It’s accepted now that businesses should be using social media; nowadays it’s really a question of how well you do it.
Theo Paphitis, Chairman of Rymans and a BBC Dragon, has 272,000 followers on Twitter. Virgin’s Richard Branson has over 1.5 million. Cleo Browne, from a small but perfectly formed Coasteering company in Pembrokeshire has 3,000 followers on Twitter and 1,500 likes on Facebook. Not bad for a company with just one permanent employee. So, whatever these three are doing, it’s working!
All of the above have one thing in common. They are all heads of their companies. And this leads to an important point. Tweets and Facebook posts are best managed by someone who is completely absorbed in the business and party to the whole shebang. Ideally it’s the owner, CEO or chairperson; the one who knows everyone, attends everything and probably has a more interesting work schedule and better gossip (“I’m tweeting from the World Travel Market where I’ve just bumped into Deborah Meaden – try out the complimentary Thai massage at stand #88”).
It also needs to be someone who doesn’t mind putting some personality into it. Not personal in a “too much information” kind of way. Just in a way that the audience can identify with you as a fellow human. National events, holidays, news items, birthdays, TV shows, opinions on the latest X Factor contestants or the new Archbishop – all of this can be thrown into the social media mix. It gives the boss another job, but it makes the business approachable and personable from the outside – an advantage that is priceless to long-term success.
Some companies are using Facebook to pledge money to charity. You might have seen Simply Health’s TV ad campaign currently which promised a £1 donation to Heart Research UK for every ‘like’ they get. They raised £30,000 in just 4 weeks and as I write are closer to the 60,000 likes mark.
Not many small businesses can afford that kind of campaign, but incentivisng people to follow or like you is clever. Competitions, funnies, prize draws, quotes of the day – all can be used to draw in crowds. Social media can work wonders for small businesses that find a way to be engaging online. It takes hard work, time and energy to do it well. It means giving something of yourself; sharing your character and thoughts with the community.
“As a small, local business with large ambition, Facebook and Twitter have been extremely important marketing channels for Celtic Quest Coasteering. We offer an exciting adventure experience and we are lucky enough to do something that is naturally visual in a beautiful location, so we use imagery and video all the time. I try and recreate online the fun and adrenaline fuelled time that our customers have, whilst making it clear that safety comes top priority for our whole team. It’s been a long and concerted effort; but worth it. We’ve just won the Chartered Institute of Marketing CANMOL: Wales Marketing Award!” said Cleo Browne, Owner of Celtic Quest.
Social media has had some negative press recently. The House of Commons Speaker’s wife Sally Bercow is in trouble after first naming Lord McAlpine as the subject of the Newsnight child abuse debacle to her 59,000 followers on Twitter, then releasing the name of a teenager who allegedly ran off with her schoolteacher. The former has led to her being sued for libel. In the latter she breached a strict court order.
But these situations are unlikely to be faced by a business with a good social media policy. If anything, it just highlights what a powerful tool for communications social media can be, when used well.