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Welcome to Made of Sticks!

MoS is the personal portfolio site and blog of British graphic designer, Ben Morgan.

On the site, you will find a feast of creative work expertly crafted by yours truly; design tutorials covering a range of techniques and disciplines; my personal blog exploring the design industry, as well as a merchandise store.

If you're looking for a freelancer or a creative designer for your next project, then why not get in touch? What have you got to lose?

And if you're wondering about the name... simply mix too much alcohol, a reckless game of pick-up sticks and an accidental Giraffe made of sticks...

Social Media for Business Startups…(and SMEs)

June 3rd, 2013

If I had a penny for every time a client asked “Should I use social media?” in a web scoping meeting…. well you get the point.

It seems that a large majority of small business owners and marketeers simply aren’t up to speed with the benefits of social media in their business – even though most of them use social media on a personal level.

So let’s take a brief review of the world of social media. What it is, how it can benefit business and what the tools of the trade are…

What is social media?

A quick Wikipedia search will give you the lowdown, but in very basic terms, social media is the interaction between people on the subject of creating, sharing and exchanging information in virtual communities.

Simples.

Why should I use social media for business?

This is the single most consistent question I get asked when discussing the web with clients. The answer is never always the same as it depends on a number of factors:

Obviously the common answer to these questions is invariably, yes. The benefits of social media are huge to brands and startup businesses to build a loyal following.

To explain these benefits, let’s pause for a moment and consider a typical sales scenario…

Word of Mouth

You bake a cake for a friend’s birthday as you’re a passionate baker and think you can create some truly scrumptious, tasty treats which you sell on the side. Your friend absolutely loves your efforts, declaring that it’s the yummiest cake they’ve ever had. They encourage other friends in the room to give it a try who are all impressed too.

When the party’s over, the great experience they had of your cake remains.

A week later, a colleague of one of the party-goers declares that they are organising a birthday bash for a family member and would love a unique cake to cap off the party. The party-goer tells their colleague of the fantastic cake they devoured just a week ago and hands over your contact details for them to get in touch. You get the call and whip up another stunning batch of baked goodness, for a fee, of course.

The cycle continues until requests are coming in thick and fast and your baked business dreams flourish.

That, my friends, is the power of ‘word of mouth’. It works. Really effectively.
(NB. Click the logo in the top left on the site that opens up. Great read.)

Social media is essentially word of mouth for the digital era. Do something great that your customers love and they will tell you how well you did and tell their friends and family about it too. Priceless.

But do a bad job and the negative tweets and comments could spiral out of control, which leads to the next point…

Interaction

Another huge benefit of social media is interaction with your customer base.

Unless you have a bricks and mortar store or network with your client base at exhibitions and small events, the chances are that interaction with your customer base is limited. Social media is an instantaneous platform for sharing and exchanging ideas with the very people who are being expected to hand over their hard earned cash for your products or services.

Of course, on occasion, your brand may not come up to scratch for one reason or another. Don’t be afraid, it happens to every business. But how you handle the negative feedback can have a lasting effect on your reputation.

Managed properly, negative feedback can actually give you the opportunity to strengthen your brand reputation by showing that you truly care about your customers feelings and want to help them. That is the ultimate goal of any customer service advocate. Do a good job of resolving your customers problem and you turn a bad experience into a good one.

Exposure / Reach

One thing social media will do for your brand is put it in the spotlight. It’s up to you how you perform but social media gives you an instant connection to the global community. We’re now working in a global market. Goods can be produced in India, shipped to the UK and sold to a customer in the US with ease. The growing popularity of the cloud now gives the service industry an instantaneous supply chain.

You no longer have to rely on repeat local business to stay afloat. Social media brings the world to you and allows you to showcase how your goods and services will help them in their daily lives.

The Personal Touch

Brands are generally corporate juggernauts, but in the case of startup businesses, the opposite is true. Startups will generally have a small pool of regular customers coming through the door which can be treated well on a personal level. But once the customer base grows and startup becomes small business, that personal connection will begin to fade. Social media can be great at showing the human side of your business, separating it from the corporate facade that they generally see.

The personal touch, like word of mouth, is critical in building a loyal and money-spending family of brand lovers. Use social media to ask your followers questions, pool feedback, test new products and services and get them actively engaged in the success of your business.

Networking

Stupid to point this one out, but social media is a form of networking, except without the douhgnuts, coffee and mind-numbing small talk. 70% of bloggers write about products and brands and 51% of online users will read and research the internet before making a purchasing decision. Ensure you inter-connect with bloggers and respected individuals in your industry to build a trusted profile.

Tools of the social media trade

By now, you should have a good overview of the social media scene and how it can benefit your brand. But what are the tools available to you and what are the best ones to use for your business? Let’s delve in.

Facebook

The most well now product of social media is Facebook. Until recently, they have dominated the social scene and still continue to push the boundaries of social networking. Predominantly, Facebook has been used by individuals as a way of maintaining friendships and staying in touch with acquaintances, but Facebook can also be a powerful tool for business.

Facebook is a complex beast and can be used in many ways to promote your business.

Firstly, Facebook is totally free. It costs nothing to setup a business profile and enables you to not only list products and services but to share links, images and posts on a page customised to fit your brand. Generally, Facebook is a laid back platform where you can afford to be a bit less corporate and show your human side. But don’t just reach for the mouse just yet, always analyse the pro’s an con’s first to ascertain what your customers will want to see and hear from you and establish whether Facebook is the right channel for your business. Just make sure that your content is relevant and is something your target audience might like to see and share.

Facebook also offers a form of advertising within it’s business offering. These are called Marketplace Ads and generally include a headline with copy, image and click through. Using this form of advertising can help boost traffic to your website and encourage likes but click through rates and ROI are generally quite low. Marketplace Ads allow you to target specific demographics such as age, location, interest and education to ensure your ad gets through the right people. But the biggest benefit of Marketplace Ads is increasing the amount of likes you receive from customers. Once a user decides to like your page or post, they are essentially saying “tell me more about your brand” and your future posts will appear in their Timeline feed.

Google+

Google Plus (+) is the main competitor to Facebook and has the same laid-back, fun approach. You can do everything on Google+ that you can on Facebook, such as upload and share photos, videos, links, and view all your connections, called +1s (plus one’s).

Unlike Facebook, your +1s can be grouped into ‘Circles’ meaning that you can create segments where information can be shared with that particular circle alone and not others. This means that offering special discounts and offers to loyal followers is a great tactic for brands.

A huge benefit to having a Google+ profile obviously comes in the form of favourable page ranking on the Google index. Being top of page 1 on Google is the nirvana for lots of businesses and having an active Google+ account can help to increase your performance.

Twitter

Twitter is the fastet growing social media platform and allows registered to post short, concise text-based messages no longer than 140 characters in length. The concision of these messages (known as tweets) means that your message has to be short and sweet and often contains click-throughs to other content on external sites.

Again, it is free to sign up for an account and registration takes seconds. Once signed up you can begin to follow any other user in the Twittersphere – celebrities, respected individuals, friends, other brands, you name it. Once you follow someone, their tweets are automatically posted onto your wall for you to interact with. Other users can also follow you, where your tweets are in-turn displayed on their wall.

The main benefit of Twitter is it’s active user base. At the time of writing there are approximately 288 million active users on Twitter who have posted within the last month. This equates to 90% of the global internet population aged between 16-65. Approximately 535,000 new users are signing up every day with an average of around 58 million tweets being posted per day. The figures are staggering. That alone should encourage you to join the revolution.

But why? I hear you say.

It’s back to that old chestnut, word of mouth. Offering exclusive deals to your followers, posting news items and throwing in some humorous and quirky tweets in between will seduce more followers. Ensure you interact at every possible opportunity by retweeting positive comments and sharing interesting tweets. Many businesses are now using Twitter as their main customer service portal as searching for terms via hashtags (#) is easy and effective. You can identify tweets related to your brand and industry and react to them in an instant.

Twitter is the active users’ weapon of choice so ensure you communicate and interact as much as possible.

LinkedIn

Much like Facebook is to the world of networking with friends, LinkedIn is to the world of business networking.

LinkedIn is the professional social media platform allowing you to connect with industry individuals and acts like an online CV for your business. Much like Facebook friends or Twitter followers, your acquaintances are known as Connections. Once you connect with an individual the most effective action you can take is to request or perform recommendations for you brand, thus building credibility and trust amongst your customers.

LinkedIn business pages can be created but are limited when compared to the Facebook offering.

The largest benefit of LinkedIn is that allows brands to connect with other business decision makers to ensure that dialogs are happening with the correct people. The biggest failure of in the corporate sales world is pitching to the person who is not the decision maker. LinkedIn helps brand to connect with the individual in the correct position.

YouTube

YouTube is the de-facto platform for creating video content and sharing across the internet. For startup marketeers, YouTube presents an added challenge as video creation is usually not as easy as other strategies.

Often, big brands will create video content with the aim of it going viral to gain exposure and kudos but this is a very rare occurrence and generally doesn’t fit the strategy of smaller businesses. Instead, more brands use YouTube to showcase ‘how-to’ videos and product reviews to add value.

Since being acquired by Google, YouTube has become a huge player in the SEO landscape, helping brands to improve their Search Engine Ranking by using video. Thus, websites with video content will receive favourable rankings within Google.

Pinterest

One of the most recent social media platforms is Pinterest, which allows brands to showcase products and services in a very visual way. Users create pinboards where images of products can be ‘pinned’ for sharing between other users. Pinterest allows brands to develop a visual personality and mould it to suit targeted audiences.

Instagram

Instagram is a hugely fast growing image sharing platform. Instagram allows users to take photos, add a variety of cool effects to them and post to a wall for viewing and sharing between users. Instagram is a competitor of Pinterest and was recently acquired by Facebook but continues to run as a standalone platform.

How to manage your social media

So now you know that there is a plethora of social media platforms out there, all of which will take time to maintain. So how can brands effectively manage their multiple social media feeds?

Hoot Suite

Hoot Suite is a social media management tool that enables you to manage all of your Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+ feeds into an integrated dashboard. It allows teams of staff to manage social media collaboratively thus sharing the load and provides in-depth analytics reports allowing brands to summarise performance.

Hoot Suite offers free accounts with basic features, a Pro account for a monthly charge and an Enterprise version with price on application.

Conclusion

Social Media is a must for aspiring brands. But ensure that before diving blindly into it, you strategise and plan to create compelling and relevant content that your target audience will want to see.

There are various platforms and tools out there to ensure your social media activities are managed as cost effectively as possible.

Also ensure that your varying social media profiles are designed well, consistent, slick and memorable so your brand builds an impeccable reputation online.

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