Building Your Biz Online, One Community at a Time – 5 Tips from 10 Women (and more!)

Dell is a multi-billion dollar company which makes billions of dollars per year selling online. Their experience in online marketing is very important to them. VERY important. Dell is much larger than your business and yet the principles they have implemented in building their own online presence can be applied to your growing business.
mike-buck-dell.jpgMichael Buck, the Director and General Manager for the Global Small and Medium Online Business at Dell is responsible for the overall online business and strategy for Dell SMB worldwide and he’s shared his insight in building web sites and the lessons he and his team have learned. Michael also champions community and social media efforts for SMB clients globally.
According to Google’s AdPlanner stats, Facebook is the no. 1 most-visited destination on the web — that’s more than 35 percent of all web traffic measured. Twitter ranks 18th, Flickr is 31st and LinkedIn sits in 56th place with 1.7 billion views. What do these numbers mean to business owners? Every day you aren’t talking with customers, clients, and peers online you limit the growth potential of your company.
New media continues to alter how people find and share information and connects people in new and exciting ways. To quote social media guru Brian Solis, “once scattered customer-bases are now unifying online as concentrated contextual markets, enabling the establishment of bridges and highways between businesses and prospects and ultimately creating new opportunities in the process.”

With social media, even the smallest business can take center stage.

By engaging in online networks and communities, entrepreneurs and business owners dramatically amplify their visibility among existing and potential stakeholders. Even for a company the size of Dell, social media offers a unique opportunity to reach customers you normally don’t have the budget to target. For small and medium businesses, as long as you measure the success of activity in social media, it can act as a replacement for traditional marketing means.
For example, Wiggly Wigglers, a rural England-based natural gardening mail-order company, uses social media to connect with its worldwide customer base as it only has one location. Through social media the company:

  • Expanded to more than 120,000 customers worldwide and delivers its products across Europe;
  • Cut its advertising budget by 80 percent when the company turned to social media over traditional advertising;
  • Currently has more than 2500 Facebook fans and 2300 followers on Twitter and sells perishable goods through both
  • Hosts weekly podcasts from the “Wiggly couch” reaching thousands of listeners per week. San Francisco Chronicle readers rated it their “favorite gardening podcast;”
  • Built its catalogue based on Wiki ideas generated on its Facebook page by experts and customers.

The University of Maryland’s Smith School of Business along with Network Solutions recently released its third wave of the Small Business Success Index (SBSI), which found that nearly one in five small business owners are actively using social media in their business. Investment in social media applications continues to increase with 61% of businesses surveyed indicating that they use Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. for identifying and attracting new customers.
A number of great online tools exist for business owners to connect with each other and with their clients. In preparation for the Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network in Shanghai last month, Dell launched a LinkedIn property for conference participants to network and engage in conversations with each other. During the event, I was fortunate enough to lead a panel on online platforms and here are some tips I shared with attendees (and a few new things I learned from our panelists):

Women dominate the social space.

With a natural strength to cultivate relationships, women use social media to amplify their voice, increase their status with brands, and buy back time. Women in the US are responsible for 85% of the consumer purchases and social networks and online communities are a great place to connect with these potential customers. But, be sure to engage in an authentic way by offering reasons why your product or service can help simplify their lives, not that you offer something in pink.

Strategy for Social?

Understand the business objective first, listen to what is being said, then measure. The objective in marketing is often to connect with a target audience by identifying the best place and message in which to reach them successfully. For social media, it’s all about trust, something you earn by listening and engaging with customers where they are. It’s not a given that customers will engage with your business on social media platforms just for the fun of it. Finally, be sure you know your analytics and your demographics on social. You need to be able to measure it today so you can influence it in the future, allowing social to become a much bigger element of your total marketing mix.

Mobile is making social media even faster.

Therefore, you must be ready for faster feedback. Mobile is the most personal and immediate way for people to interact with peers and brands since they always have the technology with them. With so many people interacting socially on mobile devices across the globe, another search for social is created. Also, a lot of corporate and business networks are blocking social sites; therefore, people are using their mobile devices to access Facebook, Twitter and more.

Social media is an ‘egotocracy.’

(Thanks to @cshipley for the great term) Dealing with customers online is very similar to dealing with customers offline. It’s all about people. Just like it isn’t the best idea to start a fight with someone twice your size, it’s important to pick your battles with very vocal dissenters wisely. Many people in social media are looking to get their own 15 minutes of fame and see attacking your brand as a way to the top. Engage when you see an opportunity to turn a ranter into a raver.

Marketing is the new finance.

Don’t let anyone tell you that social media isn’t measurable and you can’t use it. The key is aligning it to your objective and finding the right measures to find what success looks like. If you can benchmark traditional marketing tools and tactics against those of social media, the ROI for most of the elements of social are absolutely unbeaten compared to what you have in traditional marketing aspects.
To hear more about what our speakers and participants thought of the panel, check out the Social Media’s Role In Building A Company’s Business and Brand thread on LinkedIn. And, join the new Dell Business Solutions Exchange on LinkedIn to stay up to date on the latest trends and participate in the discussion.
More about Michael:
Michael first joined Dell in August 2004 as Director and General Manager Software and Peripherals, Dell EMEA. He also managed several pan-European businesses for Dell EMEA prior to his current role.
Before Dell, Michael was with Hewlett-Packard for eleven years. There, he held various pan- European executive level positions in Sales and Marketing for different product lines. Prior to joining HP in 1994, Michael spent six years working for Dresdner Bank and Deutsche Bank in Germany and New York.
Michael holds a degree in International Business Studies and Business Administration. He also worked for four years as an associate MBA professor for supply Chain Management at Fachhochschule Furtwangen, Germany.