Heard It Through the Grapevine

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The social media game is not as intimidating as you might think. It can be fun and easy and one of the best ways to communicate with clients.

Social media continues to offer new horizons for communication and marketing. Though it launched in 2010, Pinterest has really blossomed and come into its own this year, with a reported 11.7 million unique users. And taking a look at mobile apps shows that there were more than 700,000 apps across the mobile platforms in 2011, with more than 14 billion app downloads.

Technology can be tough to keep up with and consequently it can seem easier to avoid rather than find a place for it in your business and communication strategy. Your clients, however, are part of those millions of users so if you want to reach them, you’ll need to go where they go. And the good news is that using these avenues is easier than you think, and they are completely free. This is the new age of word-of-mouth marketing where savvy users can make a big impact and cast a broader net than ever before.

First, these basics will keep you on track as you explore new ways to communicate with your clients (check out the sidebar for a primer on the more popular social media methods):

  1. Don’t let it overwhelm you – you don’t have to use ALL social media. Find one or two channels that works well for you and your clients and focus your efforts there. To find those channels, ask your clients where they spend the most time.
  2. Pictures and videos provide instant connection with your audience.
  3. Take advantage of mobile technology to reduce or replace the time you spend in front of the computer.

Tanya Rennie and Jim Jaeger own and operate Vienna Farm in Maine. Tanya laughs as she says, “I’m computer illiterate, and Jim is very good with computers, but not into social media. I’ve found, however, that Facebook (see their page) lets me communicate in a way that helps save some time. I can communicate clinic information and schedules. I don’t have to call everybody or have them call us. I can also convey information about our summer camps, shows we go to and other farm newsworthy happenings.” Tanya wintered in Florida this past year and made good use of her iPhone. “It used to be that I’d take lots of pictures and they’d stay on the roll for months. When we finally got them developed, I often couldn’t remember why I’d taken them. While I was in Florida, I posted pictures regularly using my iPhone and discovered how much people really love that pictorial connection. It’s really easy to do with an iPhone—easier than with a computer!”

Kim Wende, Passionate Horsemanship in Texas, uses a broad spectrum of social media to get her message across. You can find her on her channels every day (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, YouTube, LinkedIn), and she spends about 14 hours a week across all of them. “Social media is a great tool to build relationships with people. I recommend sharing valuable information with your followers and not lots of sales stuff. Since it can be easy for social media to be time consuming, you can limit your time by setting a timer. Social media can also be a very positive customer service tool. If you get a negative comment from an unhappy client, don’t delete it. This gives you the opportunity to turn things around and let your clients know you’ll do your best to work things out.”

“I use Facebook (see her page) to celebrate the accomplishments of my clients and their horses,” states Kassie Schuerr, A-Schuerr-Thing Horse Training and Riding Lessons in Arizona. “I offer training advice when clients message me on Facebook. It’s important to keep in touch with them and support them to have a wonderful experience in owning a horse. One of my clients was a very active cowboy until four years ago when a vehicle accident changed it all. He is now a quadriplegic and his only dream was to ride again. We fabricated a saddle, ramp and hoist system so that he could. There wasn’t a dry eye at the facility the day he rode for the first time. His Facebook page lit up when we and his family posted pictures. His page went viral and it changed his whole mindset, so he’s now determined to ride on his own.”

Jamie Clark of Yellow Barn Media (www.yellowbarnmedia.com), provides social media management focused on the equine sector. According to Clark, “Each social media channel is so different. I have been using each social media for different purposes and for different demographics. I love Twitter (see her feed) because it is quick and I use it to expand my network and meet others with the same interests. I feel it is low maintenance and easy to use once you understand the how and why. Typically when I say Twitter to my clients or potential clients they make a face and shrug it off as something they prefer not to use. Once they get it, they are excited to build it into their marketing plan. I use Twitter the most when I host or attend events to tweet tidbits of information as they happen. Even if you are physically at an event, tweeting and re-tweeting from Twitter builds synergy during the event.”

Clark continues, “I use YouTube (see her channel) everywhere I go to produce SIMPLE videos from my iPhone. If I try a new restaurant that blows me away or connect with an online retailer that provides dynamite customer service, I might do a testimonial video and share that with my network. I’ve received great feedback from these video blogs. They are quick, informative and always fun. Keep in mind that they are unedited and very transparent and I believe that is why they have been so welcomed within my customer base. I also use my iPhone to review comments on my social media sites and to check in to places that I visit.

“My best advice is to keep an open mind. Most of the information is new and always changing. Keep a positive attitude and remember that slow and steady wins the race every time. Also, just do it! Do not let fear scare you away from trying something that very well may change the face of your business!” concludes Clark. Yellow Barn Media Facebook page: www.facebook.com/yellowbarnmedia.

Which is sound advice. The social media scene is ever-changing and, at times, it seems like the more you learn, the less you know. But, most social media enthusiasts say that the process is not unlike more traditional means of communication and that there is nothing to be afraid of. It’s word-of-mouth at it’s finest, backed up with great visuals—the only thing that is different are the tools we use and the speed at which it happens.

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Twitter – If you’re used to texting, Twitter won’t be hard to learn. Once you’ve signed up, search for others you know or respect and follow them. Break the ice by tweeting up to 140 words that others will find interesting and informative. Retweet comments that you find helpful. And make good use of hashtags (#). Hashtags mark topics as part of general conversation. For example: Looking for 3rd level dressage schoolmaster #horse #dressage so that your tweet appears in anyone’s stream that searches on those topics. Conduct your topic searches in a similar fashion for information and to see which hashtags are the best for your purposes.

Pinterest:?Pinterest is a social photo sharing website similar to a bulletin board. Share your equine lifestyle by pinning your own photos and videos and repinning others your find. Do market research by seeing what your followers (read: clients) pin and who else they follow. Use your creativity to develop a contest to run. Seventy percent of users are female.

Foursquare: Foursquare is a location-based social networking website that you use with your smart phone. Based on using the GPS in your mobile device, you “check in” with a mobile website or text messaging. Foursquare is great to communicate with clients when you are on the road. Equal use by males and females.

Lisa Derby Oden has been providing business development, marketing, and nonprofit consulting services to the horse industry since 1995. Oden is author of "Growing Your Horse Business" and "Bang for Your Buck: Making $ense of Marketing for Your Horse Business, " and partner in the CD series “Inventing Your Horse Career.” She can be reached at: (603) 878-1694; email at Lisa@blueribbonconsulting.com; or visit her website at www.blueribbonconsulting.com.