Facebook. Instagram. Pinterest. Myspace. Bebo. There are more than 200 social-networking sites active across the globe, hosting trillions of conversations and billions of gigabytes of data. Over the past few years, small businesses have begun to harness the power of these networks to talk about their brand, engage customers, drive leads and ramp up sales. But there are a few hard-and-fast rules that business owners should adhere to if they want to avoid going from social hero to hapless zero.
AVOID THE HARD SELL Coupons, discounts and competitions work well on social media. “Buy now” does not. “You want to create content that people find fun and want to share,” says Amelia Harvey, founder of Collective, a yogurt manufacturer. “We never say, ‘We’re on promotion’, or ‘Go buy us’. We do talk about new flavours and new stockists but only in a way that informs and helps out our customers, never in a ‘selling’ way.” Ms Harvey and fellow ex-Gu executive Mike Hodgson launched Collective in 2011.
The pair have used the company’s social media feedback to get her products in front of new supermarket buyers. “It’s incredibly compelling to have all these positive interactions with our customers – mostly unsolicited too. Being able to demonstrate the power of the brand to new stockists is probably one of the reasons why we’re the fastest-growing yogurt brand in the UK right now.” Collective’s products are currently stocked in big stores such as Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Morrisons, Boots and Waitrose and the business now turns over pounds 3.7m a year.
BE VISUAL “We spend upwards of pounds 20,000 each year on photographing and watermarking our products and share most of these images online,” says Paul Charalambous, founder of Lego reseller Firestar Toys. “We are incredibly lucky to have a product that people want to look at and talk about to their friends.” Firestar Toys currently boasts 45,000 Facebook fans, nearly 3,000 Twitter followers, and “pins” pictures regularly on Pinterest and Instagram as well as running a Google+ page. “We post cool Lego stuff on a daily basis,” says Mr Charalambous. “We’re probably most active on Facebook and Twitter but you have to be on Google+ because it’s run by the biggest search engine in the world.” Firestar Toys’ visual approach to social media caught the attention of Fox Studios earlier this year. “We can customise Lego mini-figures to look like real people and are one of the only companies in the world with the sheer volumes of parts – such as hair, accessories, torsos – it takes to build a customised figure,” says Mr Charalambous. “We can then print directly on to the figure or add branded T-shirts.”
Firestar Toys shares images of these customisations on Facebook and Twitter and when an executive from Fox Studios was looking for bespoke Lego figures, these turned up in a Google Images search. “The studio had just wrapped up filming The Heat, starring Sandra Bullock, and wanted to create 50 Lego mini-figures of the two leads to give away to the cast,” says Mr Charalambous.

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