Tweeting for success: how to expand your online presence

Social media is more than just a new type of marketing — it's a conversation.

By Isaac Bonnell

So you finally decided to put your business on Facebook and Twitter. You have a couple hundred followers and you update them daily with upcoming sales and links to new products.

Well, now what?

Using social media is still a new adventure for many businesses both large and small. While it may be easy to get up and going, it can be difficult to keep it going and see results.

The key is to look at social media as more than just a new type of marketing, said Anne-Marie Faiola, CEO and founder of Bramble Berry, a local do-it-yourself soap supply company. Using social media should be like having a conversation; that’s why it’s called “social” media.

“I see the value in having a conversation with my customers in real time,” Faiola said. “Before, to get my customers’ opinions, I had to get on the phone with them or see them in person in my retail store. This gives me an opportunity to have many conversations in many places and to form a global view of my customers.”

One thing that Faiola kept hearing from customers was that they wanted custom soap molds from leaf imprints to soap shaped like tractors. Seeing a demand that the market wasn’t meeting, Faiola recently launched a new company, Soapmolds.com, that designs and manufactures custom soap molds.

When Faiola first started using social media to promote her business, she quickly realized the potential it had to connect her to customers. In 2007, she dropped her entire advertising budget and in 2008 went 100 percent to social media. By the end of that year, her efforts had paid off: She saw a 28 percent increase in business.

These days, Faiola is active on as many social media outlets as she can fit into her schedule. She blogs at least five times a week, updates Facebook daily, and updates Twitter about 12 times a day. Last year, she also started her own YouTube channel called Soap Queen TV, where she demonstrates soap recipes or showcases new products.

Admittedly, updating so many different networks and coming up with new content can be tiring, Faiola said.

“It requires me to do all the work, but I think it’s well worth it,” she said.

One key element that Faiola said really helped her see results from social media was coming up with a content strategy. The content that you post to Twitter and Facebook may be similar, but each platform has its own unique characteristics. What works on Twitter may not work on Facebook, and vice versa.

“A lot of people hook their Facebook account up to Twitter. I don’t do that because they’re different outlets and people want different information from each,” she said.

The right content

For Matthew Dunn, co-founder of Say It Visually!, posting the right content to the right place isn’t as much about words as it is about visuals.

“Seventy percent of Facebook activity is related to pictures or video,” Dunn said.

So if you’re looking for a way to step up your social media presence or interact more with fans, try using a photo or video rather than words. And in this increasingly digital age, people respond better to visuals than to text, Dunn said.

“We don’t read anymore, we scan — and we don’t scan very well,” he said. “There are just some kinds of information that we can ingest faster with our eyes than if we read text.”

And don’t feel like you have to post slick photos with beautiful models, Dunn said. Social media isn’t about fancy marketing campaigns; it’s about adding character to your business and building an identity that people can connect with.

“A simple photo of your workplace will humanize your business,” Dunn said. “Don’t feel like you have to go to a marketing company to get good visuals. I guarantee you that you will get more engagement out of that informal photo than out of something polished.”

The one thing you don’t want to do, though, is treat social media like brand management, Dunn said. As advertising has invaded more areas of people’s lives, people have become adept at picking out what is real and what is fake.

“If it looks too slick, we don’t pay attention to it,” Dunn said. “So don’t work so hard for polish. Work for substance.”

How much is too much?

As social media grows, there is a chance that it could reach information overload. This is already the most socially connected and technologically advanced generation in history, but when will it all be too much?

“If we get overloaded, we’ll turn it off,” Dunn said.

One way that social media is starting to get overloaded is with automated updates. This takes the personality out of social media, Dunn said.

He gives this example: Say that you run a ski area and you regularly post photos of ski conditions to get people excited about skiing. Then you decide to set up a Webcam that automatically tweets a photo of the ski conditions every day. Your fans may love it at first, but pretty soon it can start to feel just like spam e-mail.

“Will I pay attention to it when I get a photo every day for weeks at a time?” Dunn postured.

The key, then, is to focus on good content that has meaning. That way, your fans will be more likely to interact and you’ll be on your way to social media stardom.

Social Media Conference NW

Want to learn more about how to get the most out of social media? You can hear more from Anne-Marie Faiola and Matthew Dunn, plus meet the official Tweeter for Starbucks, by attending the Social Media Conference NW on March 25 at McIntyre Hall in Mount Vernon.

For more information or to see a list of speakers, visit www.socialmediaconferencenw.com.

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