Social media networks are an effective way to spread the word about your small business even before you’re ready to start selling.
For example, between applying for permits and deciding where to set up shop, a Boston-based food truck owner built a Twitter following months before he began serving food. “Because of his online efforts, he already had an audience to share the day’s specials with,” observes Debra Murphy, owner of Masterful Marketing.
In other words, don’t wait until opening day to create your own social media buzz. Here’s how:
- Start with who you know. It’s not cheating to ask your friends to “like” your business on Facebook. If they freely share what you’re up to, they are giving you a head start through exposure to their networks. (People will be more open to “liking” your page when it already has a following.) Here are some tips for attracting even more attention.
- Use a consistent tone. Every business has its own personality, and your social media presence should reflect yours. This gives potential customers an idea of what to expect. For instance, do you want your business to appear young and fresh? Or, will you take on the role of a friendly adviser who has a handle on the latest tips in your field? Use the third person to appear more professional and be more inclusive of your employees, rather than saying “I can’t wait until we open!”
- Have a plan. Map out the steps you’ll take in the weeks or months ahead of your business opening. Look for milestones that would be worthy of an update, such as a new hire or a sign hanging. You want to post a steady stream of updates, but not so many that you’ll turn off people before they’ve had a chance to become paying customers.
- Create suspense. Work to get people excited about your business in anticipation of its inaugural day. Rail Trail Flatbread had more than 500 Facebook likes before it opened, partly because area residents were eager for the suburban eatery to fill a Main Street storefront that had been vacant for years. Building up to its first day in business in December, the Massachusetts restaurant participated in community events and posted tiny progress reports (such as pictures of its brick oven). The restaurant had a line 20 people long when it first opened its doors for dinner and has had a steady flow of patrons since.
- Do some hand-holding. Not everyone is social media-savvy. Karim El-Gamal, co-owner of Rail Trail Flatbread, suggests bringing an iPad to events and asking people to log on to Facebook and “like” your page on the spot. You could show them the benefits of keeping up with your business and offer them a future discount.
- Be engaging. Don’t simply post your fitness studio’s schedule and walk away. Ask your followers what they’re most looking forward to doing or buying when you open. Respond to any messages, even negative ones, to build a digital presence that shows you are responsive and credible.
- Don’t rely on just one platform. Facebook is good for creating buzz for restaurants, but the photo-driven Pinterest may help a cake decorator or an interior designer gather more steam. Twitter and LinkedIn can prove more favorable to business-to-business firms, according to Erin Howard, owner of Streamline Marketing.