SEMA Member News - May/June 2010
In Touch Online
Are You Ready to Board the Social Networking Bandwagon?
By Erin Gilhuly
The SEMA Businesswomen’s Network now has its own Facebook page! Join us online at www.facebook.com/semasbn.
What did more than 830 million people do last October? According to the March 2010 issue of National Geographic, that’s the number of people who visited social networking sites, which are popping up all over the Internet. The social networking Big 3—MySpace, LinkedIn and Facebook—accounted for 575 million of the total. Can you imagine 575 million chances to reach new and existing customers?
In these tough economic times, small businesses need to be creative in attracting and retaining customers, and participating in social networking can help you get the edge. However, don’t think that simply creating a Facebook page or a Twitter account will bring customers running to your store. To be successful, social networking needs a comprehensive marketing strategy that involves all levels of management.
The first step in developing your strategy is to decide what you want to get out of your social networking experience—aside from growing your business, obviously. Your goal can be as simple as just getting your name out there to your market or tapping into a new customer base. Are you looking for a new product or service idea to offer in your store? Be sure you know your goals and objectives before you click the mouse. However, if building customer relationships is not on the top of your list of goals, social networking is not the right tool for your business. Since the first social networking website went live 13 years ago, the sole purpose was, and remains, connecting to others and building relationships.
Top 10 Social Networking Sites
Listed below are the 10 most popular social networking websites as of February 2010, as ranked by ebizmba.com using a combination of Inbound Links, Alexa Rank and U.S. traffic data from Compete and Quantcast.
Once you have identified your goals and objectives, it’s time to decide on which site or sites are right for your business. That will take research. Spend time on as many social networking sites as you can to determine which one has the right look and feel for you and your company. While you’re exploring the sites, you’ll also gain an understanding of how each works from the customer’s point of view.
Another good approach to deciding on a social network is asking your customers where they have accounts established and which sites they use most often. It may sound simple, but don’t open a MySpace account if all of your customers use Twitter.
Many of the social networking sites offer businesses special tools that highlight success stories and best practices. Learn from them. Remember that social networking is not just about announcing price reductions and inventory clearance sales; social networking is about building relationships.
The third key step in creating a social networking strategy is developing the content that will be posted on your site. Social networking is not a set-it-up-once-and-forget-it proposition. To keep your visitors coming back, content needs to be fresh and updated on a regular basis. This is not to say that content needs updating everyday. However, you should plan on updating your customer touch points frequently to keep interest strong and to stay engaged. Again, that is going to take research.
Talk to your customers. In a sense, it’s going to be their site, so ask them what they want from you. Today’s Internet-savvy generation is expecting education and information, not electronic junk mail. Up-to-date web users want to make informed buying decisions and are willing to work with companies that help them. Before establishing a site, take the time to gather enough articles, photos and other information to get you through a least six months worth of updates.
Don’t forget that your customers are a good source of site content. Ask them to contribute stories and photos of their project cars, photos from four-wheeling trips or timesheets from the drag strips (legal racing only, of course).
Social networking is a great way to build long-lasting relationships with your new and existing customers. Research, time and resources are critical to adding social networking to your marketing strategy. Make sure that your goals are clear, your network choice is appropriate for you and your business and that you have identified content to keep your customers curious and coming back.