One of the advantages I have in writing a question and answer small business column for USA TODAY for the past dozen years is that I continuously hear from a lot of entrepreneurs – what is working, what is not, what is old and what is new. Of course, the ideas, question and advice has changed a bit since 1997. Back then “Should I have a website?” was a hot topic. This year of course, it is “Should I tweet?”
That last question was posed to me in a column that became rather famous, err, infamous, because when I answered it I was not yet convinced that tweeting was the best use of time for some small businesses. But what happened next was illustrative of the power of social media generally and Twitter specifically: The column went viral and attracted a lot of attention.
So that was a valuable lesson. Tweeting in particular can be an invaluable way to get attention and build relationships. But let me suggest that, while the new conventional wisdom is that social media is a powerful brand-building tool, that misses the mark a bit.
Here’s the real deal: Social media is the word of mouth advertising for the 21st century.
It used to be that if someone liked your business they would tell a few friends and those friends would tell a few friends. But today, it is far more likely that someone happy with your business will
- Blog about it
- Post their experience on a forum
- Write a review on Yelp or some similar site
- Update their Facebook status with the news
- Tweet about it
The result is that 10 people won’t hear the word of mouth about your business, 10 times that, nay, 100 times that will.
For the small business owner, this presents a game-shifting opportunity. The chance to convert positive word of mouth into a viral experience is something that has never happened ever before in the eons-long history of business save for about the last two years.
You simply must take advantage of this historical, transformative opportunity. Here is how:
1. Ask for it: I have a pal who wrote a book and has far more reader reviews for it on Amazon than any book of a similar type. When I asked him how that happened, he said “Whenever people e-mail me about the book, I ask them for a review, good or bad.” Now that is what I am talking about.
It’s so simple, it’s brilliant.
Ask your customers to go online and review your business. Give them some links – to your site, your blog, a forum, wherever, and make sure to give them an incentive – a discount coupon or something. The more you are reviewed, the more you will be reviewed.
2. Engage in the conversation: Set up some Google alerts for your business and respond to whatever is being said, wherever it is being said. Engage in Twitter discussions, LinkedIn requests, Facebook fan pages and the rest.
3. Most important, give them a reason to rave about you: You can have the most creative, thorough social media strategy in the world, but if you are not offering a superior product or service in the real world, if you are not somehow exceptional, you give no one a reason to say anything about you at all.
These days, aside from my great USA TODAY gig, I have been asked to join this exceptional community at OPEN Forum, so let me know what you think. You can email me at OPEN@MrAllBiz.com, visit me at MrAllBiz.com, and, you bet, follow me on Twitter @SteveStrauss.