Spread “word of mouse” with free social media tools.
By Shelby Gonzalez
“We got into social media because we wanted to be able to stay in touch with our customers on their terms,” says Jill Argetsinger of The Nautical Needle in Holland, Mich. “So many people go to the web these days for all types of information. We wanted them to find us when and how they needed to.”
A 2010 Nielsen study found that three-quarters of internet users make use of social media, with social media activities taking up 22 percent of total time online.1
Social media can be defined as a collection of internet-based tools that allow people to connect, interact and share information. “Connect” is the key word here. Putting up a Facebook page or starting a YouTube channel will not double your customer base overnight. But it will help your existing customers feel like part of a community.
By using social media tools, you will not only build a loyal tribe of customers, you will also grow your reputation for expertise and excellence and, ultimately, attract more business.
“Our goal for bringing Signature CanvasMakers into the social media realm was to develop a small group of advocates that we could then leverage to bring in new customers,” says Charlene Clark of Signature CanvasMakers in Hampton, Va. “So much of our business comes from word of mouth.Â Social media is an extension of that: ‘word of mouse.’”
Social media 101
While the phrase “social media” may conjure images of pasty teenagers parked in front of glowing computer screens, research paints a different picture. A late 2009 Pew Internet Project survey found that 40 percent of adults aged 30 and up used social networking sites. That percentage has likely jumped since then, given that, according to the Nielsen 2010 Media Fact Sheet, time spent on social networking in the United States increased 277 percent in the past year.2
“Every social media site has a different audience, so it’s important to understand the demographics of a site before you begin marketing your business,” Clark says. “For example, about 30 percent of Facebook users are between the ages of 35 and 54, with a growing number of Baby Boomers now embracing it.”3
Here are some of the most popular and relevant social media tools and how they can be used in your marketing plan.
Blogs: A blog, short for a weblog, is a website where people can post written entries, images and videos organized chronologically and by topic. Starting a blog and building a community around it is a time-consuming endeavor best suited to people who enjoy writing and have some social-media savvy.
A social networking site where you can create a customized profile page with photos, store information, events and updates. Customers on Facebook can “become a fan” of your business page.
Tip: Announce your sales and promotions on Facebook early to reward your online fans.
Flickr: A site where people can upload, organize, label and share photos. Flickr is a great tool for hosting and sharing photos of recent projects (with boat owner permission).
Tip: Be selective about which photos you upload; weed out blurry and duplicate shots.
Forums: Topic-based internet “bulletin boards” where people gather to discuss issues, troubleshoot problems and just shoot the breeze.
Tip: Find a regional marine forum and share your expertise to help build your reputation as a knowledgeable, helpful member of the community.
LinkedIn: A networking site with a more professional-oriented bent than Facebook. “We use LinkedIn as a business reference tool,” Clark says. “It is a great place to share ideas and information with other fabricators and suppliers.”
Tip: Sign up, then join the Marine Fabricators Group (see “MFA’s use of social media“).
MySpace A social networking site with an audience that skews young. “If your business seeks to reach out to a more affluent boating community, MySpace is probably not the best option for you,” Clark says.
Twitter Ah, Twitter. One of the most trendy and least-understood social media tools, Twitter lets you broadcast brief messages, called tweets, of up to 140 characters to whoever chooses to “follow” you. You can also “follow” the Twitter feeds of other people and businesses.
Tip: Pick a much-shortened version of your business name as your username, like @BettysMarine instead of @BettysMarineCanvasRepairs.
Yelp A location-specific site where people can post uncensored reviews of area businesses. Citysearch (www.citysearch.com) is another such site. Your business may already be on these sites. Follow the procedure to register as a business owner.
Tip: If someone posts a review you feel is unfair, respond in a calm, balanced way.
Youtube A site that hosts videos. You can make a YouTube profile to make a “channel,” a collection of videos you have uploaded and your favorite videos by other people.
Tip: MFA recently launched a YouTube channel to which members can contribute (see “MFA’s use of social media“).
Get started now, learn as you go
Getting started with social media can feel overwhelming, especially if you aren’t an internet wizard. Never fear. The best way to learn social media is to try it.
Start small and make a plan. Decide what social media sites and services you will utilize, what kinds of content you will put on them, how often you will post updates, and who will be responsible for them.
Facebook is a good place to begin. All you need to make a Facebook account for your marine fabrication business is your name, a valid e-mail account and basic information about the business. Go to www.facebook.com and click the link that says “Create a page for a celebrity, band or business.” Follow the step-by-step instructions to set up your Facebook account.
Upload a photo of the shop or a job you are particularly proud of to serve as your profile photo. In your short description of the business, be sure to include the number of years it has been open, special expertise you have, awards the business has won, and what sets your business apart from the competition.
Other social media services, like Twitter and LinkedIn, have similarly straightforward setup processes.
Once or twice a week, schedule time to log into your social media accounts and perform simple social media maintenance tasks, each of which may only require a few mouse clicks. Maintenance tasks include:
- Approve friend requests
- Respond to comments left on your “wall” by friends or fans
- Reply to customer inquiries sent through the site’s internal e-mail system
- Delete spam messages
- Add content, such as photos of recent projects
- Post a status update
Posting status updates is perhaps the most important of these to-do items. As long as you post regularly, your fans and followers will see your most recent update when they log into their social media accounts.
Feeling ambitious? Set up multiple social media accounts (say, Facebook and Twitter) and manage them all through a social media “dashboard.” Dashboards like HootSuite allow you to prepare and schedule material for multiple accounts weeks or even months in advance. When scheduled times arrive, the site posts your updates automatically.
Spreading “word of mouse”
Updates can be anything from an announcement of an upcoming sale to a simple well-wishing to customers, such as, “Happy Friday! Have a fun, safe weekend on the water!”
“Examples of postings that we’ve done recently include pictures of our work, industry trends, product information, and when we are attending a conference or trade show or sponsoring an event,” Clark says. “Other ideas for postings include touting awards that your business has won, introducing new employees and posting seasonal or limited-time offers.”
As you become more proficient in social media, you can use more advanced applications in your accounts, such as “Insights,” the Facebook sidebar that gives statistics about your account’s visitors, activity and popularity over time.
While many social media sites offer premium services and products, basic accounts tend to be free—meaning social media marketing won’t make too big a dent in your budget. Assuming you already have a computer and internet access, the only direct cost associated with social media is time.
“Time required is minimal. Approximately 30 minutes each week if you’re prepared,” says David Green, office manager for Custom Covers in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Custom Covers uses Facebook. “We have found a frequency of weekly posts keeps us relevant without overwhelming our fans.” But, he adds, finding even that small amount of time can be a challenge during the busy season.
The Nautical Needle uses Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, updating frequently to “let customers know what we’re up to,” Argetsinger says. Their friendly, consistent, multi-platform approach to social media marketing is paying off. “We see a large percentage of our business come in from the social networking sites.”