Being a part of the online community is no longer a choice if you want to be relevant in today’s business world, says Karen Burton, marketing and communication co-ordinator with the Provincial Exhibition of Manitoba.
“It is not a matter of if you should be on social media, you have to be on social media. Society has pushed us in that direction,” Burton told a recent workshop in Brandon. “Everyone is online. It is not something that can be ignored. If you are not on it, chances are your competitor is and they are beating you to it.”
The workshop on how to leverage the power of social media was sponsored by Entrepreneurship Manitoba, Economic Development Brandon and the Brandon Chamber of Commerce.
Dustin Redfern, equipment manager for Redfern Farm Services, says his company just recently joined the online world and he attended the workshop to gain a little insight on how to make the most of it.
“We have just started on social media within the last month. We joined Twitter. You see all of your competition online and using these social media. So, we wanted to get on there and make sure that we are just as accessible to our customers as they are,” said Redfern. “The online ag community is larger than I ever thought. It has been an eye-opener to see how well used it really is.”
For those who have yet to try social media, Burton says to be patient.
“Everyone has to start somewhere and it is still new technology to many. It takes time to grow your audience,” said Burton. “But, the benefits of engaging are huge. You are able to learn who your existing or potential customers are, what they are concerned about, the problems they may have and what they really want.”
Communication, not advertising
Burton says users should look at social media as a method of communication, not advertising.
“Social media is a conversation. It’s about talking and connecting. People don’t want advertising or to be constantly marketed to. They are on social media for engagement and social interaction,” said Burton. “It should be looked at as a way to pique people’s interest in what you have to offer.”
She said social media is a way to grab the audience’s attention and develop a relationship where you can further direct them to your website or collect their email.
A big part of being successful is understanding who you are trying to reach.
“If you are unclear about who your audience is or what you want to say, you won’t be getting the most out of it,” Burton said.
She recommends focusing on one social media platform at first.
“If the audience you are trying to reach is primarily on Twitter, then just focus on Twitter. It is better to be present and active on one platform than to have a number of platforms with little activity,” she said.
She also recommends sitting down and creating a social media strategy, outlining what you want to post and the points you are hoping to get across.
Redfern says that posting for his company has been a bit of a challenge, in comparison to posting personally.
“When you are posting for the company, you need to have meaning in your posts. I don’t want to put something out there that isn’t relevant,” Redfern said. “And, you’ve got to stay with it for sure and it takes time. Even just to go take a picture and write something about it takes time out of your day. Finding time can be an issue.”
To develop a larger audience, Burton suggests using your existing customers to help build up followers through testimonials.
“‘So and so said… that our product is…’ and tag the person offering the testimonial, and now all of their friends are seeing this and that expands your reach,” Burton said. “And, ask your friends and family to like and share your posts. By engaging their circle you are able to reach a larger audience.”
Burton said social media can also be an advocacy tool for the industry.
“I absolutely think that social media can be a venue to help the urban-rural divide. Urban residents want to hear from that rural voice but they don’t know where to get it,” said Burton.
“So use your voice, use the value that you have in your existing customers to engage with urban residents. This can also be an opportunity to bring in even more customers.”