Game Changer

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Social media is a marketing game changer. Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In, YouTube, Delicious, blogging … the list goes on and on. Many of you are probably using some of these channels personally; some are also using them for business. If you aren’t, you might want to consider how to get involved. It’s a new world out there!

Social media requires thinking a little differently and understanding the social media culture of community. Social media is all about relationships and network building, and that’s why it can have a positive impact on building your business.

Case Study

Randi Thompson has embraced social media, which has had a dramatic result on her way of doing business. Randi is a horsemanship educator who’s also starting a new venture offering marketing strategies. She’s operated Horse and Rider Awareness (HARA; www.horseandrideraware­ness.com) since 1974, and in 2001 created her first website.

She says, “I’ve been involved in learning Internet marketing and social media for about two years. I began by helping a friend take his financial business to the top of the search engine rankings. During that time I opened my Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts, but never used them in that niche. In short time, I could see what all the marketing experts now know, that Internet marketing and social media is the way of the future, especially for people who love what they do. It was then that I decided it was time to take what I had discovered back to the horse industry.

“And so, I returned to Facebook and started my HARA business fan page. It was a leap of faith! I didn’t know the people who were on Facebook and was not sure how I would connect with them. I began by sharing training tips and teaching techniques. I loved how people began to interact with me. I tried to post at least once a day, make responses to others peoples’ comments, and set a goal of adding at least three new horse friends to my profile each day.

“Soon afterward, I set up the fan page ‘How to Market Your Horse Business.’ I thought that no one would notice I’d started that page and left to ride horses.

“When I returned later, I noticed that I had spelled “business” wrong and was going to delete the fan page and start over. I was shocked to see that over 150 people had already joined that page! The next day another 200 joined. That was when I realized that horse people really wanted more information on how they can market what they love to do, and that many of them are active on Facebook. This page has about 1,600 fans currently.

“Social media is the easiest and least expensive way for most people to market and promote what they love to do in the horse industry. With social media, we develop relationships with people who are interested in what we have to share with them. I’ve had success before with the more traditional forms of marketing and promotions, but nothing like this. Being on the social media sites has also been a benefit to my branding. I have become visible and people now recognize my name or business I am writing under.

“It has been fun watching some of my comments go ‘viral’ and end up all over the Internet as people keep passing them on. Now people are joining my fan pages and requesting my friendship without me having to look for them because they like the valuable content I’m sharing with them.

“A Facebook business page will get you up in search engine rankings faster than your Website, too. Websites can become invisible very quickly in today’s rapidly filling Internet market. It took my fan pages less than two weeks to rise to the top of the ‘keywords’ that I choose as their titles. Now, many marketing gurus are choosing to use their favorite social media site as a living website instead of the traditional brochure type of Website that can easily go stagnant. That won’t happen if the owner knows how to keep her Website alive with traffic [visits via links] from the social media sites.”

Social Media Basics

To maximize your benefit from social media, consider the following:

1) Set social media goals. Determine what you are hoping to accomplish with social media: increased traffic to your Website, improved search engine ranking, increased market awareness, another avenue for customer service, client communication, education and motivation, or a stronger sense of community, for example. Make your goals specific, achievable and measurable. And then remember to measure and analyze your results so you can tweak your efforts accordingly.

2) Social media is social. It gives consumers a more intimate feel and connection with you. After all, people do business with people, so they want to get to know you, the person, not the business. Think ahead of time about what you want to be public about you and what you don’t.

3) Active and direct selling on social media is frowned on. Social media experts say that no more than 1 in 10 posts should be a sales pitch, and you should send people back to your Website for the actual sale. If you sell more often than 1 in 10, you are likely to offend people and they’ll stop following you.

4) Remember that the Internet is STICKY! Only put stuff out there that you want to stick to you. You can’t erase it once it’s out there. Take the high road and keep it professional. It is possible to raise topics in thoughtful ways rather than negatively venting and bad-mouthing. It is also possible to get into debates in a positive way that surfaces many valid points around a particular issue. Focus these discussions on issues, not people.

5) Give it time. This has a couple of meanings. First, schedule time in your day for social media. If you have chosen to set up a fan page on Facebook, be sure to get there regularly to listen to comments. You don’t want to provide a forum for cyber-bullying. Second, you need to make a long-term commitment to social media. You probably won’t feel the results of your efforts overnight.

More Insights into Social Media

Julie Goodnight, Julie Goodnight Natural Horsemanship: “I’ve been using social media for a couple years, and it’s an evolving network. It’s always changing—you have to keep up with it or be left behind. Many horse professionals don’t want to sit down at a computer and do this stuff, but that’s where their clients are. My marketing has changed a lot, and my use of the Internet is increasing more and more. All my social media is tied together and about driving people to my Website. I use no direct mail, and my print materials are decreasing every year.”

Emily Wigley, Fish Bowl Farm: Wigley has been producing a blog for three years “written” by one of her school horses. The blog helps to build horsemanship knowledge by daily observations of the horses. Look for it at www.fishbowlfarm.com—Biscuit’s Blog.

Nanette Levin, Halcyon Acres, www.HalcyonAcres.com: “Time spent contributing to LinkedIn (LI) threads allows you to spend valuable hours in a highly targeted manner. My participation in LI has lead to referrals for starting under saddle training and interest in horses bred and raised on the farm. I also use LI to ‘watch’ people and have connected with several vendors I’ve hired, and also found a couple of future authors for the Horse Sense and Cents series (www.HorseSenseandCents.com).”

Gail Harrington, Black Magic Farm: “I use my Facebook profile and fan page, LinkedIn and an LI Black Magic Farm Group, Twitter, YouTube, and I maintain an extensive business Website. LinkedIn has been great for me to connect my customers to other business people who provide services/products that they need and will purchase from. One customer purchased a custom saddle, another bought custom dog collars, and a third purchased ancestry histories for her Arabian horses. All three transactions were from LinkedIn contacts that I suggested. Many of my customers are professionals and are on LinkedIn to maintain business contacts, thus they are accustomed to using LinkedIn themselves. During the 2010 show season I’ve encountered many people that I’ve known over the years who mention that they keep up with what I’m doing, where I’m going, and what horses are for sale at my barn via Facebook, so I know that social media tool is definitely working for me.”

Sarah Pratt, HorseJobs.ca: “We use our blog, Facebook and Twitter primarily for business outreach. I have found we have reached a much broader audience, and our site traffic and membership subsequently has increased. LinkedIn has a more professional, businesslike air about it, and I tend to use LinkedIn for my own personal development. I’ve learned a lot through these groups; there’s a lot of knowledge and experience out here.”

Elisabeth McMillan, EquestrianProfessional.com: Wrote “Equestrian Professionals’ Social Media Guides” that explain the basics. She also has shared information about Groupon and a horse trainer that sold 540 lessons in three days.