Lately, I’ve had a lot of conversations with local business operators about the value of using ‘Social Media’, and there are some common threads in those conversations worth sharing.

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For example, I often hear things like:

“Why does my competitor have a Facebook page for his business?”
“What’s the big deal with this Twitter thing?”
“What am I supposed to talk about?”
“We sell sheds and aluminum fencing; my customers don’t use Social Media.”
“It’s a waste of time… Social Media is for teenagers… I’m too busy.”

Some of these statements sound a bit negative I think, but don’t worry; I also hear things like this:

“I don’t need to pay for advertising, I use Facebook and it’s free.”
“All of my marketing is ‘Social Media Marketing’ it delivers the greatest ROI”
“Traditional Media (Newspapers, TV, Radio) is dead, but Social Media is the future.”
“Social Media keeps me in better contact with my customers and my competition”
“I encourage all my employees to use Social Media.”

The topic of Social Media is incredibly polarizing among local business operators, and not surprisingly, especially when you consider that we are living through the largest (not one of the largest… the LARGEST) fundamental shift in the way we communicate in our history.

Frankly, a shift of that magnitude can be, well… pretty scary and intimidating!

But here are some takeaways you should know that relate to how you do business:

1. The various types of Social Media platforms ( Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Quora, YoBongo, Flickr, etc.) are always changing, & will always be changing. Don’t rely on them as a constant.

2. The BIG deal with all of this stuff is that it’s another way for us to communicate and build relationships. Being able to communicate, and building relationships will always have value.

3. Just because you can have a Facebook page for your business doesn’t mean you should have a Facebook page for your business. There are lots of reasons your competitor might have one, and not all those reasons are necessarily good for business. You should stop yourself before you even get started and ask “Why?” why do you need any of these Social tools? The answer shouldn’t be “ Keeping up with the Jones’s”.

4. Be helpful and genuine in your Social Media efforts. Post things and engage people in a way that you truly believe will provide real value to them. Don’t just be a peddler trying to sell your wares.

5. You might think the people who buy your products don’t use Social Media (i.e. aluminum fencing) but they do, I promise. They may be a small fraction of your customer base, but they’re incredibly valuable because potentially, they’re your most influential customers.

6. If you think only teenagers use Social Media then why are you reading this?

7. Facebook is not a marketing strategy; it’s a tool in the marketing toolbox. Every form of advertising has strengths and weaknesses, and to use any medium well means accepting that, learning about your tool of choice, and diversifying.

8. You should have very clear business goals in place for your Social Media efforts. You need thoughtful metrics in place so you can measure results along the way. When you talk about the ROI of your Social Media efforts, what are you really measuring? Is it ‘Friends’ or ‘Followers’, redeemed coupons, online purchases, overall revenue, or something else?

9. You’re probably right if you think Social Media is a big part of our future, but this shouldn’t be surprising. We’re social creatures after all, and it’s in our blood to seek connections and relationships. However, don’t discount the power and value of traditional media; you can cast a large net with the ‘megaphone’ of tools like Radio to inspire people and drive engagement with you online. The future will be more about a blending of media rather than about types of media living or dying.

10. Lastly, one of the most powerful aspects of Social Media is it supercharges your ability to listen. Yes, it’s important to ‘talk’ in these Social channels, but listening is a skill lost on most business folks choosing to work in Social Media. Listen to your customers and your competition. Ask questions, seek feedback, take the time to listen to responses… and then actually respond! Think of it like a big cocktail party; who ends up being more compelling, the person who talks about themselves all night or the person who seems genuinely interested in what other people have to say?

Remember, Social Media platforms like Facebook and Twitter weren’t necessarily built to help you sell more stuff, and most local business operators who’ve found success using Social Media have had to work really hard at it.

But hard work pays off, and there’s a lot to gain here. A lot of local businesses enjoy deeper, engaging relationships with their customers as a result of Social Media, and those are key ingredients in the big consumer relationship gem – TRUST. After all, we tend to spend time with people we trust, and we tend to spend money with businesses we trust.

But what do you think? Has Social Media had an impact on the way you do business? Leave a note in the comments below here if you feel like sharing, and thanks for reading.