The Need to Build Social Networks
Small Business Owners Lament
I was at a business event a couple of weeks ago and there was a socializing aspect to it so I got to speak with some local business owners.
Here is a revealing story about a common business problem and some ideas for a solution.
One of the business owners that I spoke with was lamenting about how he was not updating his website and that competitors were now showing up in search results while his website’s position was dropping in search position. He also saw that traffic from his website were tailing off. He was concerned.
This business owner went on to explain that the rapid advancement in technology of the application of the product and the service that his company provides requires some education. He also said that the solutions his product and service can provide is not well known or understood by his target audience. He was certain that there was significant search volume for search terms related to his business (later I verified this – it was true).
This is a classic scenario that I see repeatedly involving a small business owner with great time demands just to run the business and a limited budget to spend on marketing. I also see that often there is a sense of confusion about what will be the most effective to get business back and where to start.
In this case, the item of concern was the loss of exposure in search and the associated decline in inquires about the company’s solutions.
Business has always been about human interactions. Companies and people have problems and they seek solutions to these problems. People form relationships to solve problems and to enrich their lives. Relationships are at the center of every successful business.
This is where the need to build your social network becomes meaningful to your business. Your relationships are the real value of your business but with today’s social media technology you can form customer relationships faster and you can scale it.
Today, you can have dozens of positive interactions with customers and potential customers on a daily basis. A lot of people are starting to get that. What most people are still not conscious about is context and, today, content (information about your solutions) in the right context is king.
Think of the last time you went to the supermarket. If you go to the grocery store when you are really hungry and there is nothing nice in your frig then you go through every isle and find yourself picking up things and thinking, “Wow, that sounds delicious right about now.” You may buy things that you do not really need. Because you are in the context of being hungry, you are much more susceptible to buying and being influenced.
However, if you go grocery shopping after a big dinner, you are in a completely different context (same place and same information but different mindset). It will be much tougher to be influenced.
The same goes for every online interaction. When any positive online interaction takes place in the right context, it is that much more powerful in establishing a connection that can eventually become a business relationship.
I believe there are five important aspects to building and developing our social network.
Social Networking Relationships
In real estate it is location, location, location. In social networking it is relationships, relationships, relationships. It’s all about the building relationships. It is not the quantity but the quality that counts (well quantity counts too but there needs to be a real focus on quality). I will also define quality in this case as having a relationship with people so that they trust you – they listen and act on your advice because you have proven to them that your advice is valuable. It is worth paying attention to and it helps them. We can measure this.
A story about measuring . . .
I know someone that bragged about his likes on facebook. He felt he was so popular that he was also influential. I asked him to conduct an experiment and to write a blog post for his blog specifically design for his facebook audience. I then asked him to announce and promote this post on facebook with the intent to drive people to the blog post. No one went to the blog post. He had created the start of a relationship with his facebook audience but had not developed it. He was not as influential as he thought and realized that more work would be needed to build up the trust factor with his facebook audience.
Quantity counts but to be able to influence a portion of your audience is necessary to create value for your business.
Let people know that you offer solutions, advice on solutions or that you will help them to determine the best solution. Develop your social network so that people know you and your business as a problem solver. If you can also entertain with your information then you may do even better.
To really build your network in social media, apply the same principles of building a relationship offline. Your goal is to get people to like you, admire you, and trust you, which will eventually lead them to buy from you, or recommend you or your business to a friend.
Social Networking Interactions
Every interaction matters — interactions are the building blocks of your brand. That is why every interaction should matter to you and the business you represent. Engage with people, help them, and generate as many positive interactions as possible. Go beyond that and turn negative interactions into positives. Show everyone how much you care. At the end of the day, your customers and people in your network don’t expect you to be perfect. They just want you to care.
Context is Vital
If you really want to be effective in social media and in building your network, you have to know your audience. That is, you have to be aware of context. What drives them? How does your product or service fit their needs? As Harvard marketing professor Theodore Levitt put it: “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want to buy a quarter-inch hole.” You must understand why your customer wants that hole. Cultivating relationships within that context is much more powerful.
Your social media efforts will not go far without delightful content. Valuable content is the long-burning fuel of social media. If you don’t have great content then what will you promote via your social network? That’s a tough questions and one that needs to be the center of your focus.
Start Before Your Need It
Know your audience, create your (delightful) content, define and put it in context and share before you really need to. When you wait until you see a decline in business and then feel you have to ratchet up your social media marketing it may be too late or your may come across as being too pushy. Start early to define you and your business as a resource that is there to help, to share, to educate. Build up confidence and respect for your business before you need it.
Next time you are out there in your social networks, think about how you are cultivating your relationships through each and every interaction. Are you creating positive interactions? Are those interactions based in the right context? Or are you just doing self-promotion all the time or trying to push your content or product? Remember, you reap what you sow.
Here are some other SEO Notebook posts you may be interested in.
Top Ten Social Media Marketing Questions (an interview with Jason Robie)