#1: Don't Ask How, Ask Why
Just because social networking is hot, that doesn't mean it's right for every new business. Don't just ask yourself what your social networking strategy should be. Ask why it should be, and why your target customers should care. Seattle-based Jones Soda couldn't afford pricey TV commercials to launch its brand of beverages. So it used social media to connect with consumers in very personal ways. Fans can upload photos that can be printed on Jones bottles. Today, it has over 1 million submissions and has used upward of 4,500 of the photos for bottles -- which consumers can collect and trade on the Jones Soda website. As founder Peter van Stolk recently told BusinessWeek: "We allowed the labels to be discovered, and that gave consumers a sense of ownership. With big soda brands, the Britney Spears model of paying a lot of money to some hot artist to sponsor your beverage is so done. The wonderful thing about our competitors is for all the money they have, they should be thinking more originally but they don't. If they ever do, I'm dead."
#2: Keep It Events Based
Certain consultants (and business book authors) can have success using social media to share their stream-of-consciousness about things happening in their fields of expertise. But for most small businesses, a much more strategic approach is in order. Think of social media as digital direct mail -- the ability to deliver a limited-time, social network-only offer. Countless small pizza shops, for instance, offer weekly specials on social networks to get people into their stores. One shop, called Golden Knights pizza, has discovered 40% of its business can come from these efforts, according to Clickz. In fact, according to a recent Rice University study, Facebook fans of one Houston-based café chain visited 20% more often, and spent 33% more, than non-fans.
#3: Keep It Social -- And Keep 'Em Coming Back
Youth-oriented discount travel company STA uses social media to enable customers to meet other people who love to travel, and who may be part of the vacation packages they purchase. Users can read about other people's adventures through their own words, tips, pictures and videos. And they can ask experts about travel related issues. Best of all, every month, the company offers travel prizes to Australia, Japan, Europe and other destinations. And Twitter and RSS feeds will even send STA subscribers the cheapest flights so they can stop spending hours online searching for the best deals.
#4: Don't Just Pitch, Sell
The price of developing apps for Facebook is coming down, and with ingenuity, can even be revenue builders. Pizza Hut recently launched a Facebook app that enables customers to place orders without leaving their profile pages. There's no reason a small company, say a local sandwich shop couldn't do the same. Los Angeles startup ice cream truck company Coolhaus takes a different approach. In addition to differentiating itself with ice cream sandwiches designed using architectural principles -- with names like "The Mies Vanilla Rohe" and "The Frank Lloyd Light" -- "we roam the entire radius of LA and update our location on Twitter," co-founder Natasha Case tells Young Hollywood. The idea: To entice people out of offices and onto the street for an "ice cream social" that racks up serious sales.
#5: Don't Just Talk, Listen
Social networks are also an excellent way to solicit feedback from your customers. Perhaps you've heard of Dell's "Twelpforce" (or Twitter help force), a team that fields questions, offers and suggestions and sends Twitter-specific promos to followers. There's no reason why your startup can't use social media in the same way, answering any questions your customers have about the products they've bought from you. Of course, as sophisticated as that may sound to monitor and respond to social networking chatter, it should be noted that it's far more useful to have highly-trained, highly-effective customer service in the first place. If you want to get cutting edge, start there.
Adapted from THE ON-DEMAND BRAND: 10 Rules for Digital Marketing Success in an Anytime, Everywhere World by Rick Mathieson (AMACOM; April 2010; $24.95 Hardcover; 978-0-8144-1572-6).
© 2010 Rick Mathieson, author of The On-Demand Brand: 10 Rules for Digital Marketing Success in an Anytime, Everywhere World
Author Bio Rick Mathieson, author of The On-Demand Brand: 10 Rules for Digital Marketing Success in an Anytime, Everywhere World, is an award-winning writer and leading voice on marketing in the digital age. His insights have been featured in ADWEEK, Advertising Age, Wired, Broadcasting & Cable, and on MSNBC, CBS Radio and NPR, while his next-generation business models have earned recognition from USA Today and Dow Jones Interactive. His first book, Branding Unbound (AMACOM 2005) was widely praised in the business press. A regularly featured speaker at industry events, Mathieson also serves as vice president and creative director for Creative: Advertising & Interactive Media, one of Silicon Valley's most prominent advertising agencies. He lives in San Francisco, California. For more information, please visit www.rickmathieson.com and www.ondemandbrand.com, read the author's blog, become a fan on Facebook, and follow him on Twitter!