It’s no secret that social media can be one of the best ways to generate new business leads, especially for small business owners. I’m living proof of that; at Jester Creative, many of our clients have come from connections we’ve made through blogging, and via social networks like Twitter and LinkedIN. I am a huge proponent of small business owners participating in social networks, and I encourage it whenever I can.
Leveraging social media in small business is a very effective approach, but it’s not without its challenges. Lots of entrepreneurs jump into social media wholeheartedly – setting up blogs, Twitter accounts, Facebook pages and more. Soon, they realize that, while starting these accounts is free, the work it takes to maintain them by regularly providing relevant, timely, compelling content can be pretty overwhelming. It’s a challenge to strike a balance between running a business and maintaining an active presence online.
I’ve been travelling the social road for about 5 years now, and I can tell you with certainty that it’s changed my business and my career for the better. I have some suggestions for how you can manage your online time in a more effective way.
Don’t be a lurker.
Here’s a hard truth. If you really want to make a go of leveraging social media for your small business, you can’t just spend 10 minutes a day checking your Twitter feed and be done with it. It takes work, and a good chunk of work at that. There’s a big difference between simply “spending time” on social media and being an active participant in the community.
I know a lot of businesspeople that consider themselves “lurkers” in the social space. They “Like” the Facebook pages of their prospects but never comment. They follow plenty of people on Twitter, but they rarely post themselves. They subscribe to all sorts of industry blogs but don’t contribute their expertise to the conversation by writing their own posts or commenting on others’.
This is the online equivalent of showing up to a networking event and hanging around at the bar complaining to your co-worker that you find it hard to meet new people.
If you’re going to make a go of this, you have to start talking. You have to introduce yourself to people. You have to contribute to the conversations that are going on. This takes more time than just lurking. It takes thought, and effort, and guts to reach out your hand and say hello. But I promise you, 99.9% of the people in the online world (at least the ones who are worth your time) are friendly. In fact, they are here for the same reason you are – to get to know people. To talk. To share.
So start using your online time more wisely. Don’t lurk. Participate. You’ll find that your online experience will immediately become richer, and you’ll reap far more rewards, because people will actually get to know you, and perhaps, want to do business with you too.
It’s about integration.
Self employed people like us don’t subscribe to the 9 to 5, Monday to Friday world. We work when there’s work to do. We put in the hours. So why is it that I hear about so many people who try to fit their online presence into the mold of the workaday world? Twitter doesn’t stop at 5pm (in fact, it often just gets going around that time). People comment on blogs 24 hours a day.
I’m not saying you need to be on social media 24/7. But in my experience, it’s the people for whom social channels are part of their every day lives who have gained the most from them.
I carry my smart phone everywhere I go. When I feel inclined to post something to Facebook, Twitter, my blog, or someone else’s blog, I post it. It might be 7am on a Tuesday or 9pm on a Saturday. I check in on my accounts on a regular basis – when I’m in line at the grocery store, when I’m in between tasks at work, or when the commercials come on TV. If it seems like I’m “always on” it’s because in some ways, I am.
You need to stop looking at your online world as something entirely separate from your offline world. It’s all integrated now. It’s all your real life. If you want to make a go of this, I mean really make a go of it, then you need to look at social media tools as a way to stay connected often. And that means you need to be connected. You need to integrate it into your life.
Yes, we all need to shut down once in a while, not just from technology but from everything. I encourage that as a healthy way to stay balanced in all aspects of your life. But if you look at social media as “only work” then you’re missing out on the opportunity to participate on a truly human level. And given the choice, I’d rather do business with a human being than a lurker that posts once a day at 4pm when his computer timer tells him to.
And in the end…
You need to ask yourself what you want to get out of your online presence. You need to ask yourself if you’re willing to make the commitment required to spend the time it takes, to stop lurking and start getting involved. You need to ask yourself if you’re willing to take some steps to integrate your online life into your offline life a little more.
Then you need to just try.
Thanks to @katgordon for the inspiration for this post. I’m not sure if it’s what she wanted to hear, but it’s what I believe to be true. Hope it helps!
[photo by borabora]