My number one rule for small business and the internet.

SM_FailI do a fair bit of coaching small businesses on how to approach blogs and social media and often it comes down to the attitude that comes through in your posts that can make or break a campaign.

Gone are the days when you set up a website, address yourself as “we” and refer to yourself in the third person. With social media becoming the primary point of engagement the back and forth is turning the traditional consumer into your audience that will interact with you more as a person than as a brand. Your audience has also become so much more savvy and cynical with marketing. A flubbed tweet or misstep on your facebook page will not only be noticed, it will be shared and held up for ridicule.

It is going to happen at one time or another. The difference is how it will be received in the minds of your target demographic. If you make a mistake, will you be dragged over the coals for it by a disconnected audience or will your fans helpfully correct you and in some cases stand up for you in the face of criticism?

What you do months, even years before the flub will determine how the results play out and it comes down to a very simple thing that we do every day.

When we communicate, we communicate as real people.

That is it. My number one tip for making a successful connection with your audience is to be real. Often when talking to businesses the common theme is that the best business comes from strong personal relationships between provider and consumer.

We love to talk to the butcher or the coffee shop staff. The social interaction leaves us with a warm feeling. It builds trust and every time we think of that business it gives us as humans a good feeling about ourselves and the product or service offered.

This generates more repeat business and importantly more powerful referrals from customers turned cheerleaders for your brand. Just look at the fervour between Apple and Android consumers to validate how powerful a fanbase for your brand can be.

You can do this through social media by being real. By not saturating your feed with sell, sell, sell. Don’t be afraid to tell a story about something that is still a part of the business but less about the hard sell. Let your audience take a peek behind the curtain. Involve them, include them in milestones for the business and staff like birthdays or personal achievements.

How it can go wrong was recently highlighted to me in the wake of the 2015 J-Bay incident with Mick Fanning. It was an extremely powerful story. A well known Australian surfer was competing and he had an experience with a shark that was captured on video and shared all over the world. Millions of people all over the world gasped, shrieked and commented as the scene unfolded. Theories were postulated, what-ifs were expanded on and people revisited older stories that were related.

The Mick Fanning brand had been elevated to unprecedented heights and to marketing departments had become a very valuable item. Something had to be done, the sponsors had a burning need to somehow grab this attention and they went for it.

The press conference was set up, the stage was set and the branding was put in place. Products and names were put front and centre as Mick Fanning told his story.

The now media-savvy public saw this and the blatant product placement was obvious to them. This was a mis-step by the sponsors who seemed to have lost touch with the minds of their audience. A surf culture that often shuns the big corporate image held up the sponsors as poor examples of sponsors of surf culture. It hijacked the otherwise compelling story that should have been centre stage. The sponsors were not completely genuine and glare of the audience sliced through the play and laid the sponsors bare.

What could have been done differently?

Respect the audience. Sure, promote the brand but don’t over-saturate. Host the video on your sponsors channel, with *maybe* a watermark or stinger at the start or end of the video but do not plaster sponsor names across every surface facing a camera. This is a good example of a hard sell sold way too hard. The story could have still be front and centre with a greater social media engagement as people shared the video FROM THE SPONSORS CHANNELS!

In this exercise, the campaign was set back and the brand of not only the sponsors were damaged but the Mick Fanning brand would have lost a little shine in the public eye too.

The value of being real and avoiding over-saturation of the hard sell could not be underestimated in these times.