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Engage: Use the Platforms That Work for You and Your Customers

November 20, 2010

Small business owners or someone who works for a small business, time is the most important resource.  When it comes to social media, it may seem like time is what’s needed the most to be successful.  However, this that is not the case.  In my last post, I started a series called LEAD Your Small Business to Social Media Success Without Spending a Lot of Time or Money.  In that post, I broke down how to be successful with social media as a very small business owner into four easy steps, which I’ve called LEAD (Listen, Engage, Amplify, Discover) and am covering in a four part blog post series.

We covered Listen in the first post, and now we’ll discuss how to Engage, specifically deciding what platform(s) you should use to reach your online audience.

2) Engage: Choose the Platforms That Work for You and Your Customers

Often times figuring out how to engage is the most perplexing part of the question for small business owners, particularly with the overwhelming amount of information out there and sheer number of social media platforms or channels. Some things to keep in mind when choosing the right platforms:

  • Use the platforms where your audience spends time. If your audience does not spend time on Twitter or Facebook, then it doesn’t make sense to spend your time there.   However, if they spend time listening to podcasts or consuming blog content, then you will want to consider using those platforms.  This is a fairly obvious advice, but so many small business owners and individuals feel that they have to be on every single platform in order to maximize their reach or that they have to be on Facebook or Twitter because it’s so hot in the market.  This is not the case– pick 1 or 2 channels where your audience is and focus on those.  This will allow you to focus your time and efforts.  Plus, you can always start using additional platforms down the road if it makes sense.
  • Pick the platform you are comfortable with. If you enjoy and communicate well writing, then blogging may be the way for you to go.  If you like to speak in front of a camera, then video content is probably best.  Finding the media that you’re most comfortable with will allow you to communicate in a way that best fits you and in a way that you actually enjoy.
  • View each platform as comprising a connected chain. The platforms you choose shouldn’t be viewed as isolated channels, but rather interconnected ones, or a chain that can connect audiences and tell the story of your business.   You will want to take advantage of each platforms unique capabilities to tell your story (i.e. video as a means of visual connection on YouTube, photos on Flickr, etc.), but ultimately they should be telling a connected and consistent story about your business.   Some things you can do to achieve this connectedness across platforms are to make sure branding (name of your business, photos, URLs, etc.) is consistent on each site, give users an ability to link directly to each platform and your website within each platform (include URLs to each),  and cross-post content to each platform (more on that in our next post on Amplify).  This will help drive a familiarity with your company for frequent customers, but also allow new potential customers to understand what you do better.

When I started Ascend Sports Conditioning (ASC), I started off with blogging since I liked to write and I knew my audience spent a lot of time reading (athletes tend to be very data-driven).  I also felt comfortable on Twitter since I could easily share “micro” thoughts that was as well.  Over time, I added a Facebook fan page, and as I got more photos from some adventures, Flickr photos as well.  I also made sure each of the channels were well integrated to drive a consistent voice across my brand and business.

Become Familar with the Platform & Find Your Voice

Once you selected a specific platform that work for you and your  target audience, spend some time getting familiar with the platform before “going live”.   Become familiar with how the functionality works, but also how your audience is conversing on that platform.  You’ve already started listening and have picked up quite a bit on what works and what doesn’t work.  Spend some time understanding how conversation happens and thinking about your voice in social media.  Your voice shouldn’t be contrived or too “salesy”, but rather genuine and reflect who you are and what your business is all about.   This approach not only will be more natural for you saving you time, but also be more likely to connect with your audience.

For example, my voice on ASC is a blend between coach/expert and fun and adventure.  It’s important for me to maintain a level of expertise to help my audience out, who are athletes of all levels looking for guidance, but also to make sure I’m reflecting what multisport and adventure sports are all about– having fun and exploring.  This is easy for me to do since I live it, plus it reflects my personality.  The same should be easily achievable for you in your small business, especially where it’s something your an expert at, passionate about and reflects who you are as an individual.  Let this shine through in social media.

There’s a ton of information out there as “how to” guides for different social media platforms out there that offer both tips on functionality, but also best practices in how to use them for business.   I thought I’d highlight a few I thought were worth checking out:

Of course, there are several other platforms or social media channels out there that you may be checking out, but I haven’t listed them above.  Feel free to ping me any specifics, as well as share your favorite resources by commenting on this post.

Minimizing the Time and Money Committment

Picking the platforms you want to use won’t take you much time at all.  In fact, it should be a straightfoward decision.  The bulk of the time will come in figuring out how to use each and what you’d like your voice to be.   It will also not cost you a ton of money.   When I first got started with ASC, I decided blogging was the place to start.  I didn’t worry about anything else at first.  I picked WordPress as my blog platform since I was familiar with it already (no time and no money since it’s free), integrated it into my website (little time to do, no money), and then I spent few hours writing some blog posts on topics I thought would resonate with my audience to make sure I had enough content to get started (this was the most time consuming part: about 8 hours total.  However, it cost nothing other than my time).  In total, I spent about 10 hours or so, and very little money.  You could expect to spend the same amount of time and money to Engage.

Beyond Engage: Time to Amplify

Once you’ve selected the platforms that work for you and your customers and have identified how you’d like to engage, you can start creating and distributing compelling content to amplify your efforts.  We’ll take a closer look in how to do so in the next post, Amplify: Distributing Compelling Content.  In the meantime, please share any thoughts!

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