All Businesses Should Take Social Media Seriously – Published in the Santa Barbara News Press in February of 2011

According to Shawn Mulchay, President of Socialmash Media (805.312.0375); “the world is changing and more people are navigating their lives online in one fashion or another – to communicate with friends, research something, find deals & coupons, get their news, purchase goods or for just for entertainment.”  We are in the midst of a technology revolution.  Though the implications of this are broad-based and somewhat difficult to fully grasp, one thing is certain, businesses that do not embrace change will be swept aside.

Recently, I decided to start writing a blog again.  I had been writing a blog for an industry website for financial professionals a few years ago, but this site failed and I lost all of my content, which was extensive.  Since that time, I have focused on building my business through traditional methods – primarily word-of-mouth.  While I have found some success, the reality is that people are increasingly looking to the Internet for content, information, entertainment, and solutions to their problems.  There is no longer any stigma attached to shopping online.  In fact, shoppers are probably just as likely to have their credit card information stolen getting gasoline (which happened to me twice last year) as they are to have it stolen online.
The problem with traditional advertising, according to Mulchay, is that; “As consumers we’ve become immune to traditional advertising. We turn the commercial off as soon as we recognize it as such. What’s the greatest benefit to DVRs and Tivo?  The fact that we can fast forward through commercials.  The biggest problem with traditional ads is that they are usually intrusive, disruptive, unwanted and irrelevant. They carry little value or relevance in the eye of the consumer and they push a monolog message (one way).”
Businesses have increasingly turned to technology, and specifically to the Internet and social media, for new, more effective and efficient methods of advertising their products and services.  Mulchay states that; “The largest advantage to social media marketing is that it isn’t about pushing out a distinct message, but rather engaging a community in a dialog as it revolves around your industry, product, or business.”
Social media is the use of web-based and mobile technologies to turn communication into interactive dialogue.  By using sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, Twitter, and others, advertisers can customize their message to a specific demographic group, and thereby focus their efforts and their dollars on those individuals that most closely meet their ideal customer characteristics.
Mulchay relates that social media is the most affordable form of marketing there is.  He prefers not to call it marketing because he feels it is something greater than that; “It is building human connections, communities, relationships, and friendships.”
Many business owners, like me, are inexperienced at best, when it comes to using the Internet and social media to attract customers and clients.  After establishing my new blog, I looked for ways to attract followers to it.  My thought process is that I can provide research, commentary, and other information of interest to potential clients, who will (hopefully) like what they see on the blog and my website, and will think of me when they need the services I provide.  The problem is that, although I have a blog, and I am adding content to it daily, I don’t know how to attract followers to it.
I also have an ulterior motive – I am writing a novel, and I want to get it published and distributed.  In speaking with some friends who are writers, I have been told that the publishing business has changed dramatically over the past few years, specifically due to the influence the Internet has had on the book industry.  What I have been told is that many agents are now social media/Internet marketing experts, and that, to sell books these days, authors are using social media to attract interest in their works.  I hope to use social media to generate interest in my novel (if I ever finish it).
Social media is not free, even though it is often thought to be. It is free to set-up, but it takes time, thought, creativity, and determination to make it effective.  According to Mulshay, there are some very important rules that come with building a social community around your brand:
·         Listen to followers. They can determine your success or become the root of your failure.
·         Treat followers as friends and don’t ever sell them out or blatantly sell to them.
·         Be respectful of their time and interests. Post no more than 1 time per day.
“The best way to sell through social networks is to not sell at all,” says Mulchay.  “Treat it like you’re hanging out with friends at a party. Be cool, be natural, and above all else, be human.  If you approach social media in the same fashion as traditional media you will lose, and will waste your money in the process.   Befriend people, entertain them, reward them and deliver them unique content that is relevant to your trade or business.  Ask them questions and encourage their feedback. Actually listen to what they say.  Use humor. Only be serious in situations where it is appropriate. Be considerate of people, be humble, and be down to earth in your interaction.  Respond to everyone and make them feel unique and special. Reply several times throughout the day. “
I met Mulchay through Jonathan Siegel and Brendan Searls.  Brendan is one of the owners of Dargan’s and Jonathan and Brendan are partners in the new Brendan’s, and just opened their first Brendan’s location in Camarillo at 1755 East Daily Drive.  I wrote the business plan for Brendan’s, and Shawn Mulchay handles the social media activities for Brendan’s leading up to their grand opening.
Mulchay says that; “Brendan’s Irish Pub’s Facebook page got as popular as it did because people could depend on it as a resource for their questions, input, or general feelings. They knew that if they posted they would get a specific and unique response back, usually within 30 minutes to one hour.  We work hard to create unique and ‘behind the scenes’ content for our community. We only post once a day, but respond to comments throughout the day.”
Brendan’s developed a very active following in only a few months, leading up to their grand opening, drawing over 3,000 followers in that short period of time.  Mulchay advises; “Think of social media like opt-in marketing. You only have your audience’s attention for as long as they permit you. If you’re not posting relevant content, or if you become a nuisance, followers will choose to opt-out.”
Mulchay states that the “Best Practices” in building a social community include:  
  • Post no more than 1 time per day 
  • Be relevant, fun, and have a sense of humor. (It’s OK to poke fun at yourself)
  •  Be humble. Don’t take it for granted. Be respectful and say your “Thank Yous.”
  • Post at high volume times of the day: 11AM, 3PM, and 8PM.
  • Use rich media (photos/videos) where possible.
  •  Have contests and give away free stuff/prizes — make it fun!
  •  Ask questions of your followers. Let them make decisions for you and your business.
  • Use Facebook ads from the start. You may have to spend a few hundred dollars to jump start your social community.  Try holding a contest to attract people.
  • Respond to negative comments. Don’t simply censor everything that isn’t to your liking. Use censoring sparingly (only for slurs, racial matters, provocative words or accusations.)  If it’s a legitimate complaint then address it, don’t erase it.
  • Create a landing page that instructs visitors to “Like” your page, or to take a specific action.
  • Take it offline with a city-wide scavenger hunt or another event or activity
  • Facebook is the 800-pound guerrilla in the virtual room, so, for small businesses, it is best to place your emphasis on Facebook.  Twitter is secondary and location services are less important.
I know that many business owners have ignored, avoided, or just plain turned their backs on the Internet.  Social media seemed to be such a complicated concept to me that I just didn’t want to invest the time and effort into understanding it, much less using it to expand my business.  However, the fact is that in today’s highly competitive, technology driven, Internet-centric business environment, every business owner needs to embrace social media and Internet marketing, if they wish to prosper.

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