Small Business Warning: Social media is about building relationships, not advertising

social media, content marketing
Social media and content marketing to grow your business
Many small business owners are still coming to grips with how best to utilise Social Media, Blogging, Internet Marketing, Content Marketing, SEO, and Mobile Apps as tools for promoting and growing their business.

Mike Alton leads a business in St. Louis, U.S called the Social Media Hat where he teaches small business owners how to use social media to generate increased traffic to their website and more importantly, how to convert visitors into qualified leads and actual sales and ongoing customers.
Mike is a prominent and respected figure in many social media forums, with an absolutely huge following on Google+ - over 100,000 active followers!!…… And let me add that I find Mike’s Social Media Hat website to be jam-packed full of great articles, resources and tips – and so I was delighted when he agreed to share some of his experience with social media and content marketing with us here.

1. Mike, what motivated you to start your own business and move into consulting?

While there are lot of reasons for why I do what I do, my motivations for working for myself are fairly selfish. I wanted to work from home, on the projects and schedule that I set, and have a far higher ceiling of earnings.

I LOVE working from a home office, and being able to work late or take off early depending on my needs. As my reputation and experience in Content Marketing has grown, so has my ability to be more selective in the clients and projects that I want to take on, so that I can be assured that the clients and the work are a great fit. And of course, working for yourself means that you do not have a set salary. The more that I succeed in growing and improving my business, the more I secure a  better financial future for my family.  

2. What have you found to be some of the frustrations in running your own business - and what are the compensating rewards?

I've been fortunate in that the business that I've chosen to build as a Content Marketing Consultant really doesn't have too many "frustrations." But there are certainly some challenges.

For instance, because I have also chosen to essentially work alone, that means that regardless of the situation and circumstances, it's up to me to get the job done. There's no one else here to jump in and help.

Fortunately, my industry and expertise has made it extremely easy for me to connect with other people and experts. While they may not be able to take on actual projects for me like a co-worker might, my online connections can certainly serve as resources of information, as well as opportunities for personal connections and the kind of camaraderie that help normal employees deal with day-to-day job stress.

3. You've been involved with web development and internet marketing since the inception of the internet - what have been some of the major changes you've observed in how small business approach this?

This is really interesting since, not only am I a "technology" person, but I am also an historian, having majored in History in college. So it's not uncommon for me to take a moment to think about the "big picture" and how technology and society have developed, how micro-cultures within platforms like Google+ have formed and are changing, and where those changes are headed.

What I find most fascinating right now is how there is an overwhelming shift in how businesses and individuals are connecting and engaging online. "Online Marketing" is no longer about advertising. It's all about creating relationships. And so the question is, has our marketing perspective changed as a result of social networks? Or have the micro-cultures within social networks evolved as a result of deeper desires for less "push marketing."

Take Google+ for instance. Many brands are finding HUGE success on that social platform but you'll note that it's only when they actively strive to connect with and engage their audience on an individual basis that it works. Businesses used to the broadcast model of Facebook or traditional advertising have struggled to get a handle on what to even do on Google+. But as a social network and tool, there is no requirement there that people or brands have to act a certain way or post a certain way. It's a culture that has developed over the past few years and it dictates what's acceptable and what isn't, what will work and what won't.

I find it to be both fascinating and a lot of fun to be a part of! ….. It just doesn’t feel like “work” when you really enjoy what you’re doing.
4.What are some of the most common mistakes you see small business owners now-days make with their internet marketing efforts?

The one mistake that we've hinted at already is not understanding how best to use a particular platform, Google+ in particular. On Twitter it's acceptable and even expected that brands will do a lot of broadcasting of short messages and links. Such activity is spurned on Google+.

Which brings me to my next most common mistake: not recognizing and using the best possible platforms for your business and audience. Not every business needs to be on Google+, and at the same time, not every business should continue to try and use Facebook. It just depends on you, the nature of your business and how you want to use social media to engage with your target audience.

Once you've determined which network(s) to use, and the best ways to use them to achieve engagement and interest, the final mistake - and this is a big one - is that businesses must temper their expectations.

The reason why which network we use and how we use it are important considerations is because Social Media is NOT advertising! This is quite often a very serious misunderstanding of many business owners …… People do not use social networks to be marketed to - so brands must use social networks to foster relationships. And relationships take time. For most clients, I recommend that they need to allow a 3 - 6 month period for a typical social media campaign to begin to see progress and results.

5. What are some simple, affordable steps that small business owners can do to leverage social media? ...... I know you built up a very strong following on Google+ - how did you achieve this?

That's a great question. And of course the answer is, it depends!

It depends on how much time the owner has to invest, personally. It also depends on how much and how fast the owner wants to see results.

I spent 1 - 2 hours a day for over a year blogging. I wrote hundreds of blog posts and articles, and would publish at least once a day, six days a week. Each day I would share those new posts to social media, and would share them in a way as to help others and invite discussion. I focused on specific topics, and made sure that the information I was providing was both helpful and interesting, as well as easy to grasp. I also often wrote timely articles (news-jacking) on trends in my industry.

As a result, I was able to rapidly develop a strong reputation and a considerable following on my top tier social networks, Google+ and Twitter.

If a business owner has the time to create content, they can achieve similar results, scaled according to their own schedule and industry.

By that I mean, if a business commits to 2 - 3 blog posts per week, that's actually really good for most small businesses, and they'll do well. They won't get the stunning results that I did, but they will do well.

And industry matters. I have to be transparent and say that one of the reasons I have the following that I do on Google+ is because I write about Google+. And social media and technology in general.

But at the core, this is why I love and promote the concept of Content Marketing. EVERY business can do it, regardless of budget or schedule or time! The more time and resources you devote, the more results you will see, certainly. But ANY business can blog once a month.

6. Mike, do you have any final tips you would offer to entrepreneurs with their social media and online marketing?

One final tip for business owners, and this applies to every aspect of your business, is to recognize where your own natural strengths are - and the value of your own time, and make sure that you're investing accordingly.

I am awful with manual tools and building things. I have no experience and, more importantly, I have no interest. So when my wife says we need to get the front porch re-stained, although I COULD do it myself, is that really a good use of my time? A project that would take me several hours and frustrate me, I can hire out for a fraction of what I can make, doing my actual work, during that time.

By the same token, business owners can run the risk of investing too deeply in social media marketing and internet marketing in general. Small business owners with a limited budget certainly need to take on more responsibilities themselves, but if you're spending hours a day trying to puzzle out Google+, that's not time well spent.

That's the type of conversation I have with a lot of business owners - that they think about getting someone like me to help them. Whether it's help to provide training, in guiding them through a lot of the one-time setups and configurations that they simply don't need to know how to do. Or maybe it's to help them with day-to-day community management so that the business owner can focus on the business itself.
Know what your time is worth and regularly take a moment to step back and evaluate the activities you're working on.  Ensure that you're focused on the things that are adding the most value to your business and not wasting time on stuff that should be either delegated or outsourced.

Thank you Mike, you’ve shared a lot of great tips and insights into social media and content marketing – as well as offering some timely common-sense reminders about running and growing a small business. Your last point in particular, reminds us of an important time management discipline for remaining efficient.

About the interviewer
Brian Carroll is the founder of Performance Development, a corporate training company in Melbourne, Australia.  He is a qualified psychologist and experienced management coach with a passion for helping people develop to their full capabilities. You can find out more about Brian at his Google + profile

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