I’ve been in business 30 years, and I’ve made just about every business mistake that an entrepreneur should be allowed to make. Probably more! Then along comes social media with all of its opportunities to make new, cutting edge, viral mistakes. And you know what, I’ve made my share of mistakes there, too. Nothing that’s caused my business to explode—at least not yet—but a few.
I don’t chalk up my success at avoiding mistakes to some grueling PR procedures, or ninja-like social media guru. I chalk it up to a lesson I learned from my younger coworkers, and fondly refer to it as the “Mike, don’t be the jerk at the party” rule.
Don’t Be a Jerk
Long ago, before I was the owner and CEO of Patriot Software, I was just a shoot-from-the-hip, problem-solving entrepreneur that loved dissecting the problems small business owners face, and designing fixes for those problems. Then I’d attempt to sell my fixes.
That “sell part” is what separates entrepreneurs from the pack. Trouble is, entrepreneurs can’t help themselves! As soon as we come up with our solutions, we strike out to find a buyer for them. And, when we see a group of people together, like, say, at a party, we can’t help but try and sell to all those potential customers.
How does this relate to social media? Well, social media is a vast group of people getting together through the wondrous power of the Internet to socialize … kind of like a party. When I first got myself and my company on social media, all I did was sell, sell, sell!
But I didn’t sell. Well, actually I did sell, but no one was buying! Nor were they following or liking.
I wasn’t getting any traction. I was ready to write social media off altogether when, at a company party, one of my younger coworkers let me in on a not-so-little secret.
“Mike, social media is supposed to be “social.” It’s a place where people are building relationships. They’re asking questions, giving answers, debating issues, joking with each other, laughing, sharing funny stories, inspiring each other, and so on. There are millions of conversations going on, like little parties if you will. And the last thing any of those people want is for you, or anybody else, to show up at their party and try to sell their wares!”
Selling by not Selling
As you might imagine, this “don’t sell” initiative was extremely hard for me. I mean, everybody is selling something, right? We all know it. Why can’t I act entrepreneurial and sell what I have on this great medium of social media?!
Turns out people aren’t coming to social media to be your captive customer. They may love your brand and love your product, but they don’t need it shoved down their throat on their desktop, laptop, tablet, and cellphone, 24/7.
It took me a while to learn the don’t-sell lesson, but it finally stuck when, one day I was on social media and someone showed up in my conversation trying to sell me his solutions. He realized that I was the CEO of a company, and thought I was an easily accessible mark to peddle his wares to. Even worse, because I was the CEO, the guy who makes the big financial decisions, I was the best target for him—which is why he pushed so hard.
I was just trying to have a good, engaging conversation with my followers and here he was, hawking his wares to me! What a jerk! A real entrepreneurial jerk! “Who invited this guy to the party?” I thought. Then it struck me. How many people felt that way about me over the years, both at parties and on social media!
Today I go to social media to check the pulse of my customers, take note of their interests, engage them in conversations, and let them know what my company is up to. Of course, I let them know when we’re selling something new, but I don’t push it on them.
If you’re sales-minded, like I am, this may seem like a waste of time. Believe me, it’s not. Spending time with your customers, in all the avenues that they’re in, is crucial to understanding who your customer is. The more you know who your customer is, the better you’ll be at selling to them when it comes time to sell.
3 Ways to NOT Be the Social Media Jerk
#1. Don’t be a bot
Bots are jerks. They retweet any mention, give generic replies to comments, and call people by the wrong name. There are a lot of “if this, then that” tools to automate your social media engagements, but I stay away from those because they come off as phony. I get it, SBOs don’t have a lot of time to scour through every mention. But if someone takes the time to say hi, compliment you, or give you honest feedback at your social media party, the least you could do is take a minute to learn their name and reply genuinely.
Yes, you want to make sure you’re giving party-goers interesting content to enjoy and weigh in on. But take a moment to close your mouth and hear what other people are sharing, too. Someone’s tidbit might actually be better than yours. Listen up, then share their content through your social networks, too.
#3. Don’t forget to be classy
It’s important to be transparent on social media, but it’s also important to mind your manners. Just like at any party, people can get carried away and say rude things. But you can’t lash out. Take a moment to think about what someone is saying about you. Does their comment show a flaw your brand or your product? Would responding calm the situation, or would it fan the flames? If you think the comments were justified, be calm and respond. If not, sometimes the classiest thing to do is to keep quiet.
Remember: It’s a Party
You, and everyone engaging on social media, should have a good time while socializing. Just like in any social situation, your small business is not the only thing you talk about. If you did, you’d get the party door slammed in your face like an unwanted salesman. Talk about the latest news, your kids, and your pets. Hear what’s going on in their lives, or at their business, and then share with them your thoughts. If you socialize right, you won’t just teach others about your small business—you’ll make loyal brand advocates and friends in the process.
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