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"Social media" is the buzzword of the decade. My small company has been bitten by the bug, and I've been asked to investigate how to be more social. We are a pet grooming and boarding company. We've got operations in a few cities around the state and a web site with a message board. We have a very simple Facebook page that simply lists our hours of operations and will occasionally be updated with pictures from animal events the owners attend in the cities we have a presence in. The task I've been given is how to grow this presence.

What is the goal of a company's Twitter feed or a Facebook page? Often these are seen on the news only when a public relations blunder occurs. What does a small company put on such a social account to expand their following? I've used Facebook for years as a user, but that is to stay in contact with family and friends. The business doesn't need to like a follower's new pictures, and I would find that weird. The end goal for me is to migrate away from our small message board to a much larger social ecosystem. But, I'm not sure how such a transition should begin.

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What is the goal of a company's Twitter feed or a Facebook page?

That depends on the company. Someone with formal training or experience in this area could probably give a better conceptual answer; since I have neither, I'll try to illustrate by presenting four examples.

For the first example, there's a shop in my area that supplies construction materials – metal pipe, sheet, bar and fasteners. They are open to the general public but most of their business comes from contractors. Professional networks and word of mouth probably drive most of their business; can they justify the expense of a full-featured website? What kind of online presence do they need?

It would certainly be convenient to have a searchable catalog and online ordering system – but is it necessary? There are big box supply stores that have more accessible locations, more attractive storefronts, a huge range of goods, lots of brand awareness – in the retail arena, this business isn't competitive and it's not suddenly going to become competitive. The advantage this small shop has is low prices, specific expertise, and depth of inventory. Most of their customers know what they want and would not find online ordering particularly convenient or comfortable; they're used to dealing with wholesalers, work a lot with their hands, prefer to make transactions in person or over the phone. (Note: These are stereotypes, and they're getting less true as time passes, even in the field of construction.)

Social media offers this company a no-cost internet presence, which is all they need; nothing interactive, just descriptive information and signposts pointing the potential customer to the storefront or phone line. In fact, the particular business I'm thinking of does have a decent web site – but they've also been in business for 40 years and their site, though professionally done, has very few features. "About Us" page, contact links to request a catalog or quote, some nice stock photos of different metals, a brief overview of products and services. The only feature it provides beyond a bare internet presence is an embedded map using the Google API. If they were just starting up today, all of that content could be managed on a social media platform like Facebook, Yelp or Google Plus, each of which has tons of users, at a much lower cost.

For the second example, consider a new bar or nightclub in a big city. There are a lot of bars and nightclubs already so this business needs an inexpensive, efficient means of "getting the word out" (one-to-many/broadcast communication) more than it needs a static internet presence that sits there waiting to be indexed by search engines. Without intending to get too cute, "word of mouth" advertising has evolved into "word of tweet/share/like" advertising, even among businesses that don't cater to a particularly young customer base. What's not to like about a ubiquitous, zero-cost platform that your customers carry in their pockets?

For the third example, consider a major corporation like Chevron. They have a Twitter account; who follows it? I would expect mostly competitors, media/press, job seekers, and special interest groups. Interacting directly with their customers is not the main purpose of their Twitter account; they're managing public relations. You wouldn't read their tweets to decide whether you need to fill up your tank, but you might notice when someone retweets their press release about renewable energy. If that memory resurfaces when you're in traffic and have a split-second to decide whether to turn into their station or a competitor's, that makes a difference, even though they're not communicating directly with you.

And finally, consider a local restaurant that does a lot of take-out and delivery business. They definitely want a web site - or at least a portal that captures hungry people searching for whatever specific type of food they serve. Many restaurants have web sites where they list their menu items and contact information. That can be done on Facebook for free, with the added bonus that you can offer deals to people who "Like" your page, and broadcast special events or menu items to an opt-in audience; no need to maintain a mailing list! In addition, hungry people sometimes just need a little push in the direction of your product. Send out an update with a picture of a pizza around dinner time on the weekend, and you might find yourself getting a few extra orders from people who were just going to eat leftovers. That wouldn't work so well for an auto body shop - you're not going to drum up a bunch of work just by sending out a picture of a rebuilt transmission!

What does a small company put on such a social account to expand their following?

You have to sit down and really analyze your company and your customers. Ask questions like:

  • Who are your customers?
  • Do they already want/need your product or service?
  • Are you converting them from competitors?
  • Are they looking for you online, and if so, where are they finding you?
  • What sort of communication do they want from you?

Some businesses attract and retain customers based on their values; e.g, an environmentally-conscious plant nursery or a gluten-free restaurant. In that case a social media account might be used to manage that image, to share relevant articles, to show that these values are authentic and reinforce the business's membership in an ideological community.

Some businesses attract and retain customers based on their prices; e.g., a thrift shop or a discount electronics store. In that case, a social media account might be used to send out coupons, announce sales, advertise changes in inventory, and so on. Here, the goal is to keep your brand in their thoughts. They want to save money, and buying from you saves them money.

Some businesses attract and retain customers based on their reputation; e.g., a consultant, engineer or lawyer. They might use their social media accounts to advertise completed projects, court victories, company milestones. They might put more effort into speaking to potential employees than other companies, for example by sharing articles about the workplace. They might have a blog, and use social media to drive traffic to their blog.

There are too many possibilities to enumerate here. This definitely calls for introspection. Don't fall into the trap of thinking you need to use social media like that business uses social media, because they do so well. Carefully consider your similarities and differences; even if your business is almost identical (if so, hopefully in a different market), maybe you can do it better than they can.

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I'm a different beast when it comes to social media because I've been doing community management in forums before social media became a buzzword.

In the past, I've been lucky to grow social media channels to hundreds-of-thousands simply because the topic is attractable enough to gain followers without any work.

But that's just it, the topic is what truly attracts users to follow whatever social channel that your company owns and operates. Why should I follow your company?

I think most people are under the illusion that simply posting junk mail is what real followers want to read when they log onto their favorite social media network. Unfortunately, that's not true. Who likes receiving junk mail in their mailbox before Facebook or even MySpace even existed? I sure didn't unless it was coupons.

But that's another just it. I received something for following your company. I got value for opening up that snazzy envelope which ended up saving me money at the store. So, I continued to open them every time they came in. What value are you giving me?

These are all things you need to consider when creating your social media channels. Why should I follow you? What is the value that I'm receiving in return for doing so? Some do this by offering their own digital coupons via Facebook. Others do it by posting funny images or videos that make you chuckle in the morning. Some may even do a mixture of everything and see what sticks.

Unfortunately, only you can decide that unless more information is given on what you are doing as a business for anyone to give more specific use cases as answers. Not all communities are the same.

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There are several reasons for a company to use social media such as Facebook and Twitter:

  • People can keep track on what your company does. People who are interested in your company's activities can keep track of it without they have to search too long, they are more likely to stay interested. If they would have to search hours before they find your recent activities, they are unlikely to come back.
  • More people will get to know about your company. Someone who is interested in your company might follow you on a social network. Friends of that person might have a look at the people he/she follows, and might also think "hey, that's interesting" and follow you too, and that way the word about your company gets spread.
  • Getting a higher rank in search engines. If you have many posts and followers, your page is likely to get higher in search engines and more people will find it.

So in short, using social media is a good way to make your company grow.

How to start with being active on social networking?

  • Create accounts on social media sites, and link to them from your message board.
  • If you have a mailing list of engaged and interested people, mail them about it.
  • If you have used other ways before to spread the word about your company and about your message board, use the same ways to spread the word about your social network pages.
  • "People can keep track on what your company does." Email and RSS/Atom feeds are more suitable for this. No need for a social network. – beroal Jun 29 '17 at 8:43
  • @beroal Sure, they work too, and I'm not saying that social networks are the only way to keep track of your company's activity. But they can be convenient -- for example someone on Twitter could follow a few companies that regularly share links to their blog posts when something new is happening, and then the Twitter user can just take a look at their Twitter timeline/homepage so get a quick glance on the latest activities of the said companies. – ProgramFOX Jun 29 '17 at 9:15
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What value are you giving me? (Glen's answer) and What sort of communication do they want from you? (Air's answer) are indeed key. Try to make your communications have value for existing and potential customers. Blurting out adverts on social feeds is frowned upon: you will be ignored (Twitter) or blocked (Facebook) or your posts removed (LinkedIn).

One thing both do not mention explicitly: see if you can find groups (forums, LinkedIn discussion groups, Facebook pages - maybe your own) where you can contribute your knowledge. These will probably have (or get) a larger following than your own message boards.

Make yourself known as the go-to person and make sure people can easily connect you to your business so that they know where to go to buy/order. Not by explicitly mentioning "I have this great product for sale", but by having a clear profile or a tiny signiature.

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I managed the social media of some companies/services, a movie, a popular humorist (1 million plus in Facebook) . For me the goal is more exposure and attracting new people who likes different social networks. Suppose you have a popular Youtube channel. By being only in Youtube, only people with youtube accounts are going to follow you. But if you open a twitter account, part of your youtube followers are going to follow you in Twitter, and that's going to make you appear more times suggested to other users in Twitter (since that's how twitter works, more people follows you, Twitter more suggests you to other people to follow you) . Then you gain new customers/fans are or whatever your topic is trying to attract. And having all the accounts connected with different applications or scripts is quite useful. I send a photo through instagram with my cellphone, and a website, 2 Facebook pages, 2 Facebook profiles, a Facebook group, a twitter account and other instagram account are updated.

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