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Chris Brogan: Tips on Social Media for Small Businesses

With social media, listen first, then interact

Chris Brogan, President of Human Business Works, takes a few minutes out of his busy schedule at PubCon 2010 in Las Vegas to discuss some tips for small businesses (with particular focus on the hotel and travel industry) when it comes to Social Media. From monitoring, to optimizing to the million dollar question: ROI. Interview by Benu Aggarwal, President and Founder of Milestone Internet Marketing.

Key takeaways from Chris:

  1. Listen to your audience: find out what they are talking about and where they are talking;
  2. Use multimedia: connect with people in a way that’s more engaging than a typical ad;
  3. Email marketing: keep the message brief, provide interesting information and use the soft-sell method;
  4. ROI: the main investment is time, and it takes time to seed the waters and spread your messages successfully.

Transcript of the video:

Benu: It’s PubCon 2010. We are here with Chris Brogan, and we managed to squeeze and take few minutes out of his time. Thank you so much Chris. We met couple of years back, thank you for taking out time. And a quick introduction, although Chris doesn’t need an introduction: he’s a top hundred blogger in technology, top 5 in Adage and he is probably one of the hottest personalities when it comes to social media, and he is going to tell us a little bit about what small businesses can do or what are the hottest trends when it comes to small businesses for social media. Thanks Chris.

Chris: Thank you, so where people are looking at using social media tools what they’re wondering is: “do I have to be on Facebook?”, “should I add this Twitter account?”, “someone told me I need to blog”, “they told me to make YouTube videos”, “which one do I do, where should I go?” To me the starting tool is listening. There are listening tools that allow you to search and understand what people are talking about and they’ll provide opportunities for you. So I mean if you say you don’t have time, I’m saying do you not have time to prospect for new people to put in your hotels, do you have no time to find other opportunities to book events at your locations? If you Google the phrase, “grow bigger ears,” there’s a post that will come up that talks about how to build a free or inexpensive listening tools. From that you can start hearing what people are talking about; you can start hearing when they say… Well, for example, Roger Smith Hotel in New York is a very small boutique level hotel with very few beds. I tweeted on Twitter, “Where do people stay in New York these days?” And someone right away said, “You should stay at the Roger Smith Hotel.” Someone right after them said, “You should stay at the Roger Smith Hotel.” The third person was the Roger Smith Hotel and they said, “Come stay with us, we have a blogger’s special.” And I thought, “Well, they have a blogger’s special, I should go there.” I had no idea that if I loved ice water they would have had an ice water special, but they got me.

And I stayed and so I built the relationship and that’s my exclusive place I stay in New York. And you know same in Boston: the Colonnade Hotel, another small property. They got me because they talked to me via the social web, and they did it by listening first, and they did it not by giving some promotion, but just connecting and talking about things not even related to their hotel.

Benu: So if I understand correctly, the very first thing you are saying is: listen to your audience and find out what they are talking about, which tools they are using and which media they are using to communicate to you.

Chris: Sure, and you can find it. There’s software, like for example, if you have everybody’s email address, and I’m assuming you get it through your registration process, you can put that into a tool like Rap Leaf, which allows you to find where on the social network those email addresses have been used to make accounts. So you can find really quickly if you have a list of 10,000 names, if 7,000 of them are in LinkedIn, then maybe you should have a group inside LinkedIn, maybe you should find some way to connect there. If 3,000 of them are inside Facebook, well then maybe you should put up a Facebook page. One of the things to know, and it was talked about hear at PubCon was, they are talking about you or around you whether or not you are, so you really have to first get in and observe that for yourself, and secondly, you can take advantage of that and start building relationships.

Benu: So that’s number one, what are the other few things you would say once you know about your audience, then what are the other things you would say?

Chris: Sure, well, so I mean there are tools like video. Video allows you the opportunity to show something instead of tell it. So maybe from those two small pictures that they are seeing on your website on what beds look like in your rooms, maybe you can shoot film to show them a walk through of what the downstairs lounge is, or your favorite part of the hotel, or whatever you want to show. When you can show things in a couple of small video walkthroughs, when you can talk to and interview, maybe the manager, maybe the housekeeping staff, or whoever you think is going to show the passion of the facility, then people get into it.

So number 2 is you know, make some media in a way that’s different than just a typical ad, because then you can connect with people. And it doesn’t have to be amazing. You can use a hundred dollar, I mean your camera phone is probably just as good as long as you hold it steady and have decent lighting. You can shoot something that’ll give people a better idea of what they’re gonna get into. And then suddenly there’s an opportunity there. So that’d be two.

Three is, leave email marketing, you know, as an important thing. But don’t do it the way you maybe are doing it. Don’t make it look like a big website shooting through the inbox. Don’t make it all ads, don’t make it all a bunch of coupon offers. Try to connect, try to talk to people about why this is the right time of year to come back and visit, or what kinds of cool things are coming up in the community, and say “oh, by the way we’ve got your room waiting for you.” There’s a lot of ways to sort of talk around the sale and still make the opportunity for the sale to happen. And also, be brief. The most successful email marketers right now, the Woot.coms, the Daily Candy, the Groupon people, what they’re doing is they’re keeping brief, single offer emails coming through, and they’re not pummeling their list until they get a response. They’re gently keeping people opted in and feeling happy about themselves.

Benu: Wonderful, wonderful. So I guess I’ll ask you one more last question. One of my biggest challenges, especially in the lodging industries: What is my ROI? How much I’m converting? If I have a Facebook page, what should I go about it? And my response is always: you don’t think about ROI, you are thinking about creating a community, creating your connection and long term. Social media is really a refined form of SEO. In the long run you’re going to get ROI, because people know you, and they want to do business with you. But what would you say as an ROI for small business, because time is a huge factor and where should they interact?

Chris: Sure, so I mean first off, the “I” is almost always in time because the investment for a Facebook page is zero. The investment, unless you pay a consultant, the investment in Tweeting or all these things are zero except for time, unless you pay a consultant. So the return comes in time and what you’re looking for, it’s the same as the phone. If you were doing telephone marketing before, this is a new kind of marketing. The difference is it works all night long, you know you’re not there on the phone all day long, if you try to make a hundred calls throughout your day, if that’s a lot of calls to you, I can make ten million calls, by having something show up in Facebook. So it’s long term and you sort of seeding the waters and trying to build relationships that you’ll have a reference. People need to keep you top of mind but think about it. If we travel – I travel more than most people; you know last year, I mean this year, let’s say maybe 70 or so trips, that’s abnormal; most people is 4 to 8 times a whole year – how often do I need your info? Am I always gonna be coming to your town, etc. So you need to find a longer haul, referral type opportunities, and that’s where the investment comes in. So I mean I guess it’s, if you spend a couple hours of this everyday, or if you spend a two hours every other day or something, you’re going to see some return, then you have to start asking yourself, “Well how much more value can I have if I add a little more time, if I start doing this daily will I get some more value?” And you’re gonna have to measure for yourself, you’re gonna have to see what’s working, what doesn’t. Sticking ads all over the place doesn’t work. Your telephone book ads aren’t really working as well as they used to. Your banner ads aren’t working as well as they used to. Working with consortiums can help and then it becomes the opportunities of where do you put your…where’s your leverage. So I think there are a lot of opportunities there. What you ultimately need to do is you have to have the belief and the willingness that what you know how to do face to face translates really well on the web. And so that’s how it’s gonna bring it home.

Benu: And what I am seeing is there’s a lot of impact of social media on organic and local search results too. With Facebook “Like it,” and, you know, Foursquare and all of that is coming up in your organic. So this is something you just can’t avoid anymore. You think there is a huge impact of Hyper Local and all those?

Chris: I do very much. My company, New Marketing Labs, is just launching Red Pin Marketing which is all about Local, because we saw an opportunity there to help businesses, mostly smaller businesses. My clients are normally very big companies, the PepsiCo’s, and General Motors of the world. But I wanted to work with small companies because it just seemed like there was so much opportunity to help them with the local and the organic so we’re working on that.

Benu: Okay great! Thank you, thank you so much Chris, really appreciate it.

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