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Successful Social Media Participation for Organic Businesses

How to participate correctly in the ever growing social media community.

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Social media and proper social networking is a must for organic businesses nowadays. Not all target demographics are on social media sites, but organic consumers and organic advocates are participating. For example, Organic Valley has 190,346 fans on Facebook, the Organic Trade Association has 14,300+ pals on Twitter and Whole Foods Market has 17,800 followers on Pinterest.

Interest in organic industry on social media sites is growing fast. It's smart to get involved now. That said, there are some important dos and don'ts when engaging in social networking. Keep reading to get the scoop on best practices for social media participation.

1. Don't Shun Social Media

It's easy to let social media participation fall to the wayside, especially when you're busy. However, social media is not a waste of time. Participating, no matter how small your business, is almost always beneficial.

Participating in social media can pay off with more customer trust, more website page views, peer connections and even more profits, plus social networking is a great way to recruit employees. Also, participating in social media allows you to expand knowledge base about organics or other niche topics like farming, in general, which can be a boost for the entire industry.

If you're leery of the time you'll need to spend, follow your time investment carefully. Take notice of how many website hits you get due to Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites so you can spend your time wisely, using the sites that benefit your business more than ones that don't.

2. Do Expect Realistic Results

For some retailers and other organic businesses, participating in social media and social networking, doesn't always translate into more revenue, at least not at first, and sometimes never.

The above statement makes participating in social networking seem kind of dismal, but don't allow yourself to get too disenchanted. For one thing, building a positive and profitable presence on social media sites can take time. A major problem is that many businesses dip their toes into social media waters, don't see instant results, and give up. You have to give social media a fair shot.

Secondly, there's still benefits to participating that extend beyond profits. For example, building trust with existing customers so you keep their business, networking with peers to build valuable connections and keeping your business visible.

What's key is to stay realistic and not give up on social media. Instead consider taking risks and using more strategic methods of networking. For example amp up your social media sites with personalized offers, promotions and sales.

3. Don't Skip Your Social Media Gameplan

Before you launch into a full-on social media campaign, carefully map out a basic game-plan.

Some issues to consider include:
  • Get to know the bare basics, such as what is social media vs. social networking.

  • Who will participate - just you, or other employees too? If employees will participate, do they need training?

  • Research which social media sites will benefit your specific business best.

  • Take the time to learn how to use social media tools so once you start networking less time is spent learning and more time is spent actually participating.

  • Consider the time investment. Plan ahead how much time you have to spend each week or day on social media sites. Note that consistency, rather than total time is important when it comes to social networking.

4. Do Build a Basic Presence First

Start slow. Build up a basic presence on one or two major social media sites or build a successful blog to accompany your website. Let people start to get to know you so that when you join up with other social media sites, those folks will follow you over.

Remember that the best social media participation is cumulative. A couple of tweets or a few scattered blog posts won't cut it. You need to actively engage, ongoing. Starting slow allows you to learn how to engage regularly. Once your company has a basic presence on the web, you'll be better able to plan the time you need to participate. You'll be able to see how others interact with your business, which allows you to successfully plan your next social media moves better.

5. Don't Go Hog-Wild

I see articles like, "The 50 social media sites businesses must join" all the time. Really? No one running a successful business has that kind of time. Proper and successful social media doesn't have to take up all your time, but useful participation will take up a significant amount of time, especially at first. This is time that you could be doing other tasks, so it's important to pick and choose your social media sites carefully.

Ignore unrealistic advice, such as you MUST join up with 20 different media sites. That's nothing more than social media peer pressure. You can have a very successful web presence with just a blog (or not) and a few choice social media sites.

6. Do Build Peer Connections

Using social networking to connect with customers and potential customers is a key benefit of proper social networking. However, don't ignore equally important peer connections.

It's possible that your peers on social media sites, such as other organic farmers or organic retailers may see you as competition, but it's much more likely that they'll look at you from a solidarity viewpoint, as someone else who is helping to further the organic movement.

Your peers will re-tweet your tweets, pass along Facebook posts and otherwise help you to build a successful social networking campaign. Thus, focusing a decent amount of your attention on peers makes sense.

7. Don't Engage in Social Media Wars

Once you start engaging fully in social media sites, you'll notice that some people aren't ever happy, no matter what you say or do. There are plenty of trolls out there just dying to take you on and wage war on your opinions.

Trolls will try to agitate you and get you to fight, but don't engage with them. Not only does arguing online make you look bad but it reflects on your entire business. Plus, you can't win with a real troll, because they only thrive when there's conflict. Trolls won't listen to logic.

Simply ignore trolls and if they're constantly posting mean or harmful discussions on your social media pages or blog, ban them. As a business, it's your job to create a safe and respectable environment for your real customers and peers. If you allow trolls and meanness to rule, you're going to end up shunning real fans who don't want to put up with it.

8. Engage Customers & Use Feedback Wisely

A key reason to participate in social media is to engage with customers and potential customers. Be sure to actively listen to what consumers are saying and thinking via their social networking interactions.

Always make a point of answering questions and replying to customers who offer advice about what they'd like to see your company doing. Use consumer feedback to help shape further business practices when appropriate. For example, if you sell organic flowers and people are leaving comments stating that they'd like Christmas-specific bouquets available, consider that holiday bouquets might be a smart business move.

Customer feedback provides invaluable information, so step up to the next level by putting that feedback to good use.

9. Don't Do it All Yourself

Plenty of social media "gurus" out there will tell you that you can't possibly manage social networking alone, trying to entice you to hire their services. This isn't always true. You actually can manage a successful social media campaign in-house without spending a dime to hire help.

The above said, social networking is much easier when your team is on board to help, at least some of the time. For example, if three employees agree to tweet just five times a day, that's a decent 15 tweets vs. your 5. There are other reasons to get other people in your business involved though too, such as:

  • If you're ill, at a conference or have an especially busy week planned, another team member will be able to easily take over.

  • Your social media campaign will benefit from having more than one voice and one opinion on board.

  • The more people on board, the further your business can reach. For example, if you run a Facebook page alone, you won't get as many page views as you might if many employees are helping to promote posts.

  • Having help frees you up to actually run your business.

At some point, many businesses find that they may need to hire some help for their social media participation. However, be aware that if you hire an outsider to run your social networking for you, you won't have as much control over the content and voice of your company. A better choice is to find a way to set aside some specific time for a current, knowledgeable employee to do your social networking.

10. Do Enjoy Yourself

The best and most successful social media campaigns are those that seem genuine and real, which means either you're really having fun on social media sites or you're great at faking it. I suggest really having fun. If you're not into a social media site, your followers will most likely be able to tell.

Stick with social media sites you really enjoy, both for your own sake and your fans. If a site it tiresome or too much work and it's putting you in a bad mood to participate, don't. Social media and networking should work with you and for you, not make your life a lot harder. It really is okay if you hate Twitter. There's a social media site out there for everyone, so go find it.

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