Small business owners, especially new ones who are just getting into building an online presence, spend a long time floundering in the online space as they struggle to figure out how to ‘make it’.
What is this ‘it’ that you’re after and why would you want it?
You see people with blogs that get lots of comments and interactions. You see tweets that get consistently retweeted and links that get opened. You see Facebook fan pages with lots of ‘likes’. These are all just measures of someone’s influence online.
When you have a wide influence online, it’s a whole lot easier to share the products and information that you work so hard to create. You can ask the people you influence what it is that they want from you, and create it for them. No influence means no audience, no traffic, no subscribers, no sales.
So, back to you, the new business owner who wants this influence for yourself. How do you move forward, and where do you start?
The First Step: Show Up
(You need a fire pit to have a fire.)
Having a website is a given if you want to join this online world. But do I need to be on Twitter/Facebook/Social Network? A good rule of thumb is to go where your customers are. If they like to be on Twitter, then you should have a Twitter profile. If they are talking about your business on Facebook, then your business needs to have a Facebook page, not just your personal profile.
Since virtually everybody that owns an Internet connected device uses email, it’s absolutely crucial that you build an email list. This is one of the less obvious ones, but ask anybody with influence online and they will preach about the core importance of their email list.
Step Two: Communicate
(Light your fire.)
Authors Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman describe how social media is like a campfire in their excellent book, Content Rules. The Campfire is a great metaphor for interacting online, because if you don’t feed your campfire, it will go out.
For those of you who don’t live in the northeast, let me remind you how a campfire is built. You start out with very small pieces of wood, and some newspaper because these are very easy to burn. Then you add some heavier sticks and smaller logs — things that are harder to light, but burn for longer. Finally, you can add the big logs. Your tweets, Facebook posts, and emails are like the kindling you use to stoke the fire. Your products and services are the big logs. You can’t just ignite the big logs without a fire burning around them.
Gaining influence doesn’t just mean posting links to articles and re-tweeting other people. Influencers have a clear position and they aren’t afraid to share it. Think about the people who influence you. Do you follow them because they follow other people? No, you follow them because they have a perspective in the first place. Make sure your online communication reflects your own unique voice.
Step 3: Consistency
(Don’t let your fire burn out.)
What happens if you throw a bunch of kindling on the fire and then walk away? The fire burns brightly for a few minutes and then it goes out. Your Twitter followers, email subscribers and Facebook fans are the same way. You need to consistently stoke the fire if you want your influence to grow.
When they start out, most small business owners fear that they are are over-updating. “Well, I just posted on my Twitter feed this morning… I should probably wait again until later.” All too often, I hear about people who collect email addresses for their business but never send a single message! Or they email once, only to let their list languish, ignored, for months at a time.
If you collect a bunch of email addresses and wait 6 weeks to send them an email, when they finally get it, they aren’t going to remember who it’s from or why they’re getting it. It will probably wind up in the trash.
Your email list is the most important way for you to reach your customers online. If you have a list, you need to keep it engaged. If you don’t, it’s really not difficult to sign up for Aweber or Mailchimp and start collecting addresses.
So, let’s put it all together:
Building your influence online helps you attain a bigger and stronger web presence, which you can easily leverage to get more customers. Here are the steps:
1. Show up. You can’t start to build your influence online if you aren’t already established where you customers are. Find out where they hang out, and go there.
2. Remember the campfire. You need to start with kindling like tweets and Facebook posts, but don’t let the fire burn out! You have to keep feeding it.
3. Be consistent. If you’re going to show up fully online one week, and then take two weeks off, don’t bother showing up at all.
The unofficial fourth step is to take action now. Your influence is like the interest in your bank account: It grows over time. The longer you wait to start, the longer it will take you to gain influence.
Questions to Ponder: How will you start your campfire? What will you use as kindling and how will you keep it burning?
Photo Credit: Doug Beckers