Sunday, August 9, 2009

Can Social Networking Really Make a Small Retailer Any Money?

After spending time this week at a social media conference, it's pretty clear that many “business gurus” have social networking on the brain. It's Twitter this and YouTube that, yet, when I walk down Main Street, I don't see YouTube videos or Twitter names. I see retailers trying to make ends meet, whose hours are already chock full to the brim and who don't comprehend how such online promotions can help them. Sound familiar?

While listening to a seminar on how to demonstrate a return on investment for social media activities, I couldn't help but wonder to myself, "What can my retail clients get out of Twitter or YouTube or Facebook?" For some, a lot of their clientele is outside the tech-savvy demographic, so what good can they possibly get out of investing countless time, effort and resources into these technologies?

If you want to actually make social networking cost effective and productive for your small brick-and-mortar business, here are several ways to do it:

  1. Don't duplicate effort. Many retailers feel like they need to be on several platforms at once - and that takes a lot of time. Instead, I recommend signing up for a few services - like, for example, Twitter and Facebook - and then centralizing most of your participation. For example, you can post things on Twitter and have them automatically appear on Facebook by logging onto Facebook and setting up the Twitter application there. Also look into Friendfeed as a tool for leveraging content.

  2. Make it really easy for people to find you. Put your Twitter or your Facebook ID out there so people can find it. Put it in your ads, your website home page and on your business cards. Sign up for these sites with the same account name now so you have them registered for when you may want to use them – remember when someone started tweeting as Shaquile O’Neil under the @shaq account at Twitter. Secure your account name now.

  3. Participate in the conversations that you find. Once a day or so, visit these sites and see whether or not any conversations are going on that are related to you - and participate in them. Offer what you know - and be honest about it.

  4. Offer up deals. Go on Twitter and offer up a coupon code for your business. If they come in and say they're using the "August Twitter coupon," they'll get 15% off their next item or maybe get a voucher for a free design consultation. If you have things set up right, you don't have to duplicate effort - just post it in one place and it'll propogate out everywhere.

  5. Be focused - keep in mind why you're doing this. For a retailer, the reason to get involved is to retain existing customers and attract new ones to your store. The best way to do that is to be human and to be responsive. Answer questions and be lighthearted, but don't obsess.

Social media does not have to be a big time drain at all. Instead, it can be a very inexpensive and very simple way to retain customers and perhaps find a few new ones with little effort and almost no cost at all. Keep it simple, tell your customers about it, share what you can and start today.

So, can social media really make a small retailer any money? Yes!

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