Take the Social Media Plunge

Take the Social Media Plunge
by Kelly Rand

Courtesy of Handmade Business

"I don't have time." ... "It's a waste of time."... "Do I have to do everything?" These are just some of the questions and excuses creatives give when considering social media for their businesses. There are so many platforms to figure out and not enough hours in the day. If you are strategic about it and use the tools to help achieve your goals, social media can be a great asset to your handmade business.

What Is It and Why Care?

Social media is platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Instagram, or the like, where people share links, images, videos, and tidbits they come across in their daily lives. Think about your everyday conversations, where you update your friends and share what's happening in your life. On social media pages, your friends and their friends can comment, share, like, and spread content further. This is the "social" aspect of it, creating a ripple effect of friends and followers who continually pass along the information by sharing and liking your content.

Imagine you wanted to share with a friend or potential customer your new earthenware pottery fresh out of the kiln. In the real world, you would invite your friend over to your studio for coffee. During your friend's visit, perhaps she is so taken by what she sees, she goes home and tells two other friends about your new work, and those friends tell two more people; then those friends tell two more people each and so on. Social media can amplify this word-of-mouth hundreds, thousands, if not millions of times.

There are over one billion Facebook users and one billion YouTube users. Twitter has over 500 million users, Instagram has grown to over 100 million users, Flickr is growing with 87 million users, and Pinterest has a healthy user base of 47 million. These numbers are no joke when you realize that Flickr is the oldest of the bunch launching in 2004, and Pinterest and Instagram the babies, both launching in 2010.

What does "word of mouth" look like online? Take your same earthenware pottery, fresh out of the kiln. You are so excited to share it with your friends, you take a picture of it and upload it to Facebook, for example. From here, your fans on Facebook can like your photo. They can comment on your photo and share it to their own timelines, perhaps asking their friends: "I love this color. It would go perfectly in my china hutch. Don't you agree?" Then their friends can also comment, like, share, etc.

Social Media Is a Tool

Facebook, Twitter, Pintrest and Tumbler Street Sign

When getting started, it helps to look at social media not as just a project or a chore, but as a tool because it is just that. A tool. "It is a communication tool just like a phone and fax," says Tara Swiger, author of Market Yourself and small business consultant. Tools can be used to gain customers, help tell your story as an artist, help you gain exposure, and create fans of your work, who will become repeat customers/collectors and also evangelize your work to others.

But before diving into social media, you need to know your audience and the people that currently like and know your work. You also need to know who your potential audience is--who will like and buy your work? Swiger said that once you know this, you need a solid website to act as your home base when engaging online with your audience. "[It's] a place to bring them back to and they can see what you do and why you do it, and feel connected to you and your work."

This is doubly important as Meighan O'Toole, who helps creative individuals and small brands with social media and digital strategy, explained, "When I find out about a new brand or artist, I Google them to find their website or Facebook page and am amazed when I can't find anything."

Once you have your home base, you can think about setting goals for yourself and your business. This can help you remain focused and use the tools to their advantage. Swiger explained that it is easy to get bogged down into how everyone else measures your worth via how many Twitter followers you have, how much traffic comes to your website, or how many Facebook fans you have. You need to figure out your own goals and measurements for your business. She said, "You don't need the same amount of [Web] traffic, you need the right traffic." This means that you are attracting your ideal audience and interacting with them.

Just like with any marketing plan, you need to have solid goals in mind. You need to figure out what you want out of social media. Is it customers? Is it exposure? It can be anything from the number of conversions from a particular social media site, such as a sale, to how many of your friends or fans are talking about your work--anything that signals to you that you have a healthy and viable business.

Having these two components in place will help you narrow your focus and be strategic in a way that you can use these tools to help you achieve your marketing goals.

Choose a Platform

Swiger suggested giving everything a chance. If one platform doesn't fit or isn't comfortable for you, "Then do what you enjoy. Ask yourself if you really like it?" she says. You can also start by picking based on what you know about yourself and match it to a particular platform. Do you like sharing images? Try Facebook, Instagram, or Flickr. Do you like watercooler chat? Try Twitter. Are your inspirations important to you? Try Pinterest.

The other thing you should know is you don't have to do everything. Everyone is crunched for time. You need to figure out which tool is best for you and the way you work, which site best shows off your work, and where your customers or fans are.

But you do need to make time. You already spend time marketing either with magazine ads, postcard mailers, or the like. Again, social media is just another marketing tool that you should fit into your workflow, and you need to spend the time to engage on these platforms. Do you remember how long it took for you to start seeing results from a magazine ad buy? O'Toole agreed that social media takes time and is work intensive. She said, "It is really important to set aside time to engage. It takes time to build up, and it could be a couple weeks before you see your first comment or like. But it is important to have a presence online." While social media is an investment, the investment you're making is one of time. The majority of these platforms are free to use.

If you feel you may get sidetracked or overwhelmed by the platform, take it slow and set a timer. Schedule a minimum of a half hour a day to achieve your social media goals.

Social Media Is a Tool

"Be a real person," Swiger urged. She said to think about when you are at a craft fair in real life and think about what you are going to say to the people who come into your booth. When you use social media, act like you are talking with someone in front of you. "Don't be a robot. Be yourself," she said. And the exciting thing with social media is you get to talk to hundreds, if not thousands, of people at the same time instead of just the one or two.

Again, don't expect an immediate sale or even a response. This does not mean you failed. It means you need to be patient and courteous. When your audience does respond, be thankful, just like when someone gives you a compliment in real life. Before long, you'll be well on your way to building an online community, having embraced all the tools at your fingertips to make them work for you and your goals.