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Highland Business Association seeks marketing advice

Launching a social media marketing campaign for a small business is akin to starting an exercise program. Don't begin until you’ve consulted a doctor.

Or, in this case, not until you’ve researched your market, says Sara Kerr, an assistant professor of business at St. Catherine University.

Kerr, a social media consultant, was the featured speaker at the Highland Business Association’s monthly member lunch in October, held on the St. Paul campus. She urged HBA business owners and entrepreneurs — including a chiropractor, a banker, the owner of a neighborhood tea shop and a financial planner — to analyze their customer base.

“Ninety-three percent of buyers conduct research online,” Kerr said, which makes them persuadable via social media channels, provided you choose the appropriate one.

She offered these “8 Social Media Activities for Success”:

1. Know your buyers. Are they online? Are they traditionalists who prefer respectful communication, the generation who “watches TV when it is actually broadcast,” said Kerr. Are they boomers who like a "customized" internet experience? Or are they the free-wheeling millennials who “will share everything” via social media — including whether they like your business?

2. Identify what distinguishes your business. “Ultimately, every business is unique,” Kerr said. She urged the manager of Tea Source, for example, to recognize that “tea is a ceremony” and to create an event that she could market via social media, allowing her to “represent your brand without a direct-sell approach.

3. Choose one social medium. And whether it's Facebook or Twitter, or the less common Pinterest or Vine, “then learn it. Play with it,” Kerr said. Better yet: “Find an employee who is excited about it."

4. Study and use the social tool yourself, so you understand its nuances and tools. (She recommends the website mashable.com.) “Think like a publisher does. Tell stories,” Kerr said. A mother of three, Kerr recently Tweeted about a novel use of Pillsbury crescent rolls that she created for a kids' snack. General Mills responded in kind, Tweeting that Kerr's recipe was a “great breakfast idea.”

5. Designate an employee to do this work.  That may well be the “front door” person of your organization — even if that's the youngest, least experienced member of the team. “Train them,” said Kerr. “You know the voice of your business. But they will know what the customer wants.”

6. Commit to regular posting. “The biggest failure in social media use is to stop doing it,” Kerr declared. “That’s telling your customers: ‘I’m too busy to talk to you.’” If you choose Facebook as your tool, post at least once a week; if it’s Twitter, where “there’s a lot going on all the time,” commit to Tweeting more frequently.

7. Promote your social media tools in person. Talk with your customers about your new activity. Solicit their feedback and ideas. Help them help you make the most of this marketing tool.

8. Measure and revise. Analyze the administrative page of whichever social medium you choose. How much feedback and dialogue are you inspiring? When are the best times to post?

Kerr, who is launching the integrated marketing and communications concentration for St. Kate's new Master of Business Administration, noticed that her MBA Facebook followers were logging in around 10 a.m. and 9 p.m. Guess when she posts? “I want to capture their attention when they’re online,” she said.

Above all, treat social media with the care you would any form of public relations — whether traditional advertising or the personal attention you give your customers. "Business owners should frame this as a customer-centric conversation," she explained. "These days, you're asking for feedback. You're not shouting out messages."

Read more about Professor Sara Kerr in the October issue of SCAN magazine.

Nov. 9, 2013 by Amy Gage

See also: Alumnae/i, Business, Faculty, Leadership