Overwhelmed. It's the number one reason small business clients call me for social media help, the first descriptor out of their mouths. “I feel overwhelmed by social media.”
Of course they do. For small business owners just trying to do their due diligence and connect responsibly with their customers, dipping a toe into social media can quickly feel like they’ve been thrown into a lake. Naked. They’ve set up their Facebook page. But when should they post? What should they say? Why can’t anyone see them? And then there’s Twitter? What’s a hashtag? Do they have to be snarky? And what about Snapchat? Vine? Do they have to blog?
Add such charming words as “SEO” and “analytics” to the mix, and you can understand why so many small businesses have dust bunnies gathering on the social media pages they began with such enthusiasm.
I have a magic statement to calm hyperventilating clients:
Social media is a billboard.
It is. At its essence, social media is a tool you use to catch the attention of new customers and jar the memories of old. Yes, it has infinitely more potential than an oversized poster on Highway 169. But its usefulness to you – at its heart – is the ability to draw customers.
When you compress all of those digital options into a two-dimensional billboard, doesn't that make your decisions seem easier? You can probably figure out your billboard plan with no problem -- where it should go, what it should say, what it should look like, how long it should be up there. Now apply that same thinking to your social media billboard plan:
Where should your social media billboard be located?
Does your company want to attract the photo, food and travel hipsters living in the downtown lofts of Instagram? Or is your company aiming for the families living in the comfy middle-class 'burbs of Facebook? How about those cute ladies living in the shabby-chic Pinterest homes over on the eastside? Plunk your social media billboard down where the audience you want to attract most will drive past it. And don't be distracted by the newly sprung communities that pop up everyday claiming to be the new Facebook. As a small business owner with other responsibilities to focus on -- like running your business -- let others test whether those new social media channels will prosper or languish. You don't have the time or energy to stick a billboard in a ghost town.
What should your social media billboard say?
When you have potential customers whizzing by at 55 mph, you've got to get your point across fast. People scroll through their social media feeds at about the same speed. Let those same messages you would place in huge letters on a billboard -- your tagline, what you're proud of, a new offering -- lead what you say in your social media content. I have a parenting coach client who uses an approach we've named "organized parenting" to bring calm and happiness to families. So postings about parenting, organization, being happy and content, and upcoming speaking events fill her feed. I have another client who is very proud to be growing Pinot Noir grapes in Sonoma County's Russian River Valley, a prime wine grape growing region. Most days, their social media feed sings the praises of this acclaimed wine area.
What should your social media billboard look like?
You can get pretty fancy with a billboard -- LED technology, electronic displays, those spangles that shimmer in the wind-- and the same is true with your social media images. But save collaged photos overlaid with quotes and embedded with links until you're further along in your social media journey. What's the one image on your social media billboard you can guarantee no one else will have? You. You, your business, your employees, your satisfied clients and the results of your hard efforts. Get comfy with your smart phone and post those pics that shout most clearly what a good job you do and how much you enjoy doing it.
How long should your social media billboard be up?
Keeping your billboard up for only a couple of weeks would make it ineffective; think of all those potential customers who are distracted by the radio or trying a new route those days. The same goes for your social media billboard. You have to commit to your social media channels and post, consistently and for a duration of time, for them to have an effect on your business.
YOU have to show up.
Because relationship building is where social media FAR exceeds the benefits of a billboard. For the first time in history, you have the opportunity to shake the (virtual) hand of each and every person that depends on you. You can build an authentic relationship with them based on trust and common interests and your good work. But if you get frustrated with your social media and walk away, if you post haphazardly and aren't present for the people who want to hear from you, if you ONLY talk about what you have to sell and don't try to connect with your customers' likes and interests, you might as well have spent that time and effort and money installing your billboard on an abandoned road.