Since my own journey as a small business owner started at Twitter, it goes without saying that I’m a fan of the idea that small businesses can benefit dramatically from the power of social media to boost sales. That said, there is a big difference between strategic use of social media with an end in mind and social media for social media’s sake. I can’t count the number of organizations I’ve worked with over the years who have entered into the murky waters of the social world, only to come up for air, months later, wondering what they’ve been spending their hard earned time and money on.
Given that, when analyzing how to go about using social media effectively to bring more sales in the door, there are a few key things any small business must remember.
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When I talk to organizations who are just starting to use Twitter, for example, I often say that the most important thing they need to think about is engagement. But “engagement” can be hard to generate. What can you do to get the conversation flowing?
The two simplest and most effective things you can do to create engagement are no-brainers, at least in my eyes. First, ask a question. Then, offer to help someone.
Here’s how that looks:
Let’s say you are a small business providing tax preparation services for busy professionals. Asking a question on social media that you know your potential demographic might be interested in would be a great start. What about getting folks to weigh in on how early (or how late!) they generally start thinking about their annual tax preparation. For example, “It’s Feb. 1. Have you thought about this year’s taxes yet? YAY or NAY?” A simple YES or NO is all folks are tasked with responding, and just such a simple response can start a conversation. Another option might be, “On a scale of 1-10, how likely are you to start thinking about your taxes before February 1?” Again, you are inviting readers and followers to respond with their own experiences, but in an incredibly bite-sized way that makes it easy – and fun – to respond. (Keep in mind that although you can use a polling functionality to get the same result on Twitter, say, it doesn’t invite quite the same ease of follow up, which is why asking the question as a basic tweet or post is preferred.)
When it comes to helping someone, the idea of sticking to the simple and easy holds true. If you are a small business specializing in tax preparation, you should certainly be following folks who care and talk about such topics. Given that, the next time you see someone in your target demographic asking a question about tax filing or for a specific recommendation related to their taxes, don’t hesitate to pipe up with an answer (even if that answer is a link to a Google search you just did!). Again, conversation flows when help is offered, and in general folks are grateful for guidance and support others pipe in with when they ask questions of their own.
If Engagement Pays, then Expand Your Opportunity for Engagement
So how do you make sure that you widen your circle enough so that you can engage with new people who don’t already know about your business? Although interacting through answering questions and offering to help is one key way to build your circle through individual interactions, another important tactic is to create content that folks want to share. Although everyone’s version of the elusive shareable content is a bit different – one person’s fascinating article is another’s cute cat video – small businesses usually can’t get it wrong when they come up with valuable factoids or knowledge about the work they do.
Continuing along the lines of the tax preparation services example, a small business in this industry could try regularly sharing statistics surrounding tax preparation that might be eye-popping enough to be passed along. So, along with asking folks when THEY start thinking about tax preparation, what about sharing a post about what surveys show? Particularly if it’s a surprising or unexpected fact, you’re likely to have followers and non-followers alike spread it on.
Closing the Sale is a Relationship Game
Increasing engagement, and increasing your circle of engagement are two key steps that any small business needs to take if looking to use social media to make sales. But the closing of sales, it turns out, requires something else. That requirement? Relationships. The ultimate goal of any social media strategy for a small business should really be about turning those connections and followers into potential buyers through the art of cultivating the relationship.
Although there are a few different key ways to nurture a relationship on social media, the thread that ties them all together is the art of regular communication, day in and day out. Utilizing the earlier strategies of creating shareable content, asking followers questions to provoke engagement, and offering to help someone, your goal as a small business should be to do these things frequently enough and with enough regularity that you build up genuine relationships with potential buyers. Then, and only then, will it be easier to make the sale.
Ultimately, social media can be a key tool for sales-making, and small businesses would do well to try their hand at using it to make sales. That said, it’s important to stop thinking about social media as a way to merely broadcast what you sell to a waiting world. Instead, it’s time to start thinking of it as a way to develop intimate relationships with potential consumers. Ultimately, this is how you’ll close the sale, again and again.