Are you at a disadvantage owning a physical business in a digital world? Not at all. The introduction of smartphones and tablets has made the internet a part of our physical world, but your social media strategy isn't going to be identical to that of an eCommerce site or community.
What does it take to pull ahead of the pack using social networks? It's probably best to start with.
What Not to Do
I'll be frank: social media is not a sales channel. It is virtually impossible to sell products or services directly using social media. Some exception can be made for buying advertisements on social networks, but this hardly counts as social media marketing in the first place.
So what's the point? Reputation and customer retention. People who hear about you on social media are unlikely to need your products or services at the exact moment they hear from you. However, if they hear about you on social media and you make a good impression, they are more likely to think of you down the road when they do need your products and services.
Furthermore, if you manage to use social media to build an ongoing relationship with a customer, they will continue to buy from you, rather than jumping on the next great thing at a moment's notice.
Questions: Asking and Answering them
One of the most powerful tools in your social media arsenal is the question. Questions, whether you are asking or answering them, mean you are listening to people, interacting with them, and that you care.
Twitter is a great place to search for and answer questions. You can restrict your search to a specific city by, for example, searching “near:Seattle” and, if you like, “within:25mi” to get results within a certain distance. This allows you to find and answer questions from people who want to know about subjects that relate to your business.
Don't use these answers as an opportunity to drop a line about a sale or anything like that. Instead, focus on building credibility with your answers, which often leads to subscribers.
You can also answer questions on Facebook Pages, Events, and Groups, so be sure to join these communities if they are in your area or about subjects related to your business.
Other good places to answer questions are Quora and internet forums.
Answering questions is a good way to steadily build up your following. Once you have a decent-sized following, start asking your subscribers questions, the kinds of questions that keep a conversation going. Be sure to respond and ask followup questions to keep things moving.
Questions are at the heart of conversation. Remember, social media is about conversation, not broadcasting and announcements. You can certainly use it to make announcements, but only in this context.
Influencers: Get On Their Side
In addition to relationships with your customer base, you want to get influencers on your side. These are the social media personalities that have already developed a strong following, and who can use this influence to boost your reputation...if they care to.
Getting influencers on your side often starts with promoting them first. Search Google+, Twitter, and Facebook for such larger than life personalities who happen to live in your general area (if you are a local business).
Be the first to give a thoughtful and helpful answer to their questions, and contribute to the conversations they are a part of. Don't be afraid to email them (or call them!) directly in order to give the conversation a more intimate tone.
If these influencers have a book or a product to promote, do some of the promoting for them. As with your own products, don't get too “salesy,” but re-share their content and mention them in a few of your blog posts. Try getting in touch to see if they'd like to be interviewed by you or if they'd like help with any projects they're working on.
Most influencers will be happy to return the favor with some cross-promotion, as long as you are willing to put in the effort first.
Be sure to interact with them like people. Do not construct your emails and messages the way you would construct ad copy. Pay attention to what they like and what they are interested, and talk to them the way you would talk to somebody if you were trying to make a friend.
In addition to relationships, content is an important part of a social marketing strategy, even for brick-and-mortar businesses. This gives your target audience a reason to subscribe to your blog and social accounts, knowing that you will have something helpful, interesting, or entertaining to share on a regular basis.
Some businesses can only manage to share content that they have found elsewhere on the web, and this isn't necessarily problematic, especially for small businesses. However, it is worth considering creating your own content, since this increases the likelihood of other people sharing your content and drawing viral attention to your business.
When you create content, you should focus most of your attention on these things:
You can use promoted Facebook ads to get this content in front of people in your area in addition to sharing it on your own profiles. This can help exposure and increase the likelihood of your content going viral. However, if the content doesn't seem to get shared often as a result of the ads, the issue is usually with the content, not the spending budget.
Remember, the goal of social media is not to sell. It is to create and strengthen relationships that will naturally lead to sales and long term customers.
How else can we use social media to promote brick and mortar businesses? What has worked for you?