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Imagine you’re strolling down Main Street of your hometown, bumping into friends, taking in the sights and sounds, making friendly chit-chat with the owners inside the most interesting-looking shops, when you pass one yelling from behind her window. “Red sweater, great gift, $48!”… “Blue beaded necklace, very stylish, ON SALE!”… “Pearl earrings!! A great vintage find! GET IT BEFORE IT’S GONE!”

Tell me, would you feel an urge to get closer?

Or perhaps an urge to get farther away?

Alternatively, imagine you’re standing just outside of a local jewelry boutique, enjoying the gorgeous display in the window. You notice the shop owner to your left, adjusting a sign on the door, so you decide to compliment her on the beautiful selection. She then responds, “Thanks for liking our jewelry! Now follow us on Twitter and Flikr and Pinterest!! And, and, tell ALL your friends!”

What would that feel like?

What expression do you think might appear on your face, involuntarily?

And– most importantly– would you do it? Then, later, ever?

You know these interactions are weird, because you’ve likely shopped local boutiques before.

You know the owners are more likely to greet you, ask you how you’re doing, and if you need assistance– even ask where you got the sweater you’re wearing or recommend a restaurant for your dinner date. Because this is the natural way that friendly people talk to each other– even in a business setting.

Now, what I’m trying to get at is this: We’ve got to reconnect with what it feels like to do business in-person in order to use social media channels like Facebook and Twitter effectively for online business.

It’s not just that simple, though, I realize. And I definitely don’t mean to embarrass anyone. To tell you the truth, there are concrete reasons why speaking on social media in the goofy way I described above seems like the right thing to do, and as long as those reasons aren’t addressed, improvement can’t happen. So let me break those down…

1. confusing social media updates with old-school mass advertising

Once upon a time, the majority of people used printed directories to find businesses. Because these printed listings and ads were written for a faceless entity called “everyone,” they were extremely generic and sell-y.

Social media is not at all like this old format. Unlike a piece of paper holding a one-way message, social media networks are built for two-way communication. They are platforms for individual people to announce to and converse with other individual people.

So it should feel a lot more like regular conversation– like the shop owner making casual chit-chat with her customers. Instead of, “Pink rhinestone earrings! $28!,” one might say, “Just finished making these pink rhinestone earrings. Considering keeping a pair for myself! What do you think?”

Plus you might consider talking about things other than your own products, sharing interesting links, and just building relationships via banter with other users. Not because there’s anything wrong with talking about your business, announcing sales, etc., but just to establish yourself as a cool, relatable person. This will make your business all the more attractive to potential customers.

2. being desperate for numbers

Social media numbers are a form of “social proof.” When you see a Facebook page with 10K Likes, you wonder why so many people are into it and whether you should join them. Conversely, if you see a Facebook page with 5 Likes, you might wonder why no one else is on-board. You may even consider jumping ship yourself.

But here’s the rub. Small business owners don’t have time to cultivate a following on Facebook, Twitter, Flikr, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. etc. So they end up feeling desperate– hence the, “Oh, you just followed me on Twitter? Okay, NOW LIKE US ON FACEBOOK!” messages many of us send and receive.

If you are finding yourself in this camp, and you can’t afford or don’t care to hire help, know it’s okay to scale back. Put your efforts toward just your strongest one (or two) networks. This will free you up to be gracious to your new fans, rather than coming off semi-predatory.

3. not thinking like the customer

Finally, if you want to effectively woo potential customers, you’ve got to put yourself in their shoes.

I tricked you into doing this earlier when I described the hypothetical scenarios and asked how you’d react. But now’s the real test! From now on, for every message you send, ask yourself, “How would this make me feel?”

Warm, happy? Thankful, delighted? Insulted, irritated?

That’s all I’ve got, but maybe you have a few more ideas– about why social media is so often misused or how to correct it? Maybe you used to behave this way and have since reformed, or this post just illuminated current mistakes you’re making? Shared experiences are incredibly valuable; I’m always dying to know yours!

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