Entrepreneur: Social Media & Your Brand
By Rodger Roeser, CEO, The Eisen Agency
There is something strange about social media and branding if you’re an entrepreneur, particularly acute if you’re a small business owner that provides some type of professional service to either a consumer or another business. The reason? Because literally your reputation IS the business.
So a good, healthy respect for social media and online is critical, but not only will it affect you personally, it will affect your business, your employees, potential employees and perhaps most critically, your clientele. Don’t fear it, but rather respect it. Don’t ignore it, but don’t dwell on it either. Understand that social media is a wonderful tool, but it can also be a black hole of negativity – and like it or not, that negativity can ruin the hardest working and smartest business person.
So, a few items to consider:
#1. Not Everyone Likes You
True in kindergarten, and true in business. Trust me, I know first hand. It’s a fact, no matter how amazing or nice or whatever, there is always going to be someone for some reason that just doesn’t think you’re as wonderful as your mom thinks you are – and that’s okay. The key is understanding that fact and that some folks, simply because you’re a business person, will not like you. It could be a former employee, a former client or customer, a competitor or simply someone who thinks owning a business makes you bad.
The fact is, you never really know what could be the reason so don’t bother. If it’s a disappointed customer, sadly they may share any manner of opinion on a host of social sites – from yelp to facebook – trying to hurt you and your business. Employees, even if they’re not actual employees, can say the most vile things anonymously about your business on a truly nefarious site called Glassdoor.
The simple fact is, do what you can to address these issues from an operational standpoint and if someone comes to you that is not happy do what you can to address it – but don’t actively engage nor respond via social – aside from a simple statement: “We have received your information and are reviewing. We appreciate you taking the time to contact us.” I know it can be hard, but getting in a pissing match online is never the answer. It might hurt your feelings, after all, your business is your baby – but again, your reputation IS your business, so always take the high road even when someone is taking the low.
#2. Not Everything You Read is Real
And that being said, there are literally thousands if not hundreds of thousands of fake posts, fake reviews and other negative things that can be said about a person or their business that have no bearing on the truth, let alone even being said by a person at all. It’s a sad fact of the world we live in, where folks are paid (by whom we’ll let you speculate) to post and share any manner of non truths, bad reviews and hurtful speech. And, they can hide behind anonymity in many cases. This is particularly tough when looking at career sites or service reviews – you just cannot take those as gospel. One person’s experience (if it’s even real at all) should not be guiding you or your principles as to how you run your organization or yourself. Now, if you’re seeing a consistent pattern of folks saying the customer service is bad, or the quality of work is low – you should probably take a good inventory of some operational issues.
But, if there appear out of blue several random posts about your business that are overtly negative and simply have no basis in fact, you can attempt to address them with the site that posted it (which is largely a waste of time) or, you can, as we suggest, review the information chalk it up to throwing stones. It should serve as a good reminder that while no one and no business and no boss is perfect, reviewing and addressing is an important endeavor.
#3. Perception is Reality
And this is what is most important about social media and the brand of the entrepreneur and her business. Whatever you are posting to social, be it your personal facebook page or pinterest site, and whatever your business is posting, while they may be wholly separate – in your case, they are one in the same. It’s hard, if not impossible particularly in the professional services space, to separate the professional from the service. In my case, I am a political animal and share my thoughts on things I believe go on politically that I think should be called out. There is no question that my personal beliefs and things I share on my own personal social pages affects my business – I don’t see the Democratic National Committee contacting my business any time soon. But that’s just me.
So, as long as you’re comfortable with what you’re saying and sharing and with the total understanding that anything you share or say or post indeed impacts your business – then have at it. Most entrepreneurs and small business owners try to avoid confrontation and the big three: religion, politics and sex. It truly is a personal decision that affects your business, so don’t fear posting or sharing your thoughts, just understand that what you do share, over the course of time (as a single post a brand does not make), will impact the perception folks have on you, ergo on your business.
If you wish to be perceived as a somewhat cynical and a bit frustrated conservative, then follow my facebook page. If you wish to be perceived as this fun, happy go lucky person, post those sorts of things. Post to how you wish to be perceived and most importantly, stay consistent and true with yourself. If you don’t want to be controversial, don’t. If you don’t wish to comment or share on anything that may be part of the big three, don’t. It’s okay. How I use my personal social vs how my business uses social are entirely different. My LinkedIn page IS part of my business and is designed as such, so we purposefully keep that close to vest and business focused – and we recommend you do the same.
#4. Your Branded Content
So, while there’s all this doom and gloom and folks posting all this awful stuff about you and your business, and you’re terrified as to what to post in this hyper offended culture – fear not. The solution is actually a fairly simple strategy – and you’re experiencing it right now. It’s called ‘branded content.’ Now, my industry and expertise is public relations and branding, which encompasses social media and advertising and marketing. I enjoy writing, it’s what I do for a living, so the concept of branded communications is pretty simple for us. But, it should be for you, too, and part of your normal weekly routine. Write an article about your experience or expertise. Share a few tips. Conduct some research and get that published. Create some Top 10 lists or even memes. One of our favorite tools is PlayBuzz where you can create lists and games.
The simple fact is, you know stuff. And there are others out there that would like to know and read the stuff you know so they can know it – and employ it. After all, entrepreneurs are folks that crave knowledge and are always looking for a better way to go about business. And don’t give the “I’m too busy to write” speech. If that’s true, you’re not taking the necessary and important time to build your business because (repeat it with me) your brand IS the brand of your business. So make time to write. If you don’t have time, contact someone like me that can help you find topics and also get your ideas and thoughts down. Not having time doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done.
Creating that perception that you’re knowledgeable about your industry, that you understand and appreciate your customers and that you’re sharing interesting, engaging and informative pieces makes you a thought leader. That’s good for business. And don’t limit yourself to paper. Use audio podcasts. Video web series are all the rage. Create memes. If you’re not creative, don’t have time or just don’t want to do it – I know a great PR firm.
The bottom line is, social is great. Social can be bad and it can even hurt your business – and your feelings. After all, I know how hard you work on your business and when someone does or says something to besmirch that, it can be tough to swallow. Only fellow entrepreneurs understand the long hours, the sacrifices and the fact that you take care of others before you take care of yourself. We’re a nifty club that may have more balls than brains, but you have to have thick skin.
And you also have to build, protect and manage your reputation through social engagement. Create good content. Review posts, and never feel like you’re alone on an island – don’t be afraid to call in a pro to help. Happy hunting.
About the Author
Rodger Roeser is the CEO of the Greater Cleveland and Greater Cincinnati based digital marketing and PR consultancy The Eisen Agency. Recognized as one of the foremost experts on professional services marketing and branding, Roeser works with leading financial, legal, health care, real estate, construction, and home services companies to more effectively market their services. Roeser was named 2010 Cincinnati PRSA PR Person of the Year, and served as president of the Cincinnati PRSA Chapter in 2005. He earned a SoMe Social Media Impact Award from Smart Business in 2012, was a Jefferson Award Finalist in 2013 and was named of the Cincinnati’s top CEOs in 2014. His agency was named 2013 Cincinnati PRSA Large Agency of the Year and in 2012, cracked the Inc. 5000. He can be reached at RRoeser@TheEisenAgency.com.