Will Social Media Help Build Your Business?

Will social media help grow your business

Consider nine tips to guide your company’s growth

It might seem like everyone, everywhere is creating, sharing and prioritizing content via social-media platforms; so you might feel left behind if a social-media mandate isn’t on your immediate marketing menu. Relax — even if the really cool kids are Facebooking, Tweeting and Linking their way to fame and fortune that may not be your path. First, determine whether “going social” will help your business grow. The question is: how will you keep your establishment and brand relevant and resilient in a weak economy where communication and advertising budgets are tight and the pressure to “stay connected” is growing?

This is a good time to broaden your perspective about branding and what it means today. Strong, flourishing brands are cultural icons based on core values, or promises, made to and evaluated by staff, patrons and external influencers, including competitors, industry or government organizations and the media. These people are attracted to your brand and form a community around it. They take up residence in that brand community because it delivers on its promises. This is true whether you manage a multi-national hotel chain or a chic bistro in the hippest part of town.

The concept of a brand as a community could not be more applicable to the foodservice and hospitality industry. Customers rely on you for great food, service and atmosphere. Guests stay in your hotels and motels because they are destination points, either on the way to a final destination, or as the ultimate location to enjoy a vacation or business trip.

As for delivering on promises, this is a plate-service-to-plate-service, room-by-room reality. Mess up one element of the meal or the stay, and you’ll have to run damage control.

What’s this got to do with social media? The Internet is populated with a growing number of social-media platforms committed to growing a community of users. When you see your brand as a community, it’s only reasonable to explore every opportunity to grow that community. Social media is a worthy option.

It’s hard to resist the appeal of social media. On the surface, it looks inexpensive and seems relatively simple to get started. Hugely popular platforms, such as Facebook, offer many opportunities to present and manage content, including pictures, videos and promotions. Best of all, social media offers a permission-based channel to engage your brand community with a degree of measurability other mediums can’t match. But that doesn’t mean every business should leap blindly into the void, whip up a Facebook profile, start Tweeting like bird or Link up to every Tom, Dick and Harry. Before you do that, determine how a media investment will help create and maintain the value of your brand while building your brand community.

Below are nine tips to help chart your course to social-media happiness — or, at least a lot less misery.

1. Know Your Brand

Identify the core values and essential promises that attract customers to your establishment. Use real language to communicate this so it’s easy for everyone, including your staff, to remember.

2. Know Why People Like You

Identify what keeps your brand community engaged and invested. For example, how well does everyone inside your establishment know the brand and what it stands for? Try reaching out to your customers to learn what they know about you and what they don’t. Compare how your brand imagery, messaging and current use of media competes in the marketplace. How do you shape up?

3. Admit You Don’t Know Everything

Explore other hot restaurants or popular destinations in the industry to see whose brand messaging and imagery has traction. Step outside the industry and cross-fertilize your thinking by seeing what other smart brands are doing.

4. Plan Your ‘Social’ Calendar

If you determine that social media will play an important role in your brand’s growth, plan for success but expect surprises — such as the hidden costs of deploying current, relevant content. Who will create it? What are the parameters?

And, are there any regulatory issues that might hamper your efforts, impact your promotions or affect content posted by your staff?

If you’re going to launch social media-based promotions, make them entertaining so customers are keen to participate, while inviting others within their network to do likewise. And be prepared to give a little something to get something in return from your visitors or subscribers (such as an email address or referrals).

Lastly, prepare for the unexpected and keep your eyes and ears open. In many respects, the Internet is still a free for all. Angry customers can post nasty remarks, open a Face-book rant page and enlist others to join the fray. In the branding and social-media industry the effort to manage content on your site, and stay current on content from other relevant sites, is called moderation. Just don’t be moderate about your effort — this is serious stuff.

5. Shape Up Online, Work the Core

Strengthen key online components. Search-engine optimize your website, and make sure it loads quickly. Offer relevant content and reasons for visitors to return to your site and/or chat you up to their followers. Beef up your blog. Is content current, well written and linked to your other online environments? Respond to comments quickly and politely.

In what kind of shape is your existing customer or core database? Do you have customer emails? Have you developed an email newsletter? Is your content helpful to your audience or just a lot of fluff about how great you are?

6. Do the Google

Search engines can be useful in elevating online profiles and boosting search results. If you want to improve your rankings, engage a Google Qualified Professional to help. This is complicated work, and you’re efforts are better spent elsewhere.

7. Nothing Works Alone

No single type of media gets the whole job done. Big, famous interactive websites use TV ads to drive visitors to their URL. Coordinated use of social media with print, broadcast, out-of-home and database marketing tactics will never go out of style.

8. Be Social, for Heaven’s Sake

Employ other proven methods to build relationships within your brand community that employ a distinctly “social” approach: comp a loyal customer dessert; send personal thank you letters to corporate groups that use your hotel for conferences; call customers on the phone, or mail them personal invites to sample your new wine list. You’re in the hospitality business — this ought to be easy, right?

9. Rinse and Repeat

Every investment in brand communications benefits from review, adjustment and improved re-deployment. Given that the world is constantly changing, don’t count on any one thing to be useful forever. Just look at your fax machine.

Granted, these are a lot of suggestions to digest. So relax. Making customers happy is a minute-to-minute discipline. Measure that reality by asking if your business will benefit from more Facebook or more face time. The answer to that question will guide your efforts.

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