The Biggest Room in the World
For the uninitiated, social media seems more toy than tool — big on buzz and small on ROI. Which is why, for those who have already built successful businesses and brands without it, it’s hard to justify the time and effort.
But, the numbers make it increasingly hard to ignore: More than 200 million people use Twitter, and more than a billion are on Facebook. If you want to scale your own brand or your business, you need to be among them.
“If you’re an entrepreneur and you’re not on social media, you’re not an entrepreneur,” says Hank Norman, founding partner of 2 Market Media, a company that partners with expert personalities and brands to grow their businesses (Full disclosure: I am their VP of Business & Talent Development). “You’ll pay to attend conferences and cocktail parties so you can swap business cards and shake hands — and you’re not in the biggest room in the world with everyone in it?”
Here’s how to work that "room" like a master networker.
As a content strategist and branding coach, I have heard many times that my clients plan to save time and money by hiring “a kid” to “do” their social media. Even if you have the resources to hire a social media manager, you miss out — and miss the point — by not playing a key role in it yourself.
“You’ve got to be personally responsible for your online social media presence,” says Norman. “An assistant may run interference and help you manage it, but you need to know what you’re saying, and take it as seriously as you do your own correspondence. That idea that you’re too busy to connect with people? It’s dead.”
Case in point: business and real estate mogul and client of Norman’s, Grant Cardone, who has 250,000 followers and plenty of resources, including a big staff. But he’s on Twitter, too. “You tweet Grant, he’ll tweet you back himself,” says Norman.
Stacey Alcorn, serial entrepreneur and author of REACH! Dream, Stretch, Achieve, Influence has launched several successful businesses and maintains separate social media accounts for every one of them.
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“If you’re not spending part of your week mastering social media, your days in sales are numbered,” she says. Why? Because it keeps you abreast of trends in your industry and gives you unprecedented access to your current and prospective customers — what they care about, think about and want.
Since we almost always hear about social media as a “platform,” it’s natural to think it’s the place to get up and speak. But, it’s not a one-way conversation.
“Most businesses believe that the value is in talking a lot, sharing info about your business, and there is some value to that. But, there’s far more value in listening,” says Alcorn. “For the first time, you can actually hear what people are saying — both current and prospective customers — and you have the ability to engage in conversations with them.”
In other words, use Twitter and other social media tools as your ears, as well as your mouth. Don’t fire off so many offers, promos and press releases that you miss the chance to tune in. This will, in turn, inform the way in which you sell, but more importantly, connect with your audience. “The goal is not to jam your products and services down their throats, but step into the conversation that can, over time, lead to business,” says Alcorn.
Search key terms that affect your business. Listen in to the discussions surrounding them. “Start learning from the other people on there. Because there’s a lot to learn,” says Norman.
People don’t just connect with ideas; they connect with people. That’s why you must be, above all, an actual person with views, opinions, a life. The excuse people use to blast Twitter and other micro-journaling platforms (“Who cares what I had for lunch?”) doesn’t hold water when you own a restaurant, for example.
“It’s an intimate medium,” says Norman. “I want to know who you are, what you’re bringing to the table. Work isn’t work anymore. How else will people trust or like you if they don't know you?”
Alcorn practices what she preaches. “I’m an entrepreneur, yes, but I’m also a mom, a runner, a blogger, and all of that trickles down into my businesses,” says Alcorn. “People want to do business with people like them. Share your story. Show who you are in all that you do.”
Of course, there will be situations where the “royal we” fits and is perfectly appropriate, especially for corporate brands. Even more reason why, if you happen to be at the helm of one of those brands, you should have your own Twitter handle, so that if someone wants to connect with you directly, they can.
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And, always be sure to reach out to and respond to others in the friendly, informal way that this new medium dictates. A client of mine emailed me in a tizzy one afternoon. “Someone tweeted at us!” she said. “What should I do? Send her a link to our site?” I had to laugh. “Let me ask you this,” I said. “If you’re at a party and someone compliments your shoes, do you hand them a press release?”
When in doubt, respond as a person first. Any other business you want to take care of will come about as a result of your connection, not in place of it.
While it’s great to share links and curate relevant content for your followers, don’t forget to take a stance on the issues that matter most to you and your business. This can be scary because of our pervasive cultural fear of offending, but standing up for your beliefs and your mission will help you stand out.
“You can’t please everyone all the time, and attempting to do that is not only a lost cause, but a misguided decision,” says Norman. The people who make a powerful and lasting impression in the media landscape are willing to do that; they magnetize their fan base by being clear about who they are and what their mission is. As soon as you soften or qualify your message to try to appeal to many people, you’re diluting your impact. “You’ve got to get over this fear of not having everyone like you and accept you,” he says. “You’ll gain some followers, and then you’ll lose some.”
Good news: You just gained a follower with 15.3K of her own followers on Twitter! Bad news: She’s following 16.5K.
In the rush to beef up a fan base, far too many brands follow everyone. That tit-for-tat strategy may work when you’re just getting started, in the short term, and it may eek up your following (if others play along). But, what you end up with are two things you don’t want: an unflattering ratio (you’re following more than follow you) and an unmanageable feed (who is reading 15,000 tweets?).
“If you’re following people as a strategy, you’re wasting your time,” says Norman. “There’s no real value there.” Start greening your list, says Norman. “I follow 300 people. That’s my sweet spot and about all I can handle while being able to keep up with and connect with the people I’m interested in.”
A real influencer has a lot of followers and follows a very select group. That’s the mark of a valuable account — and the sign of a leader.
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