Last Wednesday my husband and I celebrated our 3rd anniversary at Michael Mina. Neither of us had been to the restaurant before, and we are wary of establishments with a "celebrity chef", but we went based on friends' recommendations. During our meal, the staff was attentive and the food fantastic, but what really made our experience unique was how they handled their social media.
About halfway through the meal, our wedding song "You Make It Easy" by Air came over the speakers. It's not a common song, so I made a remark about the coincidence to our server. Little did I realize my comment was setting in motion one of the most endearing series of events I've ever experienced at a restaurant.
My husband got up to use the restroom and, while he was away, I tweeted, "Having anniversary dinner @MichaelMinaSF and they just randomly played our wedding song You Make It Easy by Air! Time to dance." Shortly after my tweet, we received a handwritten card from the manager wishing us a happy anniversary.
They brought us a slice of cake and a couple glasses of dessert wine, apologizing that, had they known it was our anniversary, they would have started us off with complimentary champagne. At the end of our meal, they brought us a copy of that night's tasting menu with "Happy Anniversary" written on it. By the time we got back to the car, I found they had followed me on Twitter and messaged me "@AlisonKawa thanks for spending your special day with us!!"
We were blown away by their responsiveness. These extra efforts required some care, but they didn't cost the restaurant a lot in time or money. In exchange, they got exposure to all my friends and gave me a brand experience I continue to talk about weeks afterward. If all businesses understood the power of these simple acts of personalization, they could create memorable customer experiences that do more to spread the word about their business than any marketing campaign.
Consider me a Michael Mina brand advocate!
Do you ever get online and immediately feel like you’re hit with a giant wall of noise? Driving your social media strategy forward in an efficient way can be hard when there are so many distractions. How do you make the best of the time you’ve allotted to work on content you plan to publish? Here are three tips to make sure you stay on course instead of disappearing down the internet rabbit hole.
Create a Resource Bank
The internet is a wide, expansive world filled with lots of avenues to explore. That can be a good and bad thing. Trying to find something that catches your eye and feels worthy of sharing can be a long and fruitless task if you don’t know where to look. Don’t surf out to sea without a clear target. Instead, create a resource bank. Collect URLs of websites that you know offer the kind of great content you’re looking for. When you sit down to schedule your next batch of posts, you’ll have a head start.
Use Google News Alerts
What key terms or words generally come up when you talk about your business? Creating aGoogle Alert (or several of them) is the best way to stay on top of what’s going on in your industry, all without having to leave the comfort of your own e-mail inbox. Do you find yourself drawn to news from the same source over and over? You may have found a new link for your resource bank! If you feel overwhelmed with alerts, try refining your search terms. If you’re too general, you might be casting your net too wide and saturating yourself with information.
Business or Pleasure?
Avoid the temptation to check your personal channels while you’re working on social media for your business. This can be tough, but it’s a good way to make sure you don’t get drawn into answering e-mails or following up on Facebook messages from old acquaintances looking to reconnect. Staying away from your friends’ Twitter feed or timeline also removes the temptation of clicking on links that lead you down the path to distraction. We’re all one cute kitten video away from wasting a lot of precious company time, so enforce a moratorium on baby armadillos, hedgehogs and handholding otters as much as you can. Worried about missing out on viral content? Don’t worry, if it’s truly viral, you are bound to run into it somewhere else, especially on big pages like Reddit or Buzzfeed.
How do you stay on task when you’re working on social media? Do you take on responsibilities yourself, or do you pass them on to a dedicated user? Whichever way you approach it, remember that finding good content and publishing it on time means organizing resources, dedicating attention and blocking out distractions.
If you’ve taken a belated plunge into Twitter but still find yourself adrift in a digital sea with no rutter to lead the way, it may be time to refine your tweeting skills. Having a presence on a social media platform is only half the battle. Knowing what to do once you get there is what really separates you from your competition.
If you’re not using hashtags, you’re missing out on some of the biggest conversations on the web. Some of those conversations may even be about you! Hashtags are a way for users to connect with each other and easily search for content on Twitter. Use this handy symbol to reach out to users who might be looking for you.
Searching for hashtags is just as important as using them when you tweet. Look for hashtags related to important industry terms and you can add your voice to an ongoing conversation. A trending hashtag gives you a peek into Twitter’s hive mind and lets you know where the most important conversations are. It might even inspire topics for other platforms like blogging.
Retweet After Me
You can think of a retweet as a digital high-five. It lets someone know their post was interesting enough to be republished. Your followers will appreciate being featured on your feed, and when you retweet users, they’re more likely to do the same for you. That gives you more exposure and introduces you to a host of new potential followers.
Retweeting retweets can get a little tricky. It’s best to avoid this practice to make sure you don’t fall into an infinite loops of tweets.
We’re not talking about the fact that with 140 characters pithiness is a priority, although that’s certainly the case. We’re referring to direct messaging, a feature on Twitter that not enough users take advantage of. A direct message feels more personal than a public tweet, so use it when one-on-one contact is preferable. Have a customer dealing with a sensitive and private issue? That's a perfect time to use a direct message. Knowing the difference between a public tweet and a private message is important, so make sure you familiarize yourself with direct messaging.
Just like any other medium, tweeting comes with its own built-in advantages and limitations. The more creative you are in dealing with the parameters of Twitter, the more users will appreciate your unique style and flair. Using all the tools at your disposal makes you savvier, helps you stay relevant and puts you on course to building a stronger, more confident presence online.
Remember the old adage about children being “seen and not heard?” That saying may have held some weight for previous generations, but today's teens and tweens have become drivers of the way we communicate, building and participating in online cultures in ways that leave some folks in the dust.
Kids are practically born with a smartphone in their hands. Combine that with a formidable collective buying power and you have a demographic whose impact is impossible to ignore.
Young people can drive the success and failure of social media platforms, forcing them to adapt or die. Their recent mass exodus from Facebook to other places like Twitter and Instagram is one example of how shifting demographics have forced some companies to adapt (quickly) to the pace of young people's tastes and desires in an attempt to recapture them.
As a cornerstone of internet culture, teens and tweens build and contribute to massive online ecosystems, develop internet shorthand that spills over into real life and participate in social media in ways that small businesses could stand to learn from.
Getting Ahead of the Game
Teens and tweens are usually early adopters. They're one step ahead of the game when it comes to new technology and the latest social media platforms. Being an early adopter lets you stake out a space before others get there. It also makes you look like a leader who understands new trends and blazes ahead instead of lagging behind.
Connecting Real Life and Digital Networking
Young people are expert networkers. They actively seek out people to follow, stay engaged, ask questions and prioritize extending their influence online. More importantly, they realize that digital life and real life aren't separated by an iron curtain. Networks spill over, making real life connections become digital ones and vice versa.
The upcoming generation of millennials is often accused of being the “Me” generation, but that doesn't mean that their efforts at self promotion aren't worth emulating. Teens and tweens aren't afraid to toot their own horn and you shouldn't be either. Put your accomplishments on display so the world knows just how great you are at what you do.
The internet is a place to let loose! Let your voice shine through by being honest. Writing for the internet doesn't require the formality that other media demands, so take the opportunity to be creative and put your sense of humor on display. People will see your brand as more personable and relatable that way.
A teen's life online may seem like fun and games, but young people are masters at learning new tools of the trade. Take a cue from teens and tweens so you can stay adaptable, curious and open to taking on new challenges. You'll be one step ahead of the competition and spearheading your way to a more creative approach to social media.
They say it’s always smart to avoid two topics during conversation: religion and politics. But the truth is, social media has become a huge platform for people to share their personal views about a slew of different perspectives, political or otherwise.
When it comes to taking on politics and social issues, however, what you write, tweet and post on your personal accounts may not always be what’s best for the social media outlets that represent your business. While you may personally feel strongly about current events and issues of the day, does it make sense for your small business to get political?
For some organizations, the answer will be obvious. Take a look at your central mission. A non-profit that promotes gender parity in the workplace, for example, should absolutely use their social media soapbox as much as possible. You’ve got an incredible opportunity to mobilize people, engage them in a way that gets them to think about issues in a new way, and turn followers into strong advocates for your cause. The website Movements.org has some great online resources, including how to mobilize followers and raise funds through social media.
If you’re a business that deals with other kinds of services, the answer to whether or not you should delve into politics is not as clear cut. If you’re a small restaurant, sports shop or electronics stores, for example, your mission is to appeal to a broad demographic. That may mean having to bite your tongue on questions that may be too polarizing. The last thing you want to do is stoke a fire on your business’s Facebook page or Twitter feed.
Still, finding a cause that your business or organization can rally behind might not be a bad idea. It shows that you’re an active members in the community and that your business has a mission beyond making a profit. If you’re shopping for a cause, attach yourself to something that isn’t divisive.
A street cleaning project is a good example of a cause you could support without the fear of ruffling too many feathers along the way. Endorsing a political candidate, on the other hand, can easily become a case study in delving too deply into controversial territory. Instead, find a broader message that's still positive, like encouraging everyone to get out and vote no matter who their preferred candidate is.
So, next time you have the urge to publish that political rant online or share your views on a contested election, remember that the temporary glee you get from broadcasting your perspective may be great, but the ultimate effect might be alienating and counterproductive. When in doubt, focus on supporting issues that all of your followers can get behind so no one feels left out, even if it means letting your own opinion take a backseat for just a while.
Does part of your social media plan include having a dedicated user-- someone whose job description includes planning and carrying out your strategy? In a small business setting it's typical, and often times essential, for staff members to wear many different hats. That sometimes means that jobs are shared or passed around as staff members become available to take them on. That approach can be great in some scenarios, but it doesn't mean everyone should have a hand in social media, or that the task should fall to whoever is available in the moment. There are benefits to centralizing your strategy in the hands of one or two people. It allows you to:
Be More Consistent
For a unified tone and approach, it's best to limit the amount of people publishing through your social media outlets. With different writing styles and varying response times to questions from customers, followers may find you unreliable or start seeing individual posts as too disconnected. For cohesion in messaging, which makes for stronger branding, a dedicated user works best.
Are you spread out over various social media platforms? Instead of having different users monitoring different sites, it's better for a dedicated user to have an eye on each of them. On the most practical level, it's easier to keep track of logins and accounts this way. It also allows for the task of tracking data to be centralized in one place, with one person checking in on various platforms and collecting relevant information periodically.
Make Better Use of Time
Dedicated users translate into dedicated time. Spreading out your social media efforts amongst different staff members can mean that the time and energy spent on your strategy gets diffused. A dedicated user can use blocks of time to tackle answering questions, updating pages and scheduling new content. A piecemeal approach ultimately leaves you one step behind instead of one step ahead.
Does that mean that brainstorming about how to approach your plan should only be limited to the people who execute it? Not at all! It's great to have input from several members of your team during the initial planning phases. This allows you to tap into the creative potential of your team, gather great ideas and develop a plan that's a true representation of your organization. But as you execute specific parts of your strategy, funnel responsibilities towards one or two users who can hold it all together. It's the best way to present a confident overarching narrative that will strengthen your identity and keep your followers engaged.
As if running a small business weren't hard enough already, the IRS is focusing in on small-business owners this year. What could that potentially mean for you? While the chances of getting audited are pretty low, less than 1 percent, no one is completely exempt. Any suspicious activity on your tax returns could mean an increased risk for audit. If you've got unusually large deductions in your recently filed taxes, for example, you may already be raising a big red flag for the IRS.
So what does any of this have to do with social media? Well, if you've written off certain expenses throughout the fiscal year, you want to make sure that the story told by published activity on your social networks corroborates it. If you're the kind of user who regularly checks in or updates your status, you've already created a digital trail. Does this match up with information you've stated on tax return? An audit could reveal discrepancies.
Although it's not totally clear what kind of digital information the IRS could potentially use against you when it it comes to being audited, it's better to be safe about what you share. Some possible avenues for keeping yourself protected could include limiting the dedicated users from your business you allow to share information through your social networks. It's also a good idea to draw up guidelines or contracts stipulating what people should and shouldn't share through company channels.
As bigger companies expand to social media outlets to connect with potential investors, the role that sharing so called “material information” online could have is undergoing constant revision. For instance, Netflix recently used Facebook as a channel to share information about viewership. It's a pioneering move that opens the doors for other businesses to do the same.
But just as sharing information about your travels and expenses in an open forum could come back to haunt you around tax time, you should also be wary about sharing material information. Sure, it could be a terrific way to attract people interested in having a stake in your business. On the other hand, you need to assure that it's accurate, up-to-date and that it doesn't misrepresent facts about your business.
It seems that the takeaway lesson here is that while increased transparency is an in incredibly beneficial part of being on social media, it's always important to identify sensitive company information that could cause more harm than good.
We love a good deal. There's something awesome about getting that thing you desperately need or desire for a few bucks off. Special deals helps us feel like we're in the loop, and somehow ahead of the rest of the pack. They also help us feel rewarded for being loyal customers. But from your perspective, deals can be risky business. Social media is a great way to promote savings, but are you using the intersection between deals and social media to the best of your advantage?
Don't be a Coupon Machine
It's tempting to use social media as the primary way to advertise coupons, sales and deals. The danger here lies in becoming a coupon catalogue. Don't let special offers take over in such way that all your other content falls by the wayside. You need time and space to develop other aspects of your brand, so don't let the coupon clutter build too much.
Do Reward Loyal Followers
If you're trying to engage with your most loyal customers, deals and savings are a great way to reward their excitement and passion for your product. You can generate excitement online with competitions, teasing special deals along the way. It's also not a bad way to repair damage from bad customer experiences.
Don't Use it as Your Only Strategy For Growth
As this study from Rhythm Insights shows, most social media users (close to 60%) follow brands to show their loyalty or support. Creating original content that shows off who you are as a brand is much more vital to a sound social media strategy, so make sure that those efforts take priority over publicizing deals.
Do Make Stipulations
For any deal you're offering, always make stipulations. Plan ahead and set deadlines for deals to expire. Brainstorm with staff members to make sure there aren't any gaping loopholes in your plan that would allow someone to run off with more than you can afford to give away. Make sure you communicate all the fine print to your followers before they take you up on any special deals. You can avoid awkward confrontations and negative customer experiences that way.
With the knowledge that gaining and retaining followers doesn't rely solely on the discounts you offer, you can relax a little and refocus your energies elsewhere. Be as specific as you can with what you're offering, so that your next coupon or sales discount isn't a deal breaker for your most valued customers. Finally, have fun! Create contests, roll out deals with teases that build excitement and document people enjoying your special offers so that you have a reminder of what makes it all worth it.
Yes, there's a lot of planning when it comes to setting up a successful social media strategy, but the ability to improvise is just as important. If you're familiar with improvisational comedy, sometimes called "improv," you know that coming up with great material on spot is easier said than done. Still, there are some good lessons to be gleaned from the world of improv that can make your strategy that much stronger.
One of the first rules you learn in improv is to accept the reality your scene partners are trying to make and build on it (aptly summed up as the "Yes, and..." rule). Imagine an actor walking into a scene with the line “This spaceship is about to crash!” You can either accept that first line as a fact and start building a story together, or you can shoot it down with “What do you mean? We're at the mall.” The latter response is a scene killer, with two conflicting intentions putting the nail in the coffin before your scene gets off the ground.
The same can be said about your social media strategy. By reacting positively to the direction your followers start you off in, you can start building a longer, stronger narrative together. Once you've said “yes,” don't forget to build on their original ideas with your own contributions so that followers are incentivized to keep engaging with you.
Support your partners
While some parts of a scene about you, they're just as much about the dynamic you're a part of. The same is true about your presence through social media. If you're only concerned with how many people follow what you publish, you're missing the other side of the equation. Support your online community by the following individual users, chiming in on what they have to say and supporting the endeavors that they're trying to promote.
A classic pitfall of comedic improv is to feel the need to rattle off a bunch of jokes that never add up to anything. In the same way, you don't want the messages you publish to exist in a vacuum. Remember that everything you put out there is part of a multi-faceted, ongoing narrative. It's good to concentrate on details, but you should never lose focus when it comes the the driving narrative you're trying to share.
Be spontaneous, flexible
Having a game plan is incredibly important, but don't be so dogmatic about sticking to your strategy. You could risk coming off as inflexible, standoffish and even stubborn. Instead, open yourself to the possibility that once you get in the game, things are bound to change. By being receptive to an ever-changing online environment, you can guarantee that you'll be a dynamic player, ready to explore new and exciting directions in your story building.
Finally, make sure your ears are always open to what your scene partners have to say. They might be feeding you important clues about where they'd like to take the narrative. When you listen carefully, the stories you tell in any medium will become more memorable, detailed and enriching. People will also feel that you're present, accessible and transparent.
A strategy doesn't always have to be a strict blueprint you never stray from. Be open to the possibilites that are happening around you and you'll be ready to thrive in the world of social media, where dynamic storytelling is the key to success.
Have you fallen into the trap of being purely transactional with your tweets and posts? It's easy to find yourself in a rut where you only announce things like discounts, new products, operational hours or other superficial facts about your business. But followers want a little bit more than that, and you're not likely to keep their attention for very long if you don't indulge them.
People who subscribe to you via social media want information that they can't get from somewhere else. They want to feel connected to the people behind the brand, and feel like they're an active participant in the story of your business. Here are three ways you can put people first to make sure your social media strategy is personal.
Feature Customer Stories
Do you have a regular who has been coming into your store for years? Next time you see them, ask them to answer a few questions about themselves and use social media to feature their story. It's a great way to make customers feel valuable and shows that your business is a vital part of the community. You never know what you'll learn about your customers along the way, and everyone loves to have at least fifteen minutes of fame!
Take pictures (or encourage open submissions) of your customers enjoying the things that make your brand great. For instance, you could create a contest where customers submit pictures of themselves with their favorite pint from your micro-brewery. Generating original content makes your storytelling through social media become more dynamic and unique. Just make sure you always get the permission from the people featured in the photographs!
Provide Backstage Access
Your employees don't have to be anonymous. In the same way you feature customers, you can share stories about the employees that make up the heart of your business. Pulling back the curtain on your operations can be a little scary at first, but remember, you're the publisher. You control what information to share and what should stay internal to your organization. Followers can learn why your employees love working for you, which encourages brand loyalty. Customers also get to learn more about the staff that serves them, helping to build a great rapport that builds lasting relationships.
Think of your social media platforms less as a news ticker with a constant stream of facts and more as a dynamic tool for storytelling. Start with people and build your stories out from there. Use original and found images as well as text to provide eye-catching information and you're sure to have an online presence worthy of the people who are the beating heart of your business.