British Businesses Are Scared of Social Media
by Jo Shaer, on September 8, 2011
As I come into contact with more and more local business owners, I am amazed that there are still so many who don't take social media seriously. They just don't seem to understand that it is becoming part of our culture, ingrained into the fabric of society and changing the way that we do things forever.
Because it's not just about physically engaging and interacting with potential new customers, it's to do with persuading the search engine spiders that their website is sufficiently trustworthy to be on the first page of their results pages. SEO is about to become socially based and the term 'Social Share' has become very important.
Having said that, the various social media gurus who spout on and on about engagement and interaction on Facebook Pages and Twitter, haven't really properly analysed the British market and our natural reticence about public displays which might make us the centre of attention. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule, but the majority of local customers don't want to have a conversation on either Facebook or Twitter with any of their local shopkeepers in their leisure time - unless they have a specific question that needs answering. In which case, their first natural action will be to call them up or email them to ensure that they get an immediate answer. And, talking to friends, they don't want to be inundated with special offers or information that they haven't asked for. It's a very fine balance.
Yes, social media is good when you're researching a potential purchase and this is where it all gets a bit confused. People will go onto Facebook and ask their friends which laptop or games console to buy via a status update - sometimes whilst they're actually in the shop. We will buy based on the recommendations of our friends and the search engines know this - which is why they now rank the opinions of people in our social networks above factually more relevant entries on the personalised SERPs that they produce for our queries.
But why does that mean that every business needs to have a Facebook page? Do you wake up in the morning and think 'I must like that page about the general store around the corner'? The plain facts are that some business types just aren't sexy - but they should still take advantage of the opportunities for mobile checking in offered by Facebook and Google... and Foursquare. People like checking in!
However, many businesses are scared of social media - and the Facebook Page in particular - because:
1. They Don't Understand It
Many local business owners learned to trade and advertise long before computers became mainstream. Their businesses have grown using traditional marketing methods and they cannot equate this new-fangled technology with the success that they used to achieve with an advertisement in the Yellow Pages book. They are used to their customers calling them up to get the answers to their questions, not having a typed conversation or pre-empting a need by proffering information on a blog. This is why I was so excited when The Archers mentioned Social Media and SEO recently. Hearing the strategies and techniques discussed by someone impartial and with nothing to sell may have brought the message to a group of people who might not have understood it before.
2. They Believe It is A Big Waste Of Time
Who doesn't know someone who complains about spending all of their time on social networks? But it's more than that for businesses - there is the time it takes to set up the accounts and iron out a social media strategy plus the time it takes to learn how to use the tools and perfect the implementation. Results are not instantaneous and return on investment can be hard to quantify since it's about building trust, rather than physically selling the company.
Many 'gurus' advise businesses to become prolific content producers. However, my experience has been that what customers want is the answers to their questions and to be kept up to date with special offers. Inundating them with irrelevant information just makes them cross and that means they will block your output from their feed. So choose your content wisely. It's all very well posting on your business website's blog for the SEO possibilities offered by the search engine spiders but do your customers actually want to read about such information? However, if they do, then they will comment and recommend you across the various social media networks - liking, tweeting and +1ing. This social content equates to activity but, more importantly, it is a sign of approval and builds trust in your brand with both other users and the Google bots.
3. They Fear It May Allow Damage To Their Brand
Surely, a social media profile like a Facebook page is just an opportunity for customers who are not totally satisfied with the service they have received to vent their spleen on a public forum dedicated to that business? And, worse still, there's no cooling off period. If they're not happy, they don't have to wait until they get home to have access to their computer. With mobile smart phones, they can stick the boot in before they've even left the store.
Well, they could find a way to say nasty things about you on the internet, whether you're on Facebook or not. So, if you have a social media profile, you do need to monitor it carefully. And here's where the one to one communication becomes so powerful. Because you're not a blank faced business any more. You can connect and engage with your customers - happy or dissatisfied - and show that you care. These are golden opportunities to prove that - by dealing with customer service issues in public, in full view of any onlookers. Your ability to turn a situation around satisfactorily could be the difference between losing one customer and gaining three more.
You can't fake it on social. You are not a call centre who can fob people off or bury complaints and never get found out because it takes too much effort to complain. It's happening, it's now and you have to deal with it properly - even if you are flying by the seat of your pants. Just imagine how you would feel if you were the customer - how you would want things to be resolved. It really isn't rocket science. And, sometimes, it actually does your brand good to have some less than perfect reviews because it gives authenticity to the good comments that are there.
If you have a good reputation socially, when people search for keywords relating to your business, your brand/service will come up on the SERPs and this is all part of the levelling of the playing field that allows small businesses who make the most of both their Social Media and SEO opportunities to be David to more global brands' Goliath.
Social Share is going to be huge for local business over the next couple of years.
And those businesses who refuse to commit to creating a very high and reputable social presence will suffer as they are overtaken by their more trusted competitors.