Breaking Marketing Barriers Through Social Media: Part I

Issue: 
January-February 2011

SOCIAL MEDIA HAS GROWN from being a passing trend in the global marketing industry to being an integral part of any small businesses’ marketing strategy. The question for most small business owners is no longer whether or not they will use social media as a marketing tool, but rather how they will fashion their online presence to create a buzz. The beauty of social media is its accessibility and affordability. Not only is it a marketing tool for big multinational corporations, but also it is an arena in which small businesses can emerge as key players in their respective fields. With the right strategy and a sincere attempt, small businesses can grow and develop their reputations with unparalleled outreach. Arboriculture companies would do well to begin to employ the tactics listed below and capitalize on these newly emerging opportunities.

In 2002, the first generation of social networking sites were dismissed by many as being a fad. Eight years later, statistics suggest otherwise. The number of blogs as indexed by Technorati stands at 127 million, with 230,000 of them being business related. In effect, millions of business owners are posting content in the form of product reviews, customer polls or online competitions every single day through the use of social media. These figures are undeniable, but what exactly is this ever-evolving marketing strategy called “social media?”

According to John Jantsch, award-winning social media publisher and digital technology coach, social media is anything but the textbook definition of the “4 P’s”: Product, Price, Placement and Promotion. In contrast, social media finds its foundation in the “4 C’s”: Content, Context, Connection and Community.
Jantsch defines social media as, “tons of relevant, education-based, and perhaps user generated content that is filtered, aggregated and delivered in a context that makes it useful for people who are starving to make connections with people, products and brands they can build a community around.”*

What The Heck Is It?
Examples of social media are blogs; social networking sites like Facebook and Myspace; podcasts such as Apple i-Tunes where one can subscribe to audio or video files; professional social networks such as LinkedIn which puts business professionals in touch with each other; content communities for specific types of media such as YouTube; and microblogs like Twitter, which sends bite-sized content in the form of updates to mobile phones or email accounts.

The most important characteristic of social media is its ability to encourage interaction between people. Social media marketing is not a one-sided dictatorship where product benefits are proliferated; rather it is an ongoing multi-faceted conversation between consumers and product or service providers. “It blurs the lines between media and audience,” says Antony Mayfield, Vice President, Head of Content & Media at iCrossing in his e-book entitled, What is Social Media? Social media helps provide small businesses with a degree of transparency that traditional marketing tools fail to do. Consequently, consumer trust and confidence increases which becomes the foundation for a long-term relationship.

How Does It Relate To Arboriculture?
In the arboriculture community, like any other industry, there remains many questions to be answered from potential customers: How safe is commercial tree climbing gear? How reliable is modern tree felling equipment and machinery? How does the global economy affect this industry? Likewise, arboriculture business owners also have questions: How can I improve my product or service to better fit the needs of clients today? Who are my main competitors in this field? The two-way conversation that social media creates allows for these questions to be answered directly. Social media provides small business owners with the platform upon which to build a specific customer base as opposed to the once-off customer produced by quick-fix marketing schemes.

Building Affordable Bridges
Social media enables marketers to create a sense of community among customers. Interactive face-to-face forums between arborists such as Ontario’s Annual ISA Conference & Trade Show can ultimately be re-created online and serve as community-forming tools with which to market arboriculture products and services to those both inside and outside of the industry. Social media has the ability to connect big groups of people as opposed to speaking directly to one or a few people at a time. This is made possible by social media grouping, where a community forms around a certain hobby, interest, passion, or in the case of small businesses, a particular product or service. Very simply, social media almost eliminates the “hit and miss” factor, as it gives the marketer access to a community of people who share an interest in the product or service, and all at an affordable rate.

Market research, the primary footstool of any marketing campaign or objective, is an area that is often neglected by small business owners due to lack of resources, staff shortages or time constraints. We all know that reaching quality people is far more important than sheer quantity. By engaging with potential customers, determining their wants and needs directly, and allowing them to play an active role in the evolution of a product or service offering, social media equips the small business owner with key knowledge on the preferences of their target audience. Profiling customers is no longer a guessing game, but an educated, well-informed direct conclusion of results.

Evidently, social media is here to stay. Arboriculture companies are at the forefront of sustainability and nature preservation – themes that are becoming increasingly prevalent in times when environmental degradation is a worldwide issue. The global community, as well as the local community of arborists, should continue to cultivate online discussions. Social media is the tool with which small businesses in any field can begin to contribute, offer solutions, and most importantly, build a profitable, loyal customer base. For this reason, arboriculture companies would do well to jump on the social media bandwagon and start building a strong online presence.

*excerpt from Let’s Talk Social Media for Small Business Volume 2, John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing, e-book, pg 5

Supercharge Your Online Presence
Brand Consistency is the Key to Success in All Marketing Forms

Before you begin setting up social media accounts, take a minute to outline your marketing goals. How will you measure success? Who is your competition? Why are they successful?

FACEBOOK
• exceptional low cost marketing with a span of over 300 million users

Sign up for Facebook, www.facebook.com, and create a “Page.” Make sure you add a profile picture, potentially your logo, and fully complete your profile with contact information, services, etc. If the page is half finished, people won’t be as likely to join and follow your company’s progress. Make the page fun and interactive. Upload pictures and videos – make sure to post updates and company news as well. Your posts can include links to interesting web pages, the celebration of a new hire, a job posting, an award nomination or a new partnership. Don’t be afraid to suggest your Page to “friends.” The more friends who “like” your Page, the larger your outreach will become. When one person likes your Page, it is posted on their news feed which is seen by ALL of their friends. Friends with the same interests or hobbies might be inclined to “like” your Page as well – spread the word organically.

Setting Up Your Company’s Facebook Page
Once you have created your personal Facebook account, scroll to the bottom and click on “About.” Scroll down on the left side until you see a link for “Create a Page.” Select the type of business you own and start filling in all the details. The more info you add, the better your page will be. Don’t forget to add your logo. Once your page is created, look to the left side bar and click “Suggest to Friends.” This will allow you to invite your contacts to join the group. FYI: Google ranks Facebook pages high in search engine results.

TWITTER
• incredible marketing platform, has grown exponentially in the past year

Create an account to secure your company name at www.twitter.com. Twitter has compiled a 101 Guide to help small businesses get started. Check out http://business.twitter.com/twitter101 for full details. Take 15 minutes to do some searches on the Twitter site – this will help you understand what kinds of messages are being posted. Searching for your competitors is a good place to start. Here is a great article on how to use Twitter to grow your business: http://images.businessweek.com/ss/09/10/1006_twitterville/index.htm.

COMPANY BLOG
give your small business product credibility or entertain potential clients with engaging content

Reserve a domain name (www.yourblog.com) for your blog. It can be a name similar to your business or something completely different, however it should be descriptive (Google incorporates the words in your domain name with search results). If you don’t have the technical know-how to set up your blog, there are several free alternatives. Visit http://wordpress.com and/or https://posterous.com. Ideally you should link your blog and company website. Feeding articles into your site is optimal (this is called an RSS feed). You may want to cross post from your blog to your social media accounts as well. Increase your credibility with your blog entries and make sure to keep the content exciting. The entries don’t have to be frequent but they should be consistent. For example, write a new entry every second Monday. Blogs require a long-term investment but they will help build your online presence and attract customers.

LINKEDIN
• a business driven social network for professionals, with nearly 50 million users from over 200 countries

This is another site you should reserve your business name on, or in other words, set up an account, https://www.linkedin.com. Similar to the way you might start exploring Facebook and Twitter, you should look around on LinkedIn to see how your competitors are using the service. You might also look up your customers and connect with them. A unique characteristic of LinkedIn is the ability to “recommend” a company or person. Don’t be afraid to ask a client who is registered to write a recommendation for your product or service. The recommendation will be posted on your wall and will give you credibility with new customers.For more information on recommendations and how to make them optimal, check out Chris Bogan’s article, Elements of a Good LinkedIn Recommendation, at http://www.chrisbrogan.com/elements-of-a-good-linkedin-recommendation. LinkedIn also allows you to join “groups” which may be relevant to your company. Often there is a dialogue between professionals to which you can contribute. Try and establish yourself as specialists in the subject. If you don’t find an appropriate group, you can always consider starting one.

Social Media Brand Consistency
Try and keep your username consistent across the various social media platforms. For example, make sure your Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter accounts use the same names so customers can search the sites for you without confusion.

Namechk, http://namechk.com, will check 50 of the most widely used social networks to see if your username is available, including the aforementioned.

Do a Google search on your company name immediately and review the results. Are the results consistent and accurate? Major social network sites tend to have very high ranking pages – they may rank higher than your website which is exactly why they are essential.

Lastly, don’t forget to review your business email addresses. To ensure professionalism jill@yourcompany.com is a good way to proceed. Alternately you may want to use yourcompany@gmail.com.

The Authors
Brianna is the founder of Cherry Media (www.cherry-media.ca), a digital media company specializing in web development, graphic design and search engine optimization (SEO) – with a social edge. She recently finished her Masters in Environmental Studies and holds a Bachelor degree in Computer Science. Brianna loves everything digital and has even branched off into video production. When she is not in front of the computer, you will find her dreaming of her next adventure.

Nazir is Cherry Media’s online marketing specialist. His marketing passion is fuelled by the online world and its ever-evolving capacity. Nazir specializes in SEO and online business development. Being on the forefront of online marketing has allowed him to watch the industry grow and to learn the dirtiest tricks of the trade. If you want your site ranking high on every major search engine, Nazir is your man.

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