These days everyone is on social media. Very few businesses set up shop without also setting up an online presence using at least one social media platform. But does that necessarily mean this invaluable tool is being used by most business owners to its full advantage? Nope. In fact using social media effectively is one of the things we at Vegan Mainstream constantly see people struggling with. As helpful as social media can be if you’re using it correctly, it can also be an incredible waste of time and money if you’re not doing it right. It pays to think outside the box when considering how to best use social media. So in this article I wanted to share some creative ideas on how to use it as a research tool to uncover valuable information and access targeted advice that can really help to move your business forward.

#1: Use the “Social” in Social Media to Create Impromptu Focus Groups.

When you are rolling out your next new product or service consider hosting a chat or live-streaming video (hint: Facebook Live) for your top customers or previous clients to join. This can create an informal environment for you to get some valuable feedback from people you know are interested in what you have to offer. It allows you the opportunity to ask questions, ask for ideas and build a deeper relationship with your customers. And it offers people who already love you and your brand the opportunity to help shape your next product or service. One of the best things about social media is its ability to bring people and ideas together in an informal way. Use this chance for an impromptu focus group to your advantage!

#2: Use Social Media to Better Understand Your Clients.

If you offer coaching or consulting, make it a best practice to keep up-to-date on clients’ social media accounts prior to a call or meeting. This will ensure you are informed of personal and professional activities in your clients’ lives. Not only will it help build rapport during catch-up chats, but it might help you understand a client’s current state. For example, if you are a vegan lifestyle coach, looking at a client’s social media feed might help you understand where they are on their journey. Are they posting pictures of what they‘re eating? Are they sharing their current challenges with transitioning to a vegan lifestyle? Do you see discouraging posts by family members or friends? Tapping into these insights might help you better prepare for the call, and offer solutions to struggles your clients are facing.

#3: Access Experts on Targeted Social Media Sites — Then Go Private

I’m a huge fan of Linkedin and Facebook groups. I used to join every group that had “vegan” in the title, but that quickly destroyed my newsfeeds. So now I look for groups that can help me connect with colleagues, peers and experts in my field. When I’m considering migrating to a new platform or investing in new technology to make my business more efficient, I may post a message to take the pulse of a specific group, and to see if anyone else has been trying to make a similar decision. It’s true that lots of people do this, but what I do differently (and what I encourage you to do differently) is what happens next…i.e. where the conversation goes from there. I use social media to help identify someone who might be experiencing my pain, or who might be on the edge of making a similar decision. And then I take the conversation private. While I could have the conversation in the comments feed, I find it’s a much better use of my time to either move to email, Linkedin messaging or Facebook chat. In addition, this elevates the relationship (aka networking advantage!) and allows us to talk freely (because it’s not really appropriate to explain your entire business strategy in the comments of a post). It’s much easier to have a targeted conversation and get the help you need in a private chat, or even a quick phone call, and you may make a lasting connection to boot.

#4: Use Social Media to Strengthen Connections.

Over the years, it can be hard to keep track of all the people you know, and that’s where social media accounts can really shine. I make a habit of connecting with people I meet on Linkedin, so it’s like my on-demand database. Over the years, I’ve kept in touch with some people more frequently than others; however, if you are on my list, most likely we have some type of connection. And as we all know, connections – no matter how remote – can come in handy! For example, let’s say I want to speak at a conference or Vegfest. Instead of sending a general email to the organizer,  I will take some time to look through my connections on Linkedin to determine if I know anyone who works within the organization. If not, I will look for connections with any previous speakers. The goal is to find someone who can help me either find the right contact within an organization, or help support my inquiry by sending their contact a note on my behalf. This same technique can be used when you are trying to get your products into a local health food store, or get featured on a prominent blog/website. The key is leveraging the people you know or have interacted with in the past, and social media is a great way to do that.

I’ve only mentioned a few social media platforms in this article, but the same advice applies across all the social media tools at your fingertips. There are so many opportunities when you start to see social media as a research and networking tool; as you start to really understand how to use it in a targeted way, the benefits to your business become crystal clear.

TAKE ACTION

Think about each of the four items above, and create a document to record how you could use each one in the coming six months to benefit your business. Then, choose one of them, and get started!

This article is part of the Vegan Mainstream Essentials Guide, Marketing Madness. Download all the articles in this collection, here:

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