You have a small business and you haven’t bought into the social media craze? Guess what? Silence is no longer an option. People are online talking about your company as you read this, whether you like or not.  If you don’t engage in the conversation, you risk losing your customers. But maybe you don’t have a choice as many small airports do in the State of California and across the United States. Many are owned by cities who don’t give them a dime and yet take money whenever they please. Those city managers force their airport managers to jump through hoops and political red tape to be able to promote their facilities. These airport managers have their hands tied in dealing with counties which just recently decided to launch a website, let alone a social media marketing strategy. So, I was asked by Michael McCarron, Public Information Office for San Francisco International Airport, to speak to the managers of small airports through California about the benefits of having a social media presence, so that they can convince their ‘bosses’ to allow them to open Facebook, Twitter and Google+ accounts, as well as to create blogs.

Here’s part of my presentation. I hope it helps you with your online social media strategy. If You have more ideas, please share them in the comments section at the bottom of the post. The more ideas, the better.

1. ASSESS YOUR ASSETS: The first action you should take before engaging in online marketing or social media marketing and engagement is to look at what are you’re trying to promote. What are your assets? Who are your target customers? It may seem obvious. But, A Bay Area airport had small planes for rent. But business was slow because they were simply targeting pilots trying to rack-up hours. Turns out there was a larger audience they could target through social media, tourists looking for aerial Bay Area tours. Business took-off.

2. SIGN-UP FOR SOCIAL MEDIA: Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube and LinkedIn. Facebook allows you to create a business page.  Make sure you read the rules for businesses first. You can even ‘create a page’ through your personal account, if your business allows you to do so. That makes it easy for small business owners to manage it. On LinkedIn, every employee becomes your best advocate.

3. FIND A SOCIAL MEDIA MANAGER: Managing multiple social networks is daunting. So, before you start posting content, requesting friends and adding followers, sign-up for a social media manager such as Ping.fm and HootSuite. It allows you to manage all of your accounts on one site and schedule your messages to deploy so you don’t have to sit over it all day. It also allows you to review the success of the tweets real-time with click-through statistics. And you can gather all the mentions of your brand, industry or search terms on Twitter through it as well. That’s for the free version. I suggest trying that first. As you get more involved in social media, I prefer SproutSocial.com. You have a choice on plans for nine-dollars to $49. There’s a 30-day free trial to make sure it works for you. What I like is that it allows you to take all of those you follow and the followers and create contacts out of them which you can manage in the system and track engagement. It also has one inbox for all of your messages from all the networks. Plus, it allows you to track check-ins at FourSquare and Gowalla.

4. POST UPDATES: It’s important to have content on your social media pages before you start adding friends and followers. When you try to find friends, they’re going to look at the page to see if they want to follow you. So you need to give them a reason to follow you first. Provide valuable information about the industry. Post pictures of your business or people enjoying your business. On YouTube, post videos of your business, customer experiences, and encourage customers to make their own. You can also ‘favorite’ other YouTube users’ videos and they will end up on your page. If you’re a small airport, posting cool aerobatic videos of the Patriots’ Jet Team is a possibility that would add value to those who ‘subscribe’ to your page. Also, share those videos on your other accounts such as Twitter, Facebook and even LinkedIn.

5. FIND FRIENDS AND FOLLOWERS: Twitter and Google+ are easiest. Search keywords to find followers. On Twitter,  If you’re a small airport, for example, search ‘pilot. You can also search ‘flying.’ Searching your town and surrounding areas as well to find key influencers, news outlets, bloggers and city officials. Also, search for large players in your market. For airports, try Boeing, Virgin America, United Airlines and Southwest Airlines. If they share your posts, you have the potential to reach thousands.  I suggest adding just a few people at a time.  On Google+, comment on one of their posts immediately. On Twitter, mention them in a post immediately. You can also comment on one of their posts or simply say that you look forward to following their great content.  If it’s a reporter or blogger, give them story ideas and leads that have nothing to do with your business. Get them to trust you. To find fans on Facebook, it’s best to start with real friends and family. You can also pay as little as $100 to have an ad for your Facebook page syndicate across the network for a designated period of time.

6. ENGAGE FRIENDS AND FOLLOWERS:

Cory Colligan who used to be head of marketing for California Bouquet friended me on Facebook. When she asked to be my friend, she typed a personal message, saying how impressed she was with my work and how she’s enjoyed watching my work evolve. I couldn’t remember where I knew her from. Was it a television station, radio station, or was it from school? I wasn’t sure. I was too embarrassed to ask. And she seemed harmless. So, I confirmed her friend request and wrote her a note back thanking her for her feedback and saying that I look forward to connecting. She proceeded over the next few months to follow my videos and stories. She engaged in great debates and conversation with me as well as my friends. I knew just days after I added her that I didn’t know her personally. But I was so impressed with her and the relationship we’d developed over the months, that when I was traveling to her town, Fresno, I suggested we have lunch. When I arrived she had a full basket of goodies from her shop, including the best dark chocolate covered strawberries I’ve ever tasted, waiting for me. Since then, I have been a regular customer and am quick to share her products on my page.

So, your first priority should be building that relationship with people, not pitching your service or product.

Give them story ideas and leads that have nothing to do with your business.

On Facebook:

Share their links on your wall and/or comment on them. Wish them a Happy Birthday. Birthdays are big on Facebook. Always acknowledge them. Maybe even offer them a discount coupon for a birthday treat via Facebook.
On Twitter:
Retweet their stories and comment on them! Reply to each and every message. Keep the conversation going. Get them to trust you. For example, one of my favorite Twitter followers is @heykim. She is an amazing example of how to do it right. She has thousands of followers. But she has even more friends. She friended thousands of people little by little and engaged with them, retweeting their tweets, commenting on their tweets, checking in on topics those folks had tweeted on days before. Now, she’s constantly in conversation with folks like Morgan Fairchild, Alyssa Milano and Kathy Ireland. Alyssa Milano even just shared a linked @heykim posted tonight about how Twitter has transformed over the last five years. Who would’ve thought? She’s not famous. The key is she knows how to engage. Even more, she’s authentic. And she never misses a #FF (Follow Friday). On Friday’s many people share with their friends, their favorite people to follow, encouraging others to follow them as well.
Google+: It’s a cross between Facebook and Twitter. It’s great because you can create circles of certain people you want to target for different reasons. It makes it easier to post certain promotions to one group vs. another.LinkedIn: The best way to engage with potential customers is by joining industry groups and starting group discussions.
Very important: Do not ask for help/favors from people until you’re friends or at least warm acquaintances with them. And the #1 way to become friends is to offer tons of help/favors without expecting anything in return. In the words of Michael Ellsberg, Forbes Contributor and Author of “Self-Educated Millionaires: The Seven Skills You’ll Never Learn in College, “Networking is a *long term* activity – it CANNOT be done for short-term results. Follow these basic concepts, and you’ll be ahead of 99.99% of the knuckleheads out there who are botching their networking attempts online!” Also, a great book to read is by Brian Solis, Principal at Altimeter Group, “Engage: The Complete Guide for Brands and Businesses to Build, Cultivate, and Measure Success in the New Web.”
7. STAY CURRENT: Get alerts sent to your phone when folks engage with you via your social networking sites – at least in the beginning – that way you respond quickly.
Please share your tips and tricks that will help small businesses sign-up and use social media. This certainly just scratches the surface. Please share the most creative marketing campaigns via social media in the comment section below.

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