Don’t Get Left Behind: Even ‘Dinosaur Businesses’ Are Into Social Media!

Do you remember when websites first appeared? It was the time of dial-up internet connections (how long ago does that seem?!) and no-one could imagine why a ‘proper’ business would ever need one.

But within such a short space of time – I reckon about two years – the market went from being about geeks and cool design agencies to …. suddenly any business looked really old fashioned if they weren’t out there online.

And let that be a warning to businesses now. If you haven’t researched and started social media activities, you will look old fashioned by early next year.

This summer, I’ve had every kind of company and professional firm talking to me about social media. I have to admit, a number of them are really traditional and I would have thought they would not get to blogs and Twitter for some years yet.

Social media is probably taking a longer gestation time than it was for websites – and they weren’t quick – in terms of understanding the opportunities, learning how to use it and then implementing activities.

So if you think you don’t need to worry because your competitors and customers haven’t got a blog or Twitter account – just take care. You may be surprised at what is going on behind the scenes at this moment. Businesses are sorting out their strategies, writing blogs to launch in a few months and training their employees in everything from Twitter and blogging to how to use LinkedIn.

If you want to catch up quickly, what should you do?

1. Take time out of your business – a half day at least and switch off the phone and emails. Go online and search your competitors, customers, suppliers and industry bodies. Look at who has a blog, is making comments on other blogs, is tweeting. Jot down what is interesting and what is frankly awful (and there is a lot of that!)

2. Imagine you are a potential customer or existing client as you search. What might you find useful – where is the gap that you could fill with information and tips?

3. What are your employees doing? Look to see who is on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. Have they mentioned your company name? Are you happy about what they have said? Are their LinkedIn profiles consistent – do they reflect your brand?

For most businesses, the best ‘entry point’ into social media is to start with a blog. Not one that talks about your latest order or award – but cutting edge information that could help your clients. Explain where technology in your industry is going, report on an exhibition and the trends you spotted, review a book. Invite your customers to write guest blogs and strengthen the relationship.

And make sure you get a social media policy for your employees with guidelines as to what they can and can’t do.

What would you recommend as the first steps for a business that still hasn’t taken the plunge into social media?

Victoria Tomlinson is founder and owner of Harrogate-based PR consultancy, Northern Lights. A former director of Ernst & Young, she started her career as a graduate trainee for Plessey and later with Bradbury Wilkinson, the banknote printers, travelling around the world to sell banknotes to foreign governments. She joined Arthur Young as part of their start-up marketing team and was made a director of client services on the management committee and managing a 100-strong division. Victoria sits on the boards of Bradford University School of Management, Northern Ballet Theatre and Common Purpose North Yorkshire. She is a Prince’s Trust mentor.