The Internet highway really is a lot like a highway. Every time you get into your car, you face the real possibility of having an accident. Yet, every day, you kiss your family good bye and strap yourself in. You figure that by being a safe driver, you’re reducing the risk of getting into an accident AND the rewards of being mobile and arriving at your location in minutes or hours instead of days are a definite plus. So you drive.
The recent issue around Facebook’s privacy compared to the positive results that so many socially active CEOs and businesses have experienced got me wondering about how to leverage all the benefits of social media, and be open – without being SO OPEN that you put your privacy at risk. So what’s more important to you? Privacy or being found and chosen by your ideal customers?
There is no right or wrong answer. You can be successful either way. NOT deciding, however, will cause you to waste a lot of time and money. And you probably can’t afford any of that.
Your Customer Can’t Choose You If They Can’t Find or See You
Your customers have already created new behavior habits when they shop. When they make the decision to purchase something, the first thing they do is go to Google and type in some keywords around your product or service. Ninety percent of your customers only consider the first page of their search results.
An investment in search marketing is a solid strategy that will help your customers find you. Focus your efforts on Local Search and make sure that you visit GetListed and claim your business name and location for at least Google, Bing and Yahoo.
There is extremely low risk to your privacy in doing search engine marketing. The only people who might twinge at this are consultants and free agents who work from home. Google prefers that you put in a real address and NOT a PO Box. To decide whether to use your real address, consider the business you are in and the real probability that using your address will put you or your business at risk.
Your Customers Buy From People They Know and Trust- Let Them Get to Know You
Building solid relationships has never gone out of style. But it looks different these days. When you’re about to have a high-level meeting with someone, chances are that the first thing they will do is Google your name and search for you on LinkedIn. And what they see (or don’t see) will color their impression of you and your company.
LinkedIn is the Google of professional bios and resumes. People who search LinkedIn are either looking to understand your professional background OR they are looking for a specific expertise because they have an opportunity or question. Neither of these are something that you wouldn’t share with another professional.
Of course, they are also looking to see if you know any of the same people. Again, nothing you wouldn’t share at a networking event.
The privacy glitch occurs in the sharing of those connections with other people. But you can make one safe and big assumption – if the people in your network are ALREADY on LinkedIn, then they expect you to share. So don’t be afraid. To set your privacy line, ask yourself:
What's the opportunity cost of NOT being found by a buyer or decision maker when they are looking for a resource or an expert in a particular field?
How to Set Privacy Priorities
Scott Allen, the author of The Virtual Handshake, advises small business owners to look at seven characteristics that might be important to your company and your community; credibility, character, quality, strength, competence, relevance and diversity. Choose the top two priorities for your business and then focus your social media strategies on the sites that will help you achieve that.
If you are in the B2C (Business-to-consumer) market, then having a large number (quantity) of people in your community would be important as would having a wide variety of people (diversity). If that’s the case, then it makes sense to put yourself and your business on Facebook and Twitter. Don’t worry; you don’t have to tell the world what you’re doing every minute – think of it like talking to customers as they walk into your facility. Have informative and educational small talk on line. Your customers will love you for it.
If you’re in more of an industrial or B2B space, then the characteristics of credibility and character are more important. Consider participating in more professional communities such as specific groups on LinkedIn. Other terrific professional communities include SBTV.com, a small business news community and FOCUS.com, a community of small business owners and experts who share their expertise via a question and answer format as well as the opportunity to submit “Business Briefs” that share experience and findings with small businesses.
Before you set your privacy line too high and risk not being found, being ignored or possibly maligned by customers, develop a social media policy. This is a basic statement about what your mission and goals are around social media. Get clear on what kind of information is most valuable to share with your community and then be consistent.
It will take practice, but don’t be afraid of sharing the unique way you do your business and what sets you apart.
Ivana Taylor is CEO of Third Force, a strategic firm that helps small businesses get and keep their ideal customer. She’s the co-author of the book “Excel for Marketing Managers” and proprietor of DIYMarketers a site for in-house marketers. Her blog is Strategy Stew.