5 Teen Social Media Trends that Can Be Applied to Small Business
Some of you may already be riding the Internet wave (let’s face it, most of you probably are if you’re reading Mashable). The University of Maryland’s Smith School of Business recently did a study that shows the relationship between social media and small businesses and found that the technology adoption rates in the U.S. have doubled in the past year from 12% to 24%.
“I think what we’re seeing in the last 12 months is the trickle-down effect of social media from the major Fortune 500 and global companies who have been putting significant resources into large-scale outreach efforts,” says Dallas Lawrence, managing director at Burson-Marsteller’s Proof Integrated Communicationsand Mashable contributor. “Social media really has replaced the phone book and your billboard advertising of the past — it’s the easiest and lowest threshold of entry for these folks to do marketing,” he says.
Still, 24% is still a relatively low number, and only 16% of respondents have embraced Twitter — so small businesses still have a ways to go when it comes to truly engaging in the realm of social media.
Why? Well, according to David Spark of Spark Media Solutions (who has also lent his pen to Mashable), a lot of small business owners are concerned about time. You know the old song-and-dance, “I have no time to blog. I have no time to tweet,” etc. etc. Sparks says that this is all well and good, but that people don’t realize how much time they’re wasting by sticking to the tools of the old guard. Think of how many e-mails you send out on a daily basis. How many phone calls you make. Well, social media can not only cut down on those time-sucks, but also help you connect to a wider group of people on a more personal level. Moreover, it’s a hell of a lot more fun to keep up a fan page complete with FAQs and videos than it is to answer 1,000 e-mails all related to the same issue.
We know that business is, well, business, and the addition of a social media strategy is likely akin to “work” in your mind, but let’s, for a moment, focus on the word “social” here. Social means having a conversation. Social means interactions. Social means fun. So instead of casting this kind of campaign as a thankless chore, let’s think of social media the same way the younger set does — as a way to connect. Observe, five trends teens and 20somethings dig, recast as business ideas.
Listen to Gossip
When you were a teen, one of the topics that was probably of upmost concern among your social circle was what other people thought about you. Hell, there’s entire controversial websites dedicated to campus gossip and the rumor mill of youth. Well, we’re suggesting that you take this relatively negative juvenile trend and use it to your advantage. The web is basically one big comment card for your business — people have taken the time to fill it out, so you should read it.
“Small businesses are increasing the use of social media monitoring to help understand their own brand, industry, product etc.,” says Mike Rynchek, president of Spyder Trap Online Marketing. “Originally larger brands used social media monitoring as a means of judging engagement, customer service, etc., however smaller brands are learning this can be a great tool to gain a competitive advantage and develop means for differentiation. Now we generally use social media monitoring as a business intelligence tool.”
There are two ways by which you can tap into the consciousness of your customers: 1). By asking them for feedback, and 2). By lurking.
Heidi Carney, vice president of consumer marketing for True Lemon, a crystallized lemon flavoring, puts a lot of stock in customer opinion. “Even though we’re a very small company, we spend a huge amount of time knowing who our customers are,” she says. “We do a lot of customer surveys, we talk to our customers every single day… Almost everything that we’ve done as we’ve grown as a company has been reflective of the feedback that we get from our customers. As we’ve grown we’ve changed our packaging, our customers have always been a part of that process. We’ve changed our messaging, our customers have always been a part of that process. As we’ve introduced new products, they’ve always been a part of that process. Social media gives us a forum to solicit that kind of feedback,” she says. The True Lemon packaging even features Facebook and Twitter “Like” buttons, which encourage customers to go online and weigh in on the product.
Others merely lurk on the Internet, using tools like Tweetdeck and Google alerts to see what consumers are saying about them or to find potential clients. According to Spark, this kind of monitoring is crucial. Let’s say you’re dealing in a market that’s not yet down with social media. “You have the opportunity to be the one guy, the one company that is the most social media savvy,” Spark says. By finding out what people are saying about whatever realm your business falls within, you can then tailor your interactions and business accordingly. You can also drive people to your site or business.
Eliot Sykes, creator of the website MissedConnections.com (which is basically an independent, dedicated version of the the Craigslist version — although it’s not affiliated), uses TweetDeck to follow hashtags and phrases on Twitter to connect with people who are interested in the phenomenon of the Missed Connection. “A popular relevant tweet is ‘Do missed connections actually work?’” he explains. “Which usually gets a response like ‘@Asker: Yep, it’s a long shot, but many people do reconnect, HTH.’” It’s simple actually — Sykes is merely directing a willing audience toward his site.
Twitter and other social platforms should also be used for customer service. Lauren Drell, who runs the social media campaign for the eatery Luke’s Lobster, scours the web for mentions of the eatery. “We repost and retweet every mention and every blog post about us, even if it’s not particularly flattering, because I feel like everyone’s opinion is valid,” she says.
Facebook and the like are so popular among teens and the younger set because they allow kids to document their experiences and share content, something we learned from College Humor Co-founder Ricky Van Veenat Mashable’s Social Media Summit. What he means by documenting experiences is as simple as a status update or a link shared on ones wall: In the online realm, we are defined by what we share, and by hitching your wagon to a certain kind of content, you’re reaching a specific audience. For example, Van Veen and College Humor recently made a partnership with SoBe to create branded videos, thereby publicizing the drink as well as creating kick-ass new vids for the website’s fans to pass around.
According to Rick Burnes, who leads the content production team at HubSpot, a marketing software firm that produces the Inbound Marketing Blog and Inbound Marketing University, “The most important thing is content. What I mean by content is just creating interesting, useful information on all sorts of media about things your business is interested in. Blogging is the easiest format. You can created content on your site, and then share it on Facebook. You can also create photos and videos and share those on Facebook.”
When it comes to content, you can either create your own or get your fans in on the game. Sammy Davis, a young Internet entrepreneur who runs her own vintage business — Sammy Davis Vintage — creates content in the form of a blog, as well as her own branded online TV series. Davis was no stranger to social media when she struck on her own to launch her business — she quit her job producing Esquire magazine’s website to follow her dream, which began with selling clothing at local flea markets and progressed to owning her own showroom. Much of this business was grown through her blog and website, on which she educates her customers about how she and others shop and wear vintage clothing. Davis’s business is more than simply an online shop — it’s an online tutorial/experience.
User-generated content is also great for reaching a wider web of people. True Lemon has grown its Facebook Page from 1,034 fans to 7,000 in three months by asking fans to interact and share content — for example, they launched a game on Marilyn Monroe’s birthday in which they asked fans to submit pictures of themselves with Monroe-esque moles. By submitting such pictures and appearing on the site, fans feel a connection to the brand.
In line with the practice of submitting pictures comes tagging. The practice of linking people to pics — which has spread to Twitter recently with the addition of tagging to TwitPic — allows a brand to spread virally around the web. For example, Bridget Smith, marketing director and manager of the Tattoo Factory in Chicago, plans to tag customers’ tattoos in Facebook galleries (a lot of parlors have online portfolios on Facebook displaying the artists’ work, but few actually tag the customers behind the tats).
She even plans to do real-time updates by taking photos of the tattooing process with her iPhone and uploading them to Facebook and Twitter. This is a great way to spread the word about businesses that often rely on recommendations — like tattoo shops and bridal stores. When you tag a customer in a pic, that photo appears in his newsfeed, and is then seen by his friends, who will be more likely to check a business out once they see their friend’s virtual seal of approval.
Have an Attitude
From the early days of Friendster, to MySpace to Facebook — teens and 20somethings have always been into creating a personality on the web — a facet of the Internet culture a lot of small businesses have yet to tap into, relying too much on RSS feeds, generic newsletters and professional websites to get the word out.
“When it comes to social media, the ability to have the owner of a company directly involved with online conversations about the brand is what gives small businesses a huge advantage over larger corporations, who often (for liability or anxiety reasons) must run all messages past law and PR firms before posting,” says Jill Felska, co-founder of POP! Social Media, Inc. “When this is the case, tweets are days, weeks or even months old by the time they are posted –- and many times no longer relevant to the customer. The ability to be proactive and interactive in this digital age serves small business owners perfectly –- which is why it is to their advantage to get educated and involved on the platform.”
Probably the most important thing a small business can do is to have an engaging, dynamic online persona. No one wants to read a Twitter stream that only deals with menu updates or sales — people want to engage with a brand. In fact, a recent study titled “The Value of a Facebook Fan: An Empirical Review” estimates that someone who has Liked a brand will spend an average of $71.84 more each year on that brand’s products or services than will someone who has not Liked it on Facebook, for a total average annualized value of $136.38.
As Dallas Lawrence says, “Small businesses should be thinking of [social media] as the new town square. It’s where they can engage in a sustained and regular dialogue. Just as a small businessman knows, you can’t talk to someone one time and close the sale for a lifetime. You need to transfer what you know in the offline space to the online space.”
Therefore, take your in-store personality online. Audrey Marshall, VP of Online Marketing and PR forSomebody’s Mother’s Chocolate Sauce uses Twitter to develop the company’s brand image. “We try to focus on/follow our main demographics (Moms, Food Bloggers, the Specialty Food Industry) and develop conversations with these potential customers or reviewers,” she says. “We tweet things they’d be most interested in hearing, such as mom quotes, our president’s (Lynn Lasher’s) experiences with her children, specialty food news, and other relevant news items that pertains to moms or the food industry.”
In short — every tweet doesn’t need to be shilling your product. In fact, you should keep advertising-esque tweets to a minimum, and keep social interactions in the fore. That’s the way Sammy Davis does it. “I realized in live-casting my excitement, and my energy and my perspective and my personality, I was getting really positive feedback from the digital outlets — whether it was Twitter, Facebook, most recentlyFoursquare,” Davis says. “When I first started my Facebook fan page I decided I was going to overshare. I try to limit it so that it’s always relevant and entertaining, of course. I want my market to know what I’m doing because they get excited and they feel like they have control over my product.”
As we all know, social media is a great way to facilitate RL interactions, which can, in turn increase business.Tweet-ups — or social gatherings organized via Twitter — are great method by which to interact with your fans and customers. You can even get more creative with social media meetups, like Joe Sorge, owner of AJ Bombers, a burger joint in Wisconsin, did. Sorge has built AJ Bombers on the foundation of social media, utilizing everything from YouTube to Foursquare to grow his business. One of his most successful efforts involved the latter (in fact, Foursquare founder Dennis Crowley mentioned Bombers during his presentation at the Mashable Media Summit).
“When our customers using Foursquare started making comments in the tips or to-dos section, we noticed increasing sales of the items they were speaking about,” Sorge says. Driven by an interest in the medium and the success he was seeing, Sorge decided to delve even more deeply into Foursquare. He became particularly fascinated by the Swarm Badge, which requires 51 checkins in one location at one time. Sorge put together a Twitvite and started to invite folks to a Foursquare flashmob at the restaurant in an effort to attain the badge. The event was scheduled to take place at 3 p.m. sharp, but the restaurateur invited people to show up at 2 p.m. if they wanted to learn how to use the tool. By 3:02 p.m., the attendees had scored the swarm badge. According to Sorge, 161 people attended, 56 people signed up for Foursquare and it was the biggest sales day ever.
Play Nice with Others
Yeah, OK, so teens are more likely to foster online feuds that to forge alliances, so this is more of a call to action than a trend. Yes, competition is healthy when it comes to business, but you can also work together to reach even more effective results.
For example, small businesses can learn from each other. “I think that there are a lot of small businesses that are just getting started with social media — they definitely know about it and they might have already set up a Twitter account or set up a Facebook page, but they don’t really know how to use it — it kind of seems very overwhelming,” says Sarah Cooley, community manager of Postling, a tool that lets you manage all your social media account in one place. “At Postling we’ve been doing social media meetups for small businesses called ‘Sidewalk Collectives,’” she says.
In addition to giving fellow business owner a hand when it comes to mastering new tools, you can also band together for greater success. Sites like Groupon and Scoop St. are all the rage nowadays — Groupon features daily deals, which are only attainable if consumers get enough friends to agree to partake in them.
Luke’s Lobster, along with a cadre of other restaurants — Caracas Arepa Bar, Porchetta, Butter Lane Cupcakes and Xoom — got together during New York’s Taste of 7th Street food crawl to offer a deal on Scoop St. for a selection of menu items. “They’re all kind of along the same street — so one would think, in kind of a normal, more traditional business environment they’d be very competitive and kind of not talk to each other,” says Cooley. “But instead they use social media to retweet each others’ specials all the time. They realize that when it comes to small businesses, they’re greater when they band together to take down larger corporations than when they try to stick on their own.”
Drell, of Luke’s Lobster, commented:
“Group-buying models — especially for food crawls like the Scoop St. Taste of 7th Street — help businesses merge and share all of their fans, exposing all the businesses to a new cohort of potential customers. These customers get to “test” the business with friends at a discounted price, and are often active on social media, so we can track their steps on Foursquare and Twitter and get real-time feedback on the event and the food.
The food crawl was a great way to lure fans of our neighboring niche eateries like Caracas, Xoom and Butter Lane to try our food, and vice versa, so it was a fun, collaborative environment that celebrated our awesome block. We saw a ton of love for 7th St. and Luke’s Lobster on social media sites throughout that weekend, and we fed a lot of newbies who have since become regulars, so it was a successful event for us.”
So you’ve joined Twitter, put up a Facebook fan page and created some content for your blog. At this point, you may be tearing out your hair, wondering, “Where the hell is my ROI?” Well, take it from Lawrence: “Social media isn’t like Kevin Costner’s field of dreams — just because you build it doesn’t mean people will come.” Having a social media presence doesn’t necessarily mean your business will flourish overnight: In order to have any quantifiable effect, you need to keep it up and figure out works best for you.
Your demographic might be more into Facebook than Twitter — no customer base is exactly the same. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try out a range of mediums and see what sticks — afterall, being a teenager is all about experimentation, amirite?
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