Recently I walked into a favorite local plant nursery. They had compost tea on special, there was an edible gardening workshop, new plants had just arrived, and, best of all, they had free cookies and coffee. The place was a swarm of goodness and I wanted people to know about it.
Because I like to give good businesses a mention (I feel less guilty about owning an iPhone), I asked an employee if they were on Twitter or Facebook so I could refer to them in an update. A look of fright and overwhelm spread across her face. She said, “If someone were sitting at a computer all day, there wouldn’t be enough people to help on the floor!”
I’d seen that look of dread before. I’d heard that tone hopelessness. It said, “I know we should be doing social media. We’re behind the times. We just can’t deal with it.”
For those who feel like the plant nursery employee, take comfort in the fact that timeless marketing methods still work. Technology has just made it easier and mostly free. Social media marketing demands us to be like being a good friend: listen, remember birthdays, be entertaining, inspiring and useful, show up, be consistent.
Start planting the seeds now because social media marketing is like a long, slow conversation. The benefits are reaped slowly, but surely (which is why this type of marketing doesn’t replace other approaches; it works in tandem with them.)
I’m all for planning but it’s important to take a first step sometimes. You do need to educate yourself at some point about which platforms are best for your business. But the principles below cut across all the platforms:
• Start conversations: Unlike with traditional marketing and advertising, you have an opportunity to connect via replies, comments, follows, likes and direct messages. In the old days, you shouted your message from a billboard. Today, you can stand in the same “room” every day with potential customers or clients. Imagine that! (Ex.: The plant nursery invites followers to post photos of their tomato harvest or name their favorite plant.)
• Share what interests you: Instead of directly promoting your product or service, share what inspires you. Followers get a more complex picture of who you are and, by extension, feel more connected to you. (Ex.: The plant nursery posts a TED video on how gardens have changed people’s lives.)
• Mix it up: A fun, interesting friend sings more than one tune. (Ex.: The plant nursery, over the course of a week or two promotes new seed arrivals, posts an inspirational gardening quote, runs a “guess this plant” contest for a free jug of compost tea, asks what people are doing differently in their gardens this year.)
• Be consistent: Worse than not being there is being there and not saying anything. Figure out a schedule that works for you. It doesn’t have to be every day, but a Facebook post takes mere minutes (see next tip). Being consistent also means being on message: is your tone and style consistent across your other marketing mediums?
• Don’t take yourself too seriously: Be appropriately light sometimes. Also, don’t worry about tying every update to a possible sale. This is an organic, indirect process; results might come in unexpected ways.
• Make it easy: Keep a list going. Every time you have a thought, a customer asks a question or you read something interesting, jot a note. Soon you’ll have more ideas for tweets or Facebook and LinkedIn updates than you can imagine. (Ex.: The plant nursery knows the frequently asked questions of customers, has made lists of these and every so often, posts updates that speak to those questions. Customers walk in the door more confident and knowledgeable.)
• Use what you know about people: People like to be heard, to show their stuff, to get discounted stuff, to be connected to a community, to know someone feels their pain (slugs eating their plants), to be invited, to have fun, to be empowered. It’s (almost) as simple as that.
Social media allows you to create conversation and community around you and your business in a non-pressuring way. Over time, you position yourself as a trusted person, maybe not because you’re the best or the most innovative, but because you showed up, you played, you listened, you informed.