Social media — it’s not about sales

Entrepreneurs must use platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to build relationships with customers, finds Sandra O’Connell

Kim Kardashian may have tried to break the internet, but Nicki Hoyne broke her own website. The founder of My Shining Armour celebrated the third birthday of her fashion accessories site on Tuesday with an online scavenger hunt.

“We hid free stuff all over the site — people had to pay only for the shipping,” said Hoyne. “We didn’t anticipate the huge spike in activity and the site crashed.”

Her customers, spread around 33 countries, took it in good spirit, she added. “We have a very high repeat business rate — our customers know the free stuff will still be there when they can get back on the site.”

Social media has been an essential tool in Hoyne’s marketing kit, enabling her to grow the Kilkenny company from a standing start three years ago. “I’ve taken a very strategic view of social media. It’s about being in the right place at the right time online, and not all over the place at once,” she said. “What work best for me are Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat. Twitter doesn’t interest me so much because I’m not good at it.”

She finds that shoppers crave a recommendation, and being part of a “tribe” of followers delivers just that.

Hoyne is one of the speakers at the Social Media Summit taking place at Croke Park on Tuesday and Wednesday. The event, in its second year, was the brainchild of Samantha Kelly of social media agency Tweeting Goddess.

Kelly believes Twitter and LinkedIn are the two best social media channels for developing business-to-business (B2B) relationships. “Fear is a huge factor with Twitter because all people ever hear about it is the bad stuff that happens,” she said. “Social media is not about selling, it’s about building relationships.”

These platforms give a chance to show a business’s “human” side, she said, as “people buy from people, even online”.

The first step is to creat a biography which includes a link to your website. Then you should find people in your niche area and start a conversation. If a business has 20,000 followers on Twitter, but is following only 500, for example, that business is not using its social media effectively, said Kelly.

“People like a business to recognise them and to engage with them.”

Hard-pressed small-business owners often feel they do not have time to dedicate to social media. “The busiest time of the day on Twitter is between 9pm and 11pm, when people are relaxed and receptive, watching and commenting on the telly,” said Kelly. “That’s when your audience is active on Twitter, so that’s when you should be too.”

Dublin-based music events organiser Marcus O’Sullivan set up Circulate, a digital agency, in May 2014, on foot of demand from artists to handle their social media. His clients include artists such as DJ Felix da Housecat and Faithless, as well as record labels including Virgin, Sony and Universal. The strongest growing element of his business is fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) brands.

Music fans form a largely young audience and are comfortable across different channels, thus they represent something of a frontier in social media. “Also music has always been about building a relationship between an artist and their fan base,” said O’Sullivan.

Faithless ran a competition offering the opportunity to be the band photographer at an event. Other acts ask fans to suggest a theme for their tour.

O’Sullivan added: “With one of our clients, Strong Roots, which makes frozen sweet potato products, we published a cookbook with blank pages, identified a few superfans, and then asked them to fill in their favourite recipe and share pictures of it online.”

Such “community management” is a big part of O’Sullivan’s job. Small businesses looking to be smart on social media should pick one medium — Facebook, Twitter or Instagram — and do it well, he said. This may mean at first trying all channels and using Google Analytics to illustrate which one drives most visitors to your website.

Nicola Byrne, founder of Cloud90, a digital monitoring service, believes the most common source of social media problems is staff posting damaging comments — either untrained staff doing so inadvertently, or disgruntled staff doing it deliberately.

Staff representing your business should be given proper guidance and resources. Too many businesses do the equivalent of “leaving the children in charge” of social media, said Byrne. “If you’re a business, there is nothing social about social media,” she said. “The person contacting you online is not your friend. It’s really about old-fashioned customer service.”

Jamie White set up Leading Social, a social media agency, 18 months ago and saw turnover of more than €1m in its first year, from a stable of clients ranging from KPMG to Apache Pizza and the HSE.

Social media should be a long-term investment, he said, not an avenue to quick sales. “You can’t expect to do a social media campaign the way you would with press or radio,” he said. “If you are looking for quick impact, you’re never going to get that from social.”

Traditional marketing rules apply, however, when identifying and following an audience. “You can’t take a one-size-fits-all approach with social,” he said. “You have to tailor it, just as businesses have been doing for generations with magazines, TV, radio or press advertising.”

Three years after setting up Chupi, a jewellery business, Chupi Sweetman has 130,000 “fans” across four social media channels. A former Topshop designer, she employs 22 people and sells around the world.

“As a small business, [social media] enables me to post a picture of a ring and say, this is my new ring and this is why it matters to me and why I’m making it here in Ireland,” said Chupi, who is working with Enterprise Ireland (EI) to develop further export markets.

“EI is all about the importance of intellectual property and protecting it, but it’s almost impossible to do that with design,” she said.

“I can’t really stop jewellers around the world from copying my designs, but social media helps me protect my brand in a different way.”

She describes herself as “a storyteller whose medium is gold”. Social media enables her to tell those stories.

“We get to tell this incredible audience why each piece matters to us,” she said. “Social media allows you to do that.”