Social Media: Like learning to drive.

shutterstock_143002084Social Media isn’t quite as scary as learning to drive, but it’s close.  OK, so maybe you’re not in control of a 1 tonne metal box careering towards some pedestrians but, in terms of your business, it’s not a bad metaphor.  Social media can be stylish, powerful, enjoyable and useful but, in certain circumstances, lethal.

Even the most confident or advanced driver remembers their first lesson, hands gripped at 10 to 2, the clinging to the curb and the overwhelming sense that you were never going to get the hang of changing gear whilst looking where you were going.  Once you’d mastered the practicalities and logistics of driving and learnt your highway code, it was time to learn the difficult stuff; the etiquette of the road.  Like all things, there are unwritten customs and codes to driving that it takes a while to master, often specific to your particular area.  What does flashing your lights mean?  How is one expected to merge?  Why is everyone so intolerant of cyclists?

Using social media for your business is a similarly terrifying ordeal.  Fear is the barrier my clients most often cite;  the fear of being told off, the fear of failing.  Once you’ve learned how to actually log in to the page and set up your account you are still sat in the driving seat, motionless, terrified of being berated by another driver or, worse, crashing into a lamp post.

And it’s the etiquette that is often more frightening than the logistics.  Hashtags, retweets, likes and favourites can be very difficult to get the hang of if you’re going in cold.  What was once seen as the done thing can quickly become a bit naff or, even worse “spammy”.  The media is full of horror stories of businesses which messed up their social media monumentally, which turns people off in their droves.

However it doesn’t have to be like that.  Social media marketing is accessible to everyone, with enough practice and the right instructor.  So here are my 5 tips for starting out.

1.  Get off the driveway

Often clients come to me with an account set up, but no posts and few followers.  They don’t know where to start.  Start with a few simple text posts to get you started, reply to a few people.  Whilst they’re unlikely to set the world on fire, nothing disastrous will happen whilst you get your confidence and work out how it all works.  And remember: You cannot break the internet!

2.  Look and Listen

There are plenty of people on social media who have been doing it for ages, steering with their arm out of the window.  Watch and learn.  You will soon get a feel for it.  Some people find hashtags the most baffling but, once you realise they are just giving your post a ‘label’, it (should) slowly become clear.

3.  Ask for directions …. or lessons

Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  Everyone is a learner at some point and nobody will mind, or laugh, or point.  This can be directly engaging with the people in your network or getting some lessons from your friendly neighbourhood social media trainer (do you see what I did there).

4.  Get a regular MOT

No business is on social media for the hell of it.  If you are, you shouldn’t be.  Be constantly focussed on what your objectives are and whether they are being met.  I can’t emphasise enough that “selling stuff” should NOT be your objective here, but rather “reaching a new audience sector”, “finding partners”, and “engaging with your customers”.  It’s difficult to be objective.  Ask a third party to have a look over your activity and see how you come across.  A friend or colleague will do, or bring in a professional.  Do your posts represent your business personality and values?  Are you engaging with the right people?

5.  Don’t do it drunk!

Enough said.

Social Media can open up a whole new world to you and your business if you just have the confidence to get started.  Before you know it you’ll be winding down your windows and belting out Gold, by Spandau Ballet.  If you feel like you need a little help (not with the singing), book a 1to1 training course or workshop and I’ll help you on your way.

Social media at conferences and events

“Events, dear boy, Events.”  As we begin to emerge from the winter gloom, it’s time to dust down the display banners, load up the business cards and launch ourselves into exhibition season.  This year, make sure you are using social media at conferences and events.

I’ve spent most of my career attending trade shows and exhibitions of one form or another.  In the early days, no one had any email access and a mobile was a luxury (but hey, they were in the South of France and we had parties on yachts so it wasn’t all bad).   Today, delegates carry their whole communications system in their pockets and services are demonstrated with slick, tablet presentations.

The principles remain the same.  Exhibitions are a great way to meet new clients, providers and contacts and sow the seeds for long term relationships, whether you are hosting a stand or, like me, prefer to be the conference ninja, flitting from stand to stand, arranging coffee and stealthily sizing up the lie of the land.

Social media is your friend here.  Used properly, not only will it give you a fantastic insight into what’s going on, it will also ensure you squeeze the most engagement out of every contact you meet (and those that you don’t).

To help you on your way, here is my “Armadillo Guide to Exhibitionist Social Media”

Before the Event

Get your materials in order

  • Conferences inevitably require a lot of stuff: business cards, brochures, flyers, giveaways and promotions.  Make sure as many of these as possible show how to find you on social media after the event.  It’s not enough to give them your email, make sure you include your Twitter or Google + account or Facebook business page if you have one.   I automatically add new contacts to my social networks and I curse you if you make it hard work!

Let people know you’re going & get involved in discussions

  • Most events now will have a designated #hashtag.  Start using these in your tweets and updates as soon as you can.  Anyone searching the hashtags for information on the event will see you and know that you are planning to attend.
  • The same goes for LinkedIn.  Start some discussions in relevant groups, comment on the organisers’ updates.

Do your Research

  • Just as you publicise your own attendance, use the same methods to suss out who else is going, whether customers, affiliates or the competition.
  • Use the tools at your disposal.  Think about creating a Twitter list or tagging them on Linked In (you can do this privately)
  • ***warning*** If you are doing this, so are your competition so be careful out there!

Start your conversations

  • A simple ‘see you there’ tweet goes a long way when you’re trying to stand out from the hoards

During the Event

  • Keep using and following the hashtag
  • Post regular updates reminding people that you are there and where to find them.  You can always schedule these in advance if you are concerned about finding the time.  Don’t be afraid to delegate this to a trusted employee.
  • As always, have a strategy in advance about who you are trying to attract and how.
  • Be visual.  If you have a stand, share photos on all your platforms so people can recognise you.
  • If you are giving stuff away, let people know about it.  We may all be professionals but secretly people will go out of their way for a free gonk!
  • Comment on meetings and events.  Don’t go overboard and give away state secrets, but mention people, tag them, get involved in discussions about seminars, break out groups etc.  Some conferences even promote Twitter streams on screens around the venue, so you never know who might be watching!
  • Again, keep an eye on what’s going on.  Is there a seminar that everybody’s talking about that you can slip into?  Is someone attending that you would love to speak to?

After the event

  • Follow up, follow up, follow up
  • Tell people you were there.  Write a blog post, share your thoughts, learnings and success stories.
  • Go through your contacts and add everyone you met on all the social media platforms you can get your mitts on.
  • If there were people you didn’t get to see, a quick ‘sorry I missed you’ tweet can work wonders.

So there you have it.  All you need to make sure you get every penny’s worth of value out of your conference activity.

As always, if you think this is all marvellous but need a little help putting it into practice, give me a shout about my social media training