Small business: Your business online - Wendy Thompson

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Wendy Thompson owns Socialites, the social media agency. Wendy and her siblings have also launched a side business called Start Social a toolbox for SME businesses who want to be on Facebook and look professional

Wendy Thompson, owner of Socialites. Photo / Supplied
Wendy Thompson, owner of Socialites. Photo / Supplied

Thompson's Socialites clients include DB, Hancocks, retailers and financial institutions as well as personalities such as Annabel Langbein. In the last year for one client of Socialites grew their Facebook fanbase from 200 to over 55,000 to become the number one brand in their category by fan numbers and engagement. As an international brand, it is now the example used to all the other countries of how best to run social media. Socialites recently launched Swedish cider brand Rekorderlig new Orange-Ginger flavor on Facebook with an interactive map of Stockholm where fans could 'hunt' for the new flavor in order to win pre-launch launch samples.

How is it some small businesses have a lot of people talking about them and others operate under the radar. What are they doing differently?

The businesses that launch with a hiss and a roar are not doing so by accident.

These businesses have a really proactive marketing and communications plan. For SMEs especially, this usually includes an influencer campaign where investment is put into encouraging well-connected industry people with large social media networks to spread the word about the new business.

The second and just-as-important step is to set up an easily accessible way for potential customers to connect with you. This is where a good social media presence comes in. It could be in the form of a Facebook page, Twitter account, Instagram, Google+ etc. Recent studies show that 81 per cent of people's purchases are directly influenced by their friend's social media activity, so if your business can get enough fans to talk about you on social platforms the word-of-mouth will do it's work.

What can SMEs do through social media to raise their profile? And what sort of investment is this going to be?

Social media is a fantastic way for SMEs to build their brand and drive sales. It's best to start by thinking what your prospective customers would like from you. What incentive can you give them to link in with you and tell their friends about you.

SMEs can run promotions, create interactive games, advertising campaigns and put in place in a key influencer strategy. Investment-wise it depends on budget, you can engage the services of a social media agency or for businesses that want to DIY you can use a resource tool which gives advice and has the tools you need to run Facebook promotions like which starts at $1 a day.

Another great way to raise profile that I don't think enough companies use as yet is to partner with other complimentary brands and advertise each other's promotions, or to pool resources and run a co-promotion.

To build a strong Facebook community base quickly, Facebook advertising is the best I've ever come across in terms of targeting, for example if you want to talk to 20-26 year old people that love cooking, no problem, only people that are engaged to be wed, just click a button. You choose your investment, anything from a $10 day campaign to thousands. Just like with all media, the more you spend the more potential customers you will reach.

What are your tips to small businesses?

The most important thing to remember with social media is that it's not one-way advertising. It's about building a community, a platform where fans can discuss your product or service in a public open forum. You need to be 100 per cent authentic and genuine. There is nowhere to hide on social, if something isn't right with your product or service then this is where you'll find out! Fans don't expect perfection all the time, it's how you handle the inevitable 'hiccups' that earn you the most respect. Of course at the end of the day you want sales, so do encourage people to use your product/service, but use non-corporate words, for example if you're a garden centre you may say: "Another beautiful day in Auckland to get into the garden. Pop in for garden inspiration and lots of fantastic specials. Our coffee is smelling divine too!"

There is a great benefit to operating like this and opening up this coal face conversation. For example a client of ours had so many requests to bring back a discontinued line that we decided to put it to the test with a Facebook poll - if we get 10,000 Likes on this post we will bring in a container. It was risky but we got the 10,000 Likes so it's on its way! Without Facebook the client would never have known there was such a demand for the product.

Any other advice SMEs need on their profile?

A social media platform isn't a 'set and forget' like a billboard or flyer drop, its important to have a plan in place of what you want to regularly talk about, and someone in the company (or your agency) who has the responsibility to look after it daily, moderate any inappropriate comments, answer questions etc.

Think about why a prospect customer would want to interact with you on social.

Are you giving them extra specials, chances to preview your product before anyone else?

Also, set measurements, targets and goals and then regularly review. Just like with all marketing activity, social media is accountable. There are plenty of quantitative statistics to track like growth, reach and engagement but it's also important to track qualitative for brand and sales drivers, for example, how many times did your fans say something along the lines of "I love your product, I am now going to go buy some!", If you have an eCommerce site you should record through analytics, visits from your social media platforms.

One other thing, a company's social media channel is not the place to go on personal rants or comment on politics or religion! Keep that for your personal profile.

Does the activity vary if the business is selling direct to consumers versus business to business?

As with all companies it really does depend on target audience. There are some great examples of B2B brands running great social media campaigns. It comes down again to the "fish where the fish are". As a general guideline I'd recommend if you have a B2B technology or corporate-targeted audience then LinkedIn should be a serious consideration.

How do well established small businesses keep updating their offer without losing current customers? Tell us your stories. Email me, Gill South, at the link below:

- NZ Herald

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