Small businesses are realizing that social media is here to stay, and they are taking notice because becoming a social brand can help drive revenue.  Traditionally, small business have used outbound advertising platforms like direct mail, cable television, newspapers or yellow pages, but today outbound marketing strategies have largely been replaced by inbound strategies.  Integrating social media into the marketing mix isn’t an option anymore.  Rather, it’s vital for driving new business growth and remaining competitive.

Many small businesses have thrived simply by using word-of-mouth to promote their products or services.  A successfully deployed social media campaign kicks this process up a notch by helping small businesses to dramatically amplify their messages and reach new prospects.  While many small businesses have already jumped on Facebook, they don’t realize that simply joining the social media arena isn’t enough.  In truth, these businesses have barely scratched the surface of the digital bazaar.  In all fairness, however, many large enterprises have yet to fully integrate social media strategies.  After all, social integration requires allocating time and money to those efforts, and many businesses remain unwilling to justify the investment.  However, companies both large and small risk failure the longer they put off becoming social brands.

I recently interviewed Joanie Schwarz (@Joaniesart), a Westfield, New Jersey photographer and mother of two, who has had a long career in illustration, including her work on a series of Nancy Drew Notebooks for Simon and Schuster.  These days, she is trying to grow her small business beyond the boundaries of Facebook by branching out to the higher levels of digital engagement such as Twitter, Google+, and Pinterest.

For Joanie, becoming a social brand hasn’t been that difficult. She is already a warm, compassionate person, and her Facebook page currently sports over 2,400 “Likes.”  Her experience shows that, for businesses large or small, being a social business is about building relationships with people. We don’t do business with a logo—we do business with other people. People want to document great images in their lives, and through the warmth apparent in her photos of people, children, babies and dogs, Joanie puts the value of relationship building front and center.

Real world, social world

Seemingly everyone Joanie has met recently is starting to use Twitter, and she is fascinated by the platform’s ability to foster interactions with people around the world.  Of course, her primary goal is growing her small business while still juggling her job.  Fortunately for Joanie, her assistant, Erica Furman, is just as enthusiastic as Joanie about the idea of moving beyond Facebook.

So where should their journey start? First, before any brand decides to become social they should consider these 15 key goals and objectives for business a must read.

Second, learning the actual “how to” of using social media is key.  I wish I had a penny for every time I’ve referenced someone to Lynda.com.  The site’s social business training programs are paced at your level of learning, and within a few training sessions you should be ready to hit the social slopes of Twitter.  Well maybe not the black diamond slopes, but certainly at least the bunny trails.

Third, remember that using social media effectively IS a little like learning how to ski. Even if things start a little shaky, after a few successful runs you’ll be ready to try it again! Below is my slide from when I was asked to speak at AT&T’s first Annual Networking Leaders Academy Conference at their Bedminster, New Jersey office on “Expanding Your Influence: Lessons in Social Networking.”

Now, let’s get granular in Joanie’s social reach in order to help her find social media exposure and recommend places for her to explore beyond just Twitter. My first suggestion is that she read,”Why Photographers Should Love Twitter,” which is filled with wonderful ideas for photographers looking to give Twitter a try.

Twitter chats are another goldmine for small businesses to build communities.  A great place for Joanie to start learning about this practice is by checking out these Twitter Chats – #TogChat  #PhotographyChat.

Let’s also give her a Google+ community, since she enjoys taking images of yoga. Now that Google+ started communities of their own, Joanie might want to check out Google+ Photographer Communities.  Another great social haven for photographers is the Pinterest Community of Photographers. Flickr also has a great photography Flickr Chat Group that offers another potentially rich resource for learning to build communities.

Part of the art of being human is that we can be our own source of social energy in order to transport ourselves into the digital bazaar.  We mustn’t become so frustrated and fearful that we don’t at least consider options beyond Facebook.

So let’s crowdsource and open up this discussion.  What recommendations do you have for Joanie on her quest towards becoming a social brand?

 

 

Cheryl Burgess (@ckburgess) is a digital and social brand consultant, blogger, and speaker. Her knowledge of business strategy, passion for creative expression, and marketing technology helps businesses achieve the remarkable. AT&T has sponsored this blog post.