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The added value of using social media to connect with those customers, Ryan of Chesapeake Systems said, comes from a shift in the process of introductions.
"The whole ability today and advantage is that you can turn what used to be cold calling into a process of warm connections," Ryan said. "The best way to make a connection with a person is to give them something for free. As a reseller, we have to bring added value [in the form of] our intellectual firepower in both consulting and designing."
Just having a social media presence isn't enough, however; successful use of networking sites for a business boils down to an integrated system of connected newsletters, website SEO and use of networking platforms like Twitter and Facebook, all powered by the engine of the blog, according to Ryan.
"None of this works if the website and the blogs aren't strong. That's why the content has to be compelling," Ryan said. "Once you have that core, then it comes down to helping to distribute that. The blogs and podcasts are top for us [in that regard]."
When first starting out with social media, Schmulen of Constant Contact recommended businesses pick one network to become familiar with in the beginning.
"What it really comes down to is if you start with one, it shouldn't be that hard to join the rest," Schmulen said. "For most businesses, the best place to start with is Facebook. That seems to be where most of the conversations are going on, at least with consumers."
Even for companies already familiar with several social networking sites, it's important to have a focus and not spread the content too thin, according to Kraus of Leading Results.
Most businesses can only manage about two social channels with any kind of consistency before other platforms become an "also-ran," or a secondary project that doesn't receive the required attention, Kraus said.
"When I'm talking to business owners, I tell them to understand the social channels their clients are on and spend your time there," Kraus said, "because you really can't be everywhere."
One thing to remember about social media is that it's about having a conversation, and businesses need to listen as well as respond, Constant Contact's Schmulen said.
"Because it is a two-way conversation, you need to monitor what people are saying and make sure you answer in kind," Schmulen said. "When someone hits you up on Twitter or LinkedIn or Facebook you need to make sure you respond in a timely fashion. With social media, you can't set it and forget it. You can't just expect people to come to you. You have to tell people about it and then engage them."