Social media is one of those buzz expressions that it seems like most entrepreneurs like to throw in their business plan these days. The trouble is that while social media may seem cool because it’s cutting-edge and tends to be cheap, many entrepreneurs don’t have a firm grasp of what it means. Still, that doesn’t mean social media’s only for hip young start-ups. Here’s evidence: the Mayo Clinic’s into social media. If it surprises you that century-old medical institution is into Web 2.0, you might want to read on. VC-entrepreneur-member of the weberatti Guy Kawasaki recently spoke with the Clinic’s syndication and social media manager in an interview that’s posted over at American Express’ Open Forum blog. While there’s a lot of rambling, there are also some useful nuggets for those of you small business owners who may be trying to craft your start-up’s social media strategy. We’ve mined the good stuff, and created a simple list with tips we gleaned from the interview:
1) Don’t just jump into social media without planning first. Not only that, look at your existing resources and figure out how they can fit into a social media context. Says Lee Aase, the manager for syndication and social media at the Mayo Clinic: “We didn’t just immediately jump into blogging, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. It was a natural, gradual progression that incorporated what I like to call, ‘The MacGyver Mindset,’ creating new solutions out of resources we already had on hand. Mayo Clinic created its ‘Medical Edge’ syndicated weekly TV news resource in 2000 and offered local stations trustworthy health and medical news content. In 2004, we established a similar daily program for radio stations. Our first ‘new media’ foray involved creating an RSS feed for the radio segments to publish a podcast and because of its early entry into the iTunes podcast directory and the Mayo Clinic brand, it was featured on the front page. This led to a significant increase in downloads, which provided impetus for further new media exploration.”
2) Make sure you have a real passion for social media before you get involved. That’s because while social media, YouTube, Facebook, etc, may be free, they still cost you in man hours maintaining profiles and uploading new blog posts and videos. If you’re in the enviable position of the Mayo Clinic—”We had a passion for the projects, so no one was getting any extra pay, and we didn’t add staff”—that’s one thing. But if you’re wasting hours that could be better spent elsewhere, that’s another.
3) If you’re not a big organization like Mayo, expect that you might not get as much bang for your buck. A lot of entrepreneurs seem to be under the impression that by simply throwing a blog up on the Internet, traffic will increase and that will result in an immediate increase in conversions or leads. The same goes for the concept of “viral” videos, blogs, and content. One of the most common things you may read in a business plan’s marketing strategy section these days is that the business will “go viral.” The trouble is that it’s not as simple as just posting a video or blog: “You can’t and shouldn’t start a blog or a YouTube channel with the expectation that you’ll have a viral video. Viral isn’t a strategy,” says Aase.
4) Don’t expect immediate results. Says Aase of the advice he’d offer small business owners and other interested in social media: “It’s not an overnight process, so start by listening and taking advantage of the free or low-cost tools. By keeping your costs low, you will be able to create the breathing room you need to have time to achieve results…if you use the social tools with your existing staff as a way to accomplish your current work more effectively, you will get some wins that will enable you to expand your scope. I would also stress that a video with 3.7 million views is a nice bonus, but it’s not the goal. The real power is being able to create niche videos that may reach only a few thousand views, but they’re seen by the people who are most interested.”