Lately, when I’m filling out one of those long unneeded forms so many websites require for registration, and I come upon the question regarding my website URL, more and more, I’ve been listing our Facebook fan page. In other words, instead of listing a homepage, a portal (collection of links), or a blog like this one, I’ve actually just skipped all that and listed the fan page of our business on Facebook as the URL. I have a funny feeling I’m not alone.
Social networks used to supplement a presence on the web for businesses, now, if you follow the trending nerd endorsed point of view, they are occupying that presence. If I own an upscale florist shop in Manhattan that never has had a website, do I want a static rigid site I can’t do anything with but post pictures and a phone number, or do I want a Facebook fan page, where I can talk with customers, past, present and future? Of course, I want what brings me more business, I want interactivity made easy, or as my Chiropractor friend from Texas quips, I want it done for you. Social networks are the new feature presence on the web for more businesses today than ever before. Static websites are still good for one thing, getting listed in Google and geotargeting tools like Google Places, but even those are being replicated by Facebook Open Graph, search, and Foursquare. In a way, we’ve come full circle.
Before the web people communicated through rudimentary bulletin board systems, known to many a geek as BBS. When using a BBS one could navigate the site by typing in commends, if you knew a few commands, you could get your virtual self to a chat room, and chat with others for as long as that old modem of yours held the call. Luckily, somebody, somewhere realized that not everyone wanted to know how to type commands into a C:. Shortly thereafter Netscape arrived in all its glory, a full blown graphical way to utilize the internet! Shortly after that, somebody realized that hand coding websites wasn’t for everybody, and thus online website builder services were born. Instead of having a website on their domain (URL) businesses could simply build a simple site on a third party site, and share the domain name of the website builder. In essence, many business owners wanted the done for you model, rather than enter the treacherous do it yourself waters of website design.
Fast forward ten years and convenience continues to be one of the many reasons why businesses prefer to go directly with a social network. Even if they do build their own homepage, or pay someone to do it, that website often works very hard at getting you to click right back over to their Facebook fan page, Twitter account, etc. Social media is as important as it’s ever been, and it will continue to evolve, allowing many businesses and brands to do most of their interactive marketing and branding on such sites.
Eleven months ago we launched our Social Media Management Service, in my opinion the most forward leaning service we’ve ever offered, with much pomp. We had a lot of positive interactions with leads, many clients signing up, and many more promising to do so in the near future. Nearly a year later, the business is as strong as ever, and here are my thoughts if you wish to enter it.
Embrace Market Leaders
There is an over correction in design and user experience (UX) of good websites that are trying too hard to become Facebook clones (LinkedIn anyone?) Work hard to sort out the winners from the losers. Market leaders are those that created the market, Facebook and Twitter are two examples, almost every other social network doesn’t count at this point. If you are working with clients overseas, exceptions like Orkut apply. For the most part, clients rightfully so, want you to put their business where the people are. Don’t over think this premise, simply oblige. Put the clients where the people are, and where the voice of the business can be heard clearest.
Secondary social networks aren’t bad, but they aren’t in the first tier for a reason. Make no mistake about it, your social media management contract is on a tight leash, focus on where the people are actively conversing for your client’s industry, and go there. It’s not how many social networks you sign up to manage for you client, it’s how well you manage a single network that will have your client seeing a positive ROI from the get go.
Ignore Most Pundits
Just last night, ironically on Facebook no less, I noticed someone with no earthly credentials as a techie review not one, but multiple tech products. I’m sure they are a good person, as are most idiots, but that doesn’t mean they know anything about social networks, hardware, or internet marketing in general. There are so many “social network experts” today that the phrase is as overused as it is inaccurate. Unless the person created the social network, the hardware it’s being accessed from, or both, don’t listen to them.
What your client will want from you is simple, and often it has nothing to do with the latest Twitter app. Our clients fall into two categories, they either want to make more money through the networks, or improve their online reputation. Achieving those goals has much more to do with internal strategy, as in what do I say to make them look good, than it does with external tools, such as the MiFi mobile hotspot that lets me tweet from the Porta-Potty outside the Lakers game.
Promise Little Results Deliver Lots
One thing predictable about social media management is how unpredictable it can be. We’ve had clients that we thought were going to be tough to manage, like a Bohemian private jet broker that has been with us as long as we’ve been around. Other clients we’ve had that we thought we’d for sure knock out the park, like the Times Square tourist trap, how tough can it be to get people to check out a five story, been there for decades, chotsky store in Times Square? Apparently pretty hard, the client canceled their contract after just a few months of service.
So take it from a company that has been there, promise little, tell them you’ll do the deliverables each day, and work your hardest at getting them noticed online, without promising any fixed return on investment, improvement in brand awareness, etc. Being honest from the start, and delivering a lot down the line will give you credibility moving forward, and as illustrated above, like a lot of things in life you never can tell when a social media campaign is going to take off.
The biggest thing that has evolved in social media management is the need at all levels of commerce for it. Large businesses like banks and department stores need it just as bad as the hotdog cart vendor. Scale your services for the target audience you hope to appeal to, and you’ll be better off for it. Since we launched what we believe was the first social media management (action) service of its kind, that did more than monitor a social media presence online, we’ve seen hundreds of different iterations of the service both online and off surface. Even some people that hang out in our company owned coffee shop are social media managers for businesses around town, and they aren’t employed by us! The water is great, there has never been a better time to get involved in helping businesses build a presence on the web through social media marketing and management.
As I’ve alluded to in the past section, there is room for everyone in this business. Some businesses we are in, we love the fact that there is virtually no competition, this business not so much. Competition in this realm helps everyone, and will eventually go on to assist in creating a set of industry standards, and hell, maybe even an association of social media managers one day. So rather than give our competitors the cold shoulder, we welcome the chance to network with them. Don’t stop with us, network with other companies as well. The more social media management tips and tricks that get shared, the better it will be for the businesses we manage, which in the end is why we do this to begin with.