mxmNtCp0.pngTara Hunt is a digital marketer specializing in social media. Her web series, “Truly Social,” is built around trying to get brands and agencies to embrace the “social” aspect of social media.

Hunt basically argues throughout her videos that to get the most out of social media, we have to act like people. Ditch the marketing speak and instead embrace the chaos (in a manner of speaking) of the world around us. With social media, Hunt wants to always always remember that we’re first and foremost having conversations – no different than we would in real life.

I reached out to Tara for her thoughts on how small businesses should view social media, how to get around scheduling posts and if social media is for everyone.

What should small businesses know before investing time in building out their social media presence?

The sad truth is that lots of social platforms are no longer social. There is a lot of noise created by a lot of brands just publishing one-way messages. However, people ARE social. Instead of thinking of reaching as many people as possible, small businesses should think about connecting with people in meaningful ways. I know it sounds like it’s going to take a long time and you may not feel like you have patience for it, but it’s about creating connections with people, one at a time.

In order to do this right, I propose a 3-step process to approaching social:

1. Show up. Listen and be present as much as possible. 

I suggest that you start looking for people who could be your customers, but also people you can connect with personally. Make lists and start listening. Some of them will use hashtags. Start following those hashtags to discover new people. Showing up is about listening and learning, but you can also start to like, retweet, and join in conversations in general (not pitching your brand). I also prefer it when people tweet as people. I’m still on the fence about brands tweeting.

2. Build relationships and trust.

Start participating more and being a good social media citizen. Help people out. Contribute to the conversations. People will start following you back and listening to you.

3. Deliver amazing experiences.

When you get the chance to actually make a sale or attract a customer in this audience, over-deliver! Remember, communities are referral engines. People talk both online and off. Give them something to talk about.

And remember, repeat this over and over, which is sort of like step 4.

You’ve mentioned your dislike of scheduling posts in the past. How would you recommend small businesses who may not have the time to actively engage and be social handle this?

I really dislike scheduling posts and don’t see the function of this as adding anything to social at all. Scheduling posts screams, “I’m not listening! I’m just interested in pushing out content!” to the world.

The biggest pushback I get from businesses is that they don’t have time to actively engage and be social. To that, I say this: I’m not on social media 24/7. I dip in and out all day, much like I do with email. I know it’s impossible to always be online. However, social is about building relationships. It’s about connecting. And that does take time and a commitment. So be on it whenever you can and spend most of that time listening. Opportunities will come up to engage!

Also, get yourself into a capture and share mindset. If you have one customer asking you questions (in person or online) and you have a great answer, I’ll bet there are hundreds, maybe thousands of others who have the same question. Why not capture that answer and share it? It’s a great way to think about content.

Should small businesses be on social media?

I’m on the fence on this one… I think small businesses should be on social, but only if they are committed to being social. If they aren’t committed, just put up the contact information. I think this is a crying shame, though.

There are lots of businesses trying to connect with customers and, other than customer service in person, there is no better way than social to really get to know them and engage with them. Ads are one way and far removed from the customer. PR is helpful, but, once again, far removed from the customer. SEO – removed. Direct mail – one way and removed.

So many businesses fret over what their customers are thinking: what would make them want to buy? What do they need? How should I position my product? Differentiate it? Why don’t they care? Guess what… all of those questions are answered if you connect with them on social. All of them.

Our Thoughts on Staying Social

Thanks to Tara for taking the time to answer my questions. She raises some important points, especially on the need for businesses to really understand what it means to be social.

This is a pivotal time. As social media continues its trend toward giving preference for paid ads, social for small businesses will just become more difficult. No matter how well written your posts or offers are, you may not be able to beat the algorithm.

But everyone is playing by these same rules. As I’ve previously mentioned, I like to zig where others may zag, and using social media to grow relationships with customers ­­rather than promote services or offers in an unsocial way – is a great technique for deriving value from these networks.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t occasionally automate posts. If you have a blog post upcoming, feel free to schedule that initial post. Then get out there and participate on social media as Tara outlines.

If people think you truly care, then they’ll care about you too.