13 Ways to Use Social Media in Business
Many businesses are struggling to generate new ideas that will produce incremental sales or replace sales lost to once viable but now irrelevant products and services. According to a recent survey, businesses are having "difficulty incoming up with new ideas to grow their businesses" along with troubles in "marketing and positioning themselves in a highly competitive market." (See the Survey of Small Business Success Index [pdf], sponsored by Network Solutions, LLC and Center for Excellence in Service at the University of Maryland's Smith School of Business.)
Some business owners and their management teams wonder if social media may somehow be useful in connecting with customers, bringing about boosts in either real-life foot traffic or online visitor volume, and stimulating sales. But they're not sure if they want to take the time to explore and leverage Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. Half of those surveyed say that social media took more time than expected; many were concerned that this approach could backfire, allowing customers to criticize the business via the internet.
Meanwhile you've got social-media expertise and loads of great ideas, but can't get anyone to take action on initiatives (such as these 13 ways) that come from you.
Recently, I spoke with the owner of a small but fast-growing company about methods that employees can use to win support for their ideas. Heidi Kallett runs The Dandelion Patch, a retailer specializing in custom stationery and gifts.
Methods of approaching your boss about new ideas
- Choose the right company. Figure out if your organization values innovation. Heidi is enthusiastic about new ideas and approaches but other business owners may not be.
- Know what the company owner (or your boss) wants to accomplish in all areas, particularly social media. Understand the target audiences, appropriate methods of interacting with customers, and results desired.
- Find out what the boss holds sacred. Heidi, for example, is fiercely protective of her brand. She values positive customer experiences and community relationships.
- Consider your mindset as a customer, how you like to interact with businesses, and behaviors that you find pleasing as well as those that may seem inappropriate. Let your boss know that you understand the need to reinforce the company's brand image.
- Propose sample messages, campaigns, updates, etc. for the boss's approval, rejection, or tweaking to make sure that you are going in the right direction.
- Set priorities so that social media doesn't take over your day-to-day work. Heidi asks that her managers engage in social media before and after hours only so that face-to-face interaction is given No. 1 priority.
- Keep up with the latest trends in social media. Expand your knowledge and widen your perspective by taking classes (such as these special events offered by Network Solutions) and doing your own research.
- Make announcements about changes in the business: new product lines, new store hours, and new locations.
- Offer limited-time discounts on certain products or custom items placed before specific deadlines.
- Link to media coverage and press mentions of your business.
- Educate customers on the everyday and innovative uses of your products.
- Alert customers to seasonal changes in the business, which may mean new merchandise suitable for the season or sales in off-season items.
- Embed videos with customer testimonials that share how your business differentiates itself from the competition.
- Build bridges to new communities by sharing positive experiences that your business, its customers, and its employees have had with outside groups, such as non-profit organizations, professional associations, vendors, and area universities.
- Issue invitations to special events hosted by the company.
- Tell customers where they may be able to connect with you in real life, such as community festivals or trade shows.
- Post photos of special events, close-ups of specialty items, and in-store displays.
- Solicit input from customers about ways to shape special events, promotional activities, loyalty programs, etc.
- Get feedback on events, sales, and programs after you've introduced and hosted them.
- Listen to what customers are saying, value-added features that they notice, and reasons that they are loyal to your company so that you'll differentiate in a way that is meaningful to the customer.
Even if your company has zero online sales, you can still engage customers through technology. The Dandelion Patch is focused on the local community; nevertheless, Heidi builds relationships through a website, YouTube videos, Facebook page, and more.