Even if you have given something away for free, you could still end up making more money from the same customer.
One of the main concerns for businesses of a more visible online presence is reputation management. “What if someone says something bad about my company?” is a phrase we often hear. “Fantastic,” is often our response. If you have a customer who isn’t satisfied, then surely you want the opportunity to put it right for them? Recovering a bad situation in a public way can do more for your brand and reputation than any amount of advertising, chat or customer surveys.
When Muddy Boots launched its home delivery website it generated £1,000 of sales in two days – most of which was attributed to talking about the launch on Facebook and Twitter. But social media is less about hard sales, and more about communication and brand loyalty, says founder Miranda Ballard.
“It’s an easy and exciting business card,” she says. “You’re still selling yourself, it’s still sales, but it’s a lovely way of communicating with your customers.”
It can also give you a direct line to big businesses and people previously out of your reach. When Roland and Miranda set up Muddy Boots in 2008 they identified local crisp company Tyrell’s as a brand they wanted to model themselves on. They had questions they wanted to ask, but didn’t know how to start the conversation.
In early 2009 Miranda set up a Twitter account. “I sent one tweet to Tyrell’s introducing who we are, and it instantly got us talking to a brand that is much bigger than us,” she says. “We’ve since met at industry events and shows – it really gets you on the radar.”
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Jan and Tim run hands-on social-media workshops and provide online marketing advice and ongoing support for small to medium-sized businesses, demonstrating how to use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and blogging tools among others to maximise online presence.