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Why you need to be on Twitter now

Get used to it: social media is essential for small business

Globe and Mail Update

A client of mine, who shall remain nameless, just told me Twitter is being referred to as the "Digital Macarena." The implication being "Twitter is a trendy now but won't be around for long." So, first of all, I happen to like the Macarena — and I'm in good company, as a quick spin over to Wikipedia will tell you it is number five on Billboard's 100 All-Time Top Songs, as in OF ALL TIME. And, we should all be so lucky and become billionaires creating the next Macarena. Regardless, the insinuation, by people who do not visit the dance clubs I visit, is Twitter is fad and will soon fade away.

Doubt it.

For SMBs, it does beg the question though. What should you do about social media platforms like Twitter?

Let's start with some man-on-the-street definitions. When the majority of folks you talk to say 'social media', they are referring to either a blog which they write themselves, or follow closely, or to one or all of the following websites:

  • Facebook
  • MySpace
  • Bebo
  • Orkut
  • LinkedIn
  • Flickr
  • YouTube
  • Twitter

If these sites are unfamiliar to you, don't sweat it, I'll explain at the bottom of the page*, but in the meantime … let's focus on blogs, LinkedIn and especially Twitter, which tend to be the most useful in business, if you are in the business of running a business.

Blogs are not going away. They are a tremendous way for a business owner/operator to communicate in a very personal and informal way with customers, employees, suppliers and anyone else who might care about the firm.

LinkedIn is not going away. It is by far the most popular and well developed social network for professionals, in a career context. It's an excellent way to find folks in your industry, source potential employees, join groups to learn more about a subject area, and keep others informed of your career status.

And Twitter is not going away. Sure, eventually people will tire of reading banal posts about how someone they are following is "going to lunch". But, as my friend Jordan Banks recently pointed out, it is quickly becoming a source of breaking news. Last week I wanted up-to-the-minute details from the Coyotes court case, and sure enough a Toronto reporter on Twitter had a Tweet out within ten minutes of the judge's call for a recess, long before any of the conventional news websites (like CNN.com) I was checking regularly had a headline up.

Twitter is a great place to release company news, and also to build personal profile.

So, if you are thinking about getting into the social media game, or if you have dabbled and experimented in this space and want to get more serious, here are three simple rules:

  1. Focus, and be present
  2. Don't advertise, philosophize
  3. Be realistic

What do I mean by that? This is what I mean…

1. Focus, and be present

I'm cheating. This is a two-for-one rule deal. Focus means pick one or two platforms, and really try to make the most of the opportunities these platforms offer up. Be present means you can't dabble here. You have to take your presence seriously and be active in the platform. For example, if you choose Twitter, you can't post once a week and hope to reap the rewards. You need to post often enough (once a day or better) to be taken seriously and build profile.

If you have a deep presence, you will attract folks who want to know what you have to say.

2. Don't advertise, philosophize

This would be the most important rule. It's not first, because you do have to have a presence and know what you are doing before you can optimize, but the right approach is critical. There's a reason these utilities are called social media platforms, not digital advertising platforms. You should approach blogs, LinkedIn and Twitter as tremendous tools to build your personal profile, and not as great places to try to sell your firm's wares.

Here are two things we know about SMBs:

  1. Whether we are talking about professional services firms (lawyers or bankers or accountants, etc.) or small production firms (manufacturing or baking, etc.), a huge proportion of small businesses sell based on the reputation and profile of the owner/partner more so than on the reputation of the product/service itself
  2. SMBs are not typically hip to the jive of using social media optimally.

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