By Noora Nasrallah
One of the perks of being an early adopter of a number of social media platforms is the ability to differentiate between authentic users and ones that can be easily discarded as spammers. The word “spam” was initially used to refer to “irrelevant or unsolicited messages sent over the Internet, typically to large numbers of users, for the purposes of advertising, phishing, spreading malware, etc.”
Today the definition of spam, especially in relation to social media, has broadened. It’s quite easy for you as a user to block a certain brand account or brand message as “spam” simply because it doesn’t serve any purpose for you.
Being mindful of this is as important to a small business as the need to be active on social media in the first place. One of the crucial business decisions entrepreneurs are required to make when they first start off their solo business journey is how to approach their digital presence.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past decade, you’re aware of the important role that the internet has played in a number of key issues facing us as a species today. The internet was the birth place of recent revolutions that changed the political landscape in numerous Arab countries. The internet is the playground for high-profile hacker groups such as Anonymous who have contributed to leaking valuable business and political information to the public. It also continues to be the key element in grassroots movements for causes pertaining to the environment, health, social services, and much more.
The internet is also where a number of small businesses have found success in surprising and inspiring. It has simultaneously been the burial ground for some large businesses who were exposed for saying or doing the wrong things online. Take for example the case of Applebee’s Facebook meltdown. In 2013, one of Applebee’s franchises fired a waitress for sharing a picture of one of the customer’s receipts and making a comment about not receiving her tip. Their reasoning for firing her was the protection of their customers’ privacy. This would’ve been fair had the brand’s Facebook page itself not shared a picture of another receipt just a few weeks earlier. When confronted with numerous comments from their fans demanding they hire the waitress back, Applebee’s posted the defensive status update below which escalated the issue further. The restaurant’s response to the fiasco was dubbed as “social media suicide” by experts and customers alike.
Social media fails like this are not limited to Applebee’s. Brands make the decision to exist on social media – on platforms that are known for their facilitation of engagement and two-way communication- yet they fail to adhere to the non-written rules of this arrangement. When you make the decision to have a digital presence, you’re signing a metaphorical waiver accepting that you will be receiving both positive and negative feedback, promising that you’ll be listening out for both, and committing to being gracious about this feedback, whether it is in your favor or not.
While there are businesses that made irreversible errors online, there are also brands that were able to turn things around and go from hated to loved in the space of one click. That right there is the beauty of the internet. The internet forgives. It may not forget (scratch that, it never forgets!) but it is forgiving once you make amends.
Then there are businesses that nail their social media game right from the beginning and only go up from there. This is who you want to be. All too often, you’ve budgeted for and planned your capital around your actual business needs that you end up ruling out marketing and advertising requirements altogether due to lack of budget. Small business owners are increasingly realizing that that bootstrapping communication is not necessarily a bad thing, thanks to the internet. In fact, in an interesting case study, Small Business Trends rounded up 30 businesses that are succeeding in the social media game without big budgets or a wide network.
If you do make the decision to take your business online – and I strongly urge you to because your mere existence on social media is a first step in building customer advocacy – here are some tips for you to consider:
- Be who you are: Don’t try to conceal your brand’s identity. While setting up your business, chances are you knew EXACTLY what you wanted your brand’s vision to be. Stick to it even in your online communication, as this will set the tone for how you speak to your digital community, the words you use, the things you talk about, etc.
- Draft a strategy: What is the purpose of your digital presence? Are you in the game to spread awareness about your business or is there more to your digital existence than that? Do you have an online sales platform? Do you offer advice or tips online? Your business objectives are important so be mindful of them and draft a strategy that can guide your online communication.
- Set up communication pillars: You know what your strengths are. Chances are you’ve already defined your target audience. Try to keep them in mind when you plan your content. Define some communication pillars, or content themes, for your brand to use as reference. You want to talk about more than just your brand and what you’re selling, so think of some other themes or topics that would interest your audience. The last thing you want to do is set up a page that posts about your products and your products alone. It will be only a matter of time before you’re dumped into the “spam” category.
- Be nice: Remember, the internet may forgive but it never forgets. And even though you can count on the forgiveness, that doesn’t mean you can expect it from everyone. So start off right and treat your online community with grace and respect. Give thanks when you’re complimented and offer help when you’re asked. Listen when you’re criticized and try to solve an issue instead of getting defensive when you receive a harsh word or a complaint. It’s easier said (or written, in this case) than done but it really is that simple. It takes hard work to build a community online but only one wrong post to lose it.
Finally, my personal mantra is to spread positivity. Whether on an individual level or when handling a brand’s social media presence, I maintain this attitude. The world is full of negativity from external factors that are outside our control so ensure that you and your brand are out there to always spread a positive message. What better place to make sure the message spreads than one where you reach new people with every click.
Noora Nasrallah is a digital and social media marketing and communications professional living and working in Dubai. She is passionate about events, music, entertainment and all things social. Her motto is to spread positive energy and share happiness.You can follow her on Twitter @PurpleNaNo.