My small business clients ask me this all the time.
They know they have to stand out on Social Media, but the question is how?
The necessary steps and supporting processes are now pretty well understood, but not easy to execute.
1. Find a niche and own it.
This is about the most common piece of advice out there, because it is right, yet so few small businesses do it well. They are seduced by the numbers. ‘there are a billion people on India, if we could sell a widget to .0000015% of them we would be right.’ In contrast, success comes to those who find a niche that fits their expertise, and offer a product that is both differentiated and the best around in some way for the very specific target market. A friend of mine has a potential very deep niche in highly specialised light bulbs. He has access to the products from specialist producers around the world and combined with the specialist technical knowledge he has necessary to understand the best combination of characteristics for a particular use. However, he keeps on being distracted by the opportunity of selling a box of common bulbs available in a suburban lighting shop.
2. Understand the market intimately.
This follows from the point above. People are being bombarded by all sorts of messages, you need to know the ones that will cut through because they promise to deliver a unique benefit of some sort to the target specialised audience. A message about a “light bulb for printers” will not get through the mental defenses of a professional printer, but offering an “Ultra Vitalux lamp with double the normal lamp-life” almost certainly would.
3. Identify and connect with influencers.
In every market, there those who lead, who experiment, and are not afraid to take a shot, and there are the rest. If you can identify and connect with those thought leaders, their endorsement will influence the views and behaviour of the rest.
4. Create a “tribe”.
Seth Godin and Clay Shirky brought the notion of “Tribes” into the vernacular. If you can build one around your particular expertise, those in the tribe will become advocates for your product and expertise. The mistake most make at this point is that they take the opportunity to turn the group or tribe into something that is about them. It has to be about the group, any step beyond a hint of commercialism will kill it dead.
5. Build a brand.
A brand in this context is not the sort of investment exercise necessary in a mass B2C market, it can be done on very small budgets, with a bit of imagination, and a genuine and unique story. Brands are at their core stories about the products, so tell yours.
6. Have a point of view.
Being different makes you stand out, but different just for the sake of being different is flimsy. Stake out a position that is a key part of your brand story that will not resonate with everyone, and be the advocate for that position, defend it against the naysayers and the status quo.
7. Communicate consistently.
In this instance, consistently means communicating not just regularly, but with a consistent message and tone of voice across all the digital platforms and media you use. Digital marketing is a content hungry channel, so the trick is to pick which combination of platforms and media generate the best returns and stick to them, while perhaps experimenting on the fringes. To try and use all the options just a bit is a sure road to failure, much better to pick a small number that are relevant to your prospects and do them really well.
8. Engage with your audience.
Success in digital media is all about the level of engagement you can build with your audience , and subsequently their relevant networks, and those interested in the topic. This takes work, particularly as engagement evolves towards a transaction. Generally it becomes harder to automate the closer you get to a transaction, depending on the products being sold. For many B2B products, the close is face to face.
9. Be opportunistic as appropriate.
None of the above should remove the motivation to use circumstances as they occur to your advantage. Digital media offers great opportunities to become part of a trend, even initiators of trends by the use of hashtags, particularly in Twitter. The downside is that the opportunity must be empathetic with your niche, brand, and everything else you are doing or it may depreciate what your other efforts are delivering.
The huge advance that digital has made that makes the effort necessary to compete is that you can now see clearly what works and what does not, almost in real time.