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Social Media Marketing for Small Business: When It Comes to Blogging, Be the Grateful Dead

If you've been following along with this series (as well as researching elsewhere), you probably have a pretty good grasp on the value of marketing your business organically via social media. Not only is it a low-cost solution -- in dollars and cents, anyway -- it's a great way for you to get to know your customers, build relationships with them and improve your products/services as a direct result of learning about what's most important to them through those interactions.

Throughout this series, I've covered a range of topics from jumping into the conversation on social channels to some strategies to help you create content that's share-worthy and a few more in between. Now that you've got a firm background on all of that, I'd like to take some time to talk about a topic that's particularly close to my heart: blogging.

It's Not About You, It's About Them

Back when the Grateful Dead were just starting to make a name for themselves around the San Francisco bay area, they opted to allow fans to record their live shows and freely trade (but never sell) those recordings amongst themselves. There was no shortage of business-savvy naysayers who thought that practice ill-advised, arguing that they'd never turn a profit themselves if they're letting fans create and trade their own recordings for free.

If the Dead had been focused on the dollar signs, they might have prohibited taping their live shows in the hopes of making money off of record sales, but it wasn't about the money for them. It was about the music, it was about the community of fans and friends that surrounded them and it was about their appreciation for that love and support, which allowed them to pursue careers as professional musicians.

I don't think I need to go into a summary of the Grateful Dead's legacy with its legions of loyal "Deadhead" fans that resulted from that philosophy of giving away free music to those that wanted it. Plenty has been written about them already, and will continue to be written about them for years to come simply because that generous, philanthropic approach -- that many thought to be a bad idea -- ultimately resulted in their becoming one of the most popular touring acts in the history of American music. Not only that, but their impact and influence continues to resonate today with bands like Phish, Widespread Panic, The String Cheese Incident, Umphrey's McGee and many others that're following in their footsteps with epic live shows where taping is, of course, allowed.

The moral of the story is this: when you're in tune with your audience and give them exactly what they want, success is bound to follow.

It's Not About Your Product, It's About Their Passion

When you sit down to plan out your blogging editorial calendar for the month, keep your focus not on what you want to talk about, but what your customers want to hear about. Write as if you're speaking to them face-to-face in a live conversation; be human. Blogging isn't about making you/your store look cool, it's about making a connection with your readers. It's about showing them that you know who they are, you know what's important to them and you're committed to proving that you're worthy of their business.

But back to your editorial calendar...I do much better at explaining something if I can put it into a real world story context, so bear with me.

Let's say you own a store that sells audio/video equipment and you've got a new web site launching that's going to include a section for you to add regular blog updates. With the Superbowl coming up on the horizon, you see an opportunity to put together a sale on some of your big screen TVs. You sit down to write a blog post that will resonate with your audience of fellow football fans.

NOTE: If you're not a football fan, but an employee is, ask them to write this post... you can't connect if you don't share the passion; authenticity is key and if you don't have it, your readers will know!

Do you start right off talking about the TVs and your prices as if your blog post were a sales pitch? No... this is a blog, not a marketing brochure! Your customers can get that information on the product pages of your website. With a blog post, your primary goal is to humanize your brand, so you need to set the tone with something... well, human.

Tell them the story of the first time your dad brought you to your first football game. Give them a front row seat to your memories of the sights, the smells, the sounds (possibly muffled through ear protection, as they were for my own son for his first Seahawks game a few weeks ago). Share with them your favorite moment from that game and explain why it's seared itself into your memory; why it's still so special to you after all these years. Tell them about that time when you had plans and a ticket to the Superbowl, but instead of going in to the game, you wound up spending the night in a bar near the stadium because you had to see about a girl, who later became your wife (yes, that's a Good Will Hunting reference -- the reason why therapist Sean Maguire shared that story of how he met his wife with Will was because he was trying to build trust, which is exactly what you're trying to do here).

As you're drawing down to the conclusion of your post, go ahead and tell them about why, to this day, you are of the opinion that there is nothing like being there in person to see a game. Share that, like many of them, you have never seen a Superbowl game in person yourself, and so have to rely on your TV to bring those amazing sights and sounds of the game to life at home. On the upside, in your line of work, you have become a bit of an expert when it comes to which TVs are the cream of the crop, both in terms of picture and sound quality, as well as affordability.

Of all the brands and models that are available, there are 3 that you would consider the absolute best choices for Superbowl Sunday.

Now, at this point, you might think that I would say you should urge people to come down to your store to ask you about those 3 TVs... get them through the door for the sales pitch, right? Wrong! This is where being like the Grateful Dead comes into play. 

Go ahead and tell them about the 3 TVs in your blog post (linking to each of their product pages on your website, of course) and why you think they're the best. Give them your sale prices with a promise that if they can find them lower elsewhere, you will not only match that price, but will give them an X% discount too. For in person sales, just bring the ad showing the lower price down to the store with you, or if you're an online customer, email you the link to the better priced item and you'll respond back with a single-use discount code they can plug in during the online check out process.

In this post you've just written, you have accomplished several things that will endear you to a customer:

1.) You've made it clear that you share their passion and you understand why having the best TV possible for the Superbowl is a priority -- you get it, you're right there with them.

2.) You've established trust by sharing valuable, expert level advice with them, completely free of charge.

3.) You've shown that what's important to your customers -- value and a great price -- is important to you (which, again, builds trust).

Now all you have to do is make sure you're getting eyeballs on this blog post, which you do by publishing the post on your web site, linking to it in your monthly newsletter sent to customers who have opted-in to receive communications from you and posting it to your social channels. But how do you reach audiences beyond those that are already aware of you? That's where hashtags come in handy.

Getting the Word Out with Hashtags

A hashtag is a way to group relevant content under a specific topic within a social channel. If you see a tweet or a Facebook post from someone that contains a hashtag, clicking on that hashtag will pull together all other posts by people on that network -- followers/friends or not -- who have posted something using that same hashtag. As long as you don't have any privacy settings in place that prevents anyone from seeing what you put up -- which makes sense for a personal account, but not for a commercial one -- then hashtags can help you reach wider audience than just those who are already aware of your business.

For this particular post, you would use hashtags related to the Superbowl and the 2 teams playing in it this year, whomever they may be (GO PATS!). You might also consider testing out some posts that include less specific, but still relevant hashtags, e.g. "football," to see if you're getting any traction with them. A quick search on Twitter or Facebook will turn up results for active hashtags; you can review the list of posts to see how often they're being used. Some, like #Superbowl2015, may be more popular than others. Just look for how far apart the posts are... if one has just a few minutes between posts, that would be better to use than one where there are several days between posts.

So, there you have it. As long as you keep your content focus on making a human connection with your audience and giving them what they most want that your business is able to provide, you'll be on the right track.

Questions? Comments? Ping me on Twitter.