I consider audience building to be the red-headed step child of social media. Social media consultants will tell you to generate strong content, but many don’t do enough to emphasize that the content is useless if no one is listening (if you have only 12 Facebook fans, for example).
At the same time, if you have 20,000 fans and horrible content, it simply means you have a large audience that isn’t engaged and isn’t of much value to your business. It’s the balance of posting strong content and attracting an engaged audience that makes social media a powerful tool.
Building your audience doesn’t happen overnight and, especially for small businesses, requires consistent attention. But you can get off to a great start by following some of the tips I suggest here. One word of caution: Beware of offers that guarantee you’ll acquire many Facebook fans or Twitter followers in a short period of time. In nearly every case, these followers are not authentic and will not lead to a return on your social media investment.
1. Import your current contacts and invite them to follow you on your new medium. Each social channel has ways to add contacts by importing or inviting your email contacts to the medium. Facebook (via the “fan page”) allows you import email addresses from a list or from other email accounts. Once you import this list, the people will receive a message that you’ve requested that they “like” your business page.
Twitter also allows you to integrate your email contacts by using the “Discover” page. Once you select the type of email account, Twitter will show you the contacts that are already using the medium. From there, you can decide if you want to follow these contacts individually or follow all of them. You can then invite your contacts that are already using Twitter to follow you. Rather than send an automatic email to everyone, however, Twitter will allow you to select contacts from a list that appears after you click “invite.” Using this tool, you can even send invitation to contacts who do not have a Twitter account. These messages will invite the reader to sign up for Twitter and follow you.
LinkedIn also has a similar tool, but I do not recommend using it because the messages sent using this tool lack personalization, which is very important when reaching out to potential LinkedIn connections. But, if you insist, LinkedIn has an “Add Connections” button that allows you to integrate your email contacts. Once you use this feature, the contacts will receive a message that says, “I would like to add you to my LinkedIn network.” On a business-centric medium like LinkedIn, it’s important to make every connection count by customizing the message and explaining reason for connecting. So rather than using this tool to send a generic mass message, I recommend targeting your current contacts that are high value B2B by sending them personalized invites to connect with you.
2. Integrate social media with your existing marketing efforts. Do you run advertisements in local newspapers? Perhaps you distribute a quarterly direct mail piece. Do you distribute a regular newsletter? If so, it makes sense to add your social media information to these marketing pieces. Honestly, it shouldn’t take a lot of effort to add your Facebook fan page URL or Twitter handle to a print ad, for instance. Also, be sure to include links to your social media sites on your website and your email signature.
3. Connect offline efforts with social media. Another key is to promote social media when you network, and to have ways to promote your social media sites to customers who visit your store or office. I like to use what I call, “social media cards,” which include all of my social sites. You can display these cards at your store or office, hand them out at networking events, and distribute them at trade shows, conventions, or speaking engagements. I’ve made mine a little bigger than a standard business card so that they stand out from the pile everyone has after a networking event. Social media cards are certainly not the only way to promote your social media sites offline, but they have been very effective for me.
My event décor client places social media cards in attendee bags at all of the bridal shows she attends. Many of the gals unload their bags when they get home (looking for goodies, of course) and stumble upon the card. For this client, we decided to push just one or two channels that we thought would resonate with brides. This past fall, the card read, “Need wedding ideas!? Check out our Pinterest boards” followed by the URL for the Pinterest channel.
You could also include links to social sites on the door sign or the sign with your store hours. And depending on the type of product you sell, you could even add small labels with social links to specific products. One of my clients placed a sticker on the door that included a QR code. When you scan the QR code with your Smartphone, it will request that you “like” the client’s Facebook fan page. We also placed a sign on the door announcing that the business participates in Foursquare specials. The sign encouraged customers who have the Foursquare app on their Smartphone to “check-in” on Foursquare and receive a special offer!
Be sure to experiment with new methods for building your audience. Social media is constantly changing and evolving, so it’s critical to find different ways to attract a bigger audience.