Small Business and Social Media

The Web Site Creator At 27, Vishen Lakhiani was a “bedroom entrepreneur,” publishing self-growth programs online. By 31, he had founded six Web businesses. Today, at 34, his West Coast-based MindValley employs about 40 people. In the process of building a multimillion-dollar company, he has created one of the world’s top workspaces and has become a highly requested speaker in the fields of marketing and entrepreneurship.

“We sell personal-development products,” he says. “We use social media in conjunction with traditional sales models, and that has proved successful. I used to be one of the traditional online marketers; I believed that the process was all about using the right copy, the right launch sequence and psychology to close the sale. There is a huge shift going on in the online world.”

Lakhiani notes that there are hard and soft triggers to influencing behavior, and that his Web sites are moving to the soft triggers. “Every product we launch has a person attached behind it,” he says. “We are going away from the Walmart model to the Main Street, mom-and-pop shop model. The customer is able to engage in a conversation with the person behind the product. When you e-mail customer support, there is a live person responding to you.”

In some of his presentations, Lakhiani uses an example of how an undisclosed restaurant increased its business using a simple social media plan.

The restaurant employed attractive hostesses who asked for business cards when they greeted male customers. The next day, the customer would receive a personal greeting from the hostess inviting him to friend her on Facebook. Most did, and their sites often provided birthdays in their profile information. In advance of the customer’s birthday, he would receive a personal invitation from the hostess suggesting the restaurant provide the venue for 10 of his friends to help him celebrate his birthday, noting that he would be personally greeted upon arrival, treated like a VIP, and given bar discounts for the group. The response was extremely positive.

“That’s how it can work,” Lakhiani says, referring to the often-mysterious concept of social media. “But that’s not what most people teach. They coach that all it takes is to create a Facebook fan page. So it attracts 2,000 fans—you have to ask, How many of those fans convert to money? The process is not just about your fan list, your Twitter list, how many followers your blog has. It’s how you get these people to convert. I know people with blogs that have a quarter million followers and they are still broke. It’s not about the technology; it’s about the emotion.”

The Coach A credo Mari Smith lives by and encourages clients to adopt is ABM—Always Be Marketing.

“Every single thing I do markets myself, whether I’m chit-chatting with a friend or working with a client,” Smith says. “Oprah could be reading my tweets and trying to decide whether to have me on her show right now. I’m always cognizant of that.”

Smith, who previously worked sales jobs in the computer industry, relocated from Scotland to San Diego in 1999. She trained as a relationship coach, and worked in that field. During that time, she started a business as an information marketer. In 2007, Facebook invited her to be a beta tester. “My friends at the time said, ‘Mari, technology finally caught up to you.’ ”

Smith advises any company just getting started with social media that a crucial step is to have its people get out there on Google Search or sign up for Tweet Beep alerts, and listen to the conversations going on about the company or the company’s specific market. Doing so can help gauge how people feel about your products, company, competitors—what the sentiment is out there. Evaluate what the corporate trendsetters—Kodak, Dell Computers, Ford Motor Company, and Starbucks, for example—are doing on blogs, with Facebook Fan pages, and on Twitter and YouTube to promote their companies.

Two examples of how companies have used Facebook Fan pages as loyalty-builders: Dell created a social media resource page (, which allows its brand to target a demographic outside of those people who already know and love the business. Rather than take over a Facebook Fan page created by two fans (, Coca Cola instead rewarded them with a trip to Atlanta for a headquarters tour—the idea being that rewarding dedication can inspire loyalty in others.

An important action in establishing a social media plan is finding the right person to become involved in the process. Smith notes that Frank Eliason, Comcast’s director of digital care, maintains that the No. 1 quality for people who are successful in social media is passion. Eliason convinced the mammoth provider of cable TV, Internet and phone services to use Twitter to interact with customers.

“Authenticity and transparency are critical in social media,” Smith says. For example, she says the robust culture that successful online entrepreneur Tony Hsieh has developed at Zappos includes the following Twitter training message for employees, who each have their own Twitter accounts: Be authentic and use your best judgment.

Smith warns novices that social media is a commitment.

“You really can’t just dip your toe in and be successful,” she says. “You have to carefully consider it. In a really beautiful way, it’s about leadership: When you have people following you, whether that’s hundreds or hundreds of thousands or a million, you have a great responsibility to provide them with quality content and lead them with integrity.”

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