When the big three spoke, Stan Austin listened. Closely.
“They tell us the explosion of the Internet and social media is moving so rapidly, a business will cease to exist within five years if they have not adopted and embraced the Internet and social media,” said Austin, area manager of the UCF College of Business Administration’s Small Business Development Center.
Representatives from Apple, Google and Microsoft delivered that message at the Small Business Development Center’s annual conferences.
Austin’s takeaway: The increasing popularity of cell phones and tablet technology has pushed us socially and economically in one undeniable direction.
“People now shop on the Internet, write reviews and share the ‘good, bad and ugly’ of everyday life constantly through social media,” Austin said.
When Austin consults with clients, they are amazed when he shows them how much information about their business exists on the Internet – even those who don’t have a website or active social media program.
“Restaurants and other small service-oriented businesses don’t think they are being reviewed or talked about via social media until I show them,” he said.
Increased use of social media has added another responsibility to business owners: reputation management. Praise and criticism are immediate online. Astute business leaders understand that the Internet is the forum they must use to respond — with words and actions.
Savvy social media marketers identify the best platform to optimize goals whether they’re trying to increase brand reach, bolster sales, expand their professional network or protect and/or enhance their company’s public image.
But how do you determine what the most effective platform is?
“Everything starts with a webpage,” Austin said.
But not a thrown-together site your eighth-grade neighbor designed. Your webpage must have maximum search engine optimization, which ensures that your business ranks high on Internet searches.
“Searchers will use a various mix of words and phrases to find content,” explains Melanie Melvin, director of client services for Akers Creative. “By placing important keywords properly in important areas on your site you allow search engines to identify and serve your page as relevant content to the topic or theme being researched.”
To be successful, you must understand how Google works. A lack of knowledge of Google algorithms can get you penalized and removed from Google’s index entirely.
Your webpage must also be “mobile optimized” if you want your website to come up correctly on a smartphone or tablet. That means providing less information or data on the page and more buttons to take customers to specific areas or items they are interested in.
“The optimum is never more than two clicks for the potential customer to reach the information they desire on your site,” Austin said. “If you frustrate the potential customer with your website, they just move on to the next business on the list.”
And your job isn’t over after you gain a satisfied customer. According to Austin, the second phase of managing social media involves extending your presence rapidly and exponentially.
“Once you reach a satisfied customer in your target market segment, they normally have many friends, friends of friends and friends of those friends who are within your target market segment too,” Austin said.
Tap into that extended friend chain and spread positive news about your product, service or brand by offering “friend of customers” specials.
Next, set and monitor specific goals. Tracking and measuring the effectiveness of what you are actually doing is critical, yet most people stumble when it comes to this essential step. Industry statistics show that more than three quarters of businesses that engage in paid social media marketing cannot prove that they are making any money.
“Social Media marketing is a specific tactic that focuses on improving your business visibility. Results take time, but creating a lasting foundation to attract, convert, close and delight your visitors turns strangers into loyal customers who want to do business with you,” Melvin said.
The third phase involves managing social media through dashboards. Dashboards allow you to manage and work the social media outlets you choose from one platform.
“This makes the process less cumbersome, time-consuming and enables you to be much more productive,” Austin said. “You can also schedule the release of information for different days/times of day or night, throughout the calendar year if you want to, well in advance, so you are freed up to spend time on other aspects of your business.”
Finally, as you embrace the power of social media, you must ask for what you expect to receive. If you want positive references, you must ask for them. If you want to manage negative feedback, you need to provide a process to do so, and react immediately to any negative comments and correct them. Ultimately, it is up to you and within your power to monitor and protect your Internet image.