The latest question comes from Caroline Spark, owner of City Dog Country Dog. Her company provides dog behavior training and service dog training in the Portland area. She asks:
I know I need to be involved with Portland social media for my business but I have no idea where to start. Do I need to be in Facebook? or Twitter? or something else? I’d love some advice on how to get started and how I can manage social media and manage my business, as it all seems to take up quite a bit of time.
The quick answer is YES. You should be in Facebook, Twitter and even Google Buzz at this point. More and more consumers are using these channels to aid in making their purchasing decisions, especially for services such as yours where referrals and recommendations from trusted sources play an important role. I agree that managing effective social media campaigns can be extremely time consuming and so there are a few tips that may save you a bit of time. The first option is to hire a consultant to help you get things set-up. This option can be costly but if you consider how much of your time you’ll save it may not be as expensive as you think.
My next suggestion would be to take the time to attend some workshops or conferences exploring social media, where you’ll get the chance to learn about the medium and network with some of Portland’s social media ‘know-it-alls’, there are quite a few of them out there. ;-) One such conference would be Social Fresh, coming up March 29th. TMMPDX readers get a discount when registering by using the code TMM20. You learn more about the confence here: http://www.tmmpdx.com/portland-social-media-conference-social-fresh/.
Once you have learned a bit more about Facebook, Twitter and the other social media networks you can make an informed decision on where to allocate your time and/or budget. One strategy that has been working extremely well are paid Facebook advertisements. You can have the ad direct traffic directly to your website or to your Facebook Fan Page. Currently there isn’t a huge amount of competition for these ads and so the cost is well below what Google is charging in Google AdWords. The cool thing about a Facebook ad that directs traffic to your Fan Page is that you can accrue fans that are genuinely interested in what you have to offer without taking the time to manually go out there and search for these people. Facebook does all the targeting for you, 24/7.
As Sabrina mentioned, a business like yours that heavily relies on referrals and recommendations is usually a great fit for social media marketing. That being said, it is still important to do some detective work to find out which social media channels are most popular with your target customers. In addition to Facebook and Twitter, you should also consider joining some targeted niche social networks, such as Doggyspace and PDXdog.
Before diving right in to the social media world, I recommend that you do a little “listening” so you can get a sense of what your competitors are doing and find out what’s working and what’s not.
It is understandable that you are apprehensive about managing your social media presence while managing your business because social media marketing may be free but we all know that time is money. But don’t let this hold you back- there are several social aggregator tools available to help streamline your profile management. Check out what the Angels had to say about social media management solutions in a previous Ask TMM column: The Angels Search for Social Media Management Solutions.
If you really feel uncertain about marketing your business in social networks, you should definitely consider hiring a professional to help you get started. Many companies find that it is worth hiring a social media expert to help them select the right social channels, create an actionable and measurable strategy, and learn the rules of engagement. Once you go through this process with a social media consultant, you should be able to fearlessly manage your company’s social profiles and you’ll have a solid foundation and strategy to build on.
To get started with Social Media it is important to understand what it really is and then creatively apply social media strategies to your business.
I like Wikipedia’s definition: “Social media is MEDIA designed to be disseminated through social interaction. It supports the democratization of knowledge and information, transforming people from content consumers into content producers”. Think about what content you could produce that would engage your audience, motivate them to leave you reviews, share your content with their friends, refer your services to friends, etc. You get the idea? Perhaps it is a thoughtful article, dog training tips video, doggy trivia game or coupon give away.
After you have your Social Media strategy defined you can distribute it through Facebook, Twitter, PDXdog ,doggspace, YouTube and other mediums that fit your target audience.
Successful Social Media campaigns do take time and creativity. If you don’t have the time to invest in conferences, strategy creation and management; I strongly recommend professional help. It may seem expensive for a small business, but an experienced social media consultant will bring you profitable return on investment and save you time.