Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Encouraging Local Businesses to Go Social

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of local media and find their business proposition compelling in a world where traditional print (see yesterday’s post) seems on an irreversible downward path. I’ve written about Cape Cod Today before. I post a local blog there and have become somewhat familiar with the operation. It is part of their local orientation that they have a blog design and marketing service as one division of the business. I follow them (as well as Wicked Local Cape Cod) on Twitter; it’s an interesting way to keep up with local news for someone who long ago stopped reading the print version of newspapers. They have a Facebook page which appears to be manually maintained with 135 followers as of today. Their Twitter account has 750 followers and uses TwitterFeed to automatically post items from their home page. The ratio makes sense to me.

Going through my summer info, I was interested that, having learned about Facebook and Twitter themselves, they had introduced a new service for their clients; setting up a Facebook page and/or Twitter account. I took a quick look at some of the businesses using the service.

The Facebook page of the skydiving service is vibrant—makes sense. This is an experiential service and Facebook is a good place to give a sense of the experiences. I don’t find a Twitter page for them. 140 characters doesn’t give a good opportunity to create a sense of experience but it could link back to the Facebook page or to their website. Their website offers basic information but not much fodder for the social sites; it’s connected to their Facebook page and that works. The website doesn't have a prominent Facebook logo, and given the richness of the content there it should be useful to people considering a purchase. A key question is--how much content can three people be expected to keep up? That will help reduce the number of options!

The Mediterranean-style taverna is active on Twitter—a good place to promote today’s menu items and special events. I don’t find a Facebook page for them (why is it so hard to be sure?*?), but they have a blog on their website.

The yoga instruction center is using Twitter primarily for branding. Not an ideal use perhaps, but this couple has had a blog on CCT for awhile and they use it in the same way. It’s an integrated communications program that’s likely to pay off for them over time.

Three businesses—three different approaches to social media platforms. There are two primary take-aways. First, any business must use the best platforms for their objectives, which must themselves be closely mapped to the business concept and objectives. Second, the social media platforms can be a real hog of employee/owner time. It’s important to select the right one and to use it consistently.

I checked another Facebook/Twitter combo for a local business which CCT describes as “recently set up.” No activity—no posts, no Tweets, no new fans or followers. That’s the danger. Everyone I know is surprised by how much time and effort it takes, whether “it” is a blog or a Facebook page or another social media endeavor. The exception can be Twitter, where it’s possible to feed directly from your blog or Facebook page, making posts do double duty. That’s fine. Whether it’s enough is a question.

Social media is a commitment that local and other small organizations should consider carefully. Many of them cannot afford much/any media advertising, so it seems a sensible option. However, there are possible downsides. Does an unmaintained page damage the brand of a small local business as it would a national brand? Probably not as much, but it can’t help. Will you buy from a retailer with a messy store? Unlikely. Does the same principle hold true for keeping your Facebook page up to date? Time will tell. My guess is yes!


MaryLou Roberts said...

From Keith A Carlson

Do you see a problem with the "legitimacy" of these online outlets. I work in a software development environment and one of our running jokes is "Yeah it's true. I read it on the Internet.". If I read it in a newspaper or from TV news I have a tendency to believe that it has been properly reviewed and vetted. On the Internet, in a blog...not so much.

Posted by MLR because Blogger wouldn't!

MaryLou Roberts said...

That was a good comment, and I didn't want to lose it, Keith. The answer is absolutely yes! What I tell my students is that we have to go back to the old rule of journalism; three sources for confirmation. That works fine on the web also.
How much editorial control is there on sites like Huffington Post, which does have editors. Where is the line drawn on newspaper sites like NYT. I think it is that anything from the paper version has editorial vetting; online only material probably not; blogs definitely not, although they may have a disclaimer.
My point is that it's a complex issue and individual content sites need to be as clear as possible about how they work in order to build trust.

edshull said...

I have been going to search marketing conferences for over 7 years. One of the constant remarks had always been "local search marketing is coming". This would be followed by a guess at what this would look like. Somewhere local search marketing stopped "coming" and became a reality. And it looks nothing like what most experts projected. Social media came along, and now local search marketing is integrated with social media.

The opportunity is tremendous, but as you point out, it's far from effortless. Writing blog posts, a daily tweet, or even building fans to your Facebook page requires time and effort.

One great little example of a local social media marketing strategy that required nothing more than a little effort comes from my barber. When I moved to Henderson, NV., I looked for an actual barber. One place I looked into marketed themselves as a barbershop for men, but didn't offer shaves. I left a quick review on Yelp (my favorite resource for local marketers) to warn others that they should not expect a shave with their haircut.

A few days later I received a comment from a new local barber offering a coupon to try him out. I took him up on the offer. He did a tremendous job, and not only earned my business, but a great review on Yelp. I learned while there that he had made this offer to several others, and all followed through with great reviews, and became steady customers.

Obviously the true value of his strategy has not yet been seen. That will come in the coming months as people search for a local barber and find these reviews. I should also add that my Yelp feed is syndicated via RSS on to my Facebook wall. So when I left that positive review, it was posted to well over 100 friends. Perfect example of social media marketing done right with a little work.

I apologize for the long comment. I just wanted to share that personal experience.

MaryLou Roberts said...

I just became a huge fan of your barber! That's the way it ought to work!!!

Business Online Coach said...

This is what i been telling offline businesses for a couple of years now. Slowly social media is taking over. My guess is that it will eventually overtake search engine results period. Just recently we had the Atlanta Floods. I got most upto date info following twitter #atlflood

MaryLou Roberts said...

Thanks for that. Hope you weren't too impacted by the floods, but the availability of observer updates must have been a great help!