7 Steps to Leverage Social Media for Your Small Business
Once thought of as a frivolous waste of time with little meaningful relevance to the modern business world, social media is now firmly entrenched as one of the most powerful and cost effective promotional, branding, and research tools available to the contemporary entrepreneur. With social media's credibility well established, today's savviest small business owners find themselves considering not if they will use social media, but rather how. Luckily, social media is so multifaceted and malleable that it can be quickly deployed in a highly customized way for your business.
So how does a small business get started with social media? Here are some helpful steps to get you going.
1) Start At The Top: Twitter and Facebook
Social networking has become so popular and profitable that the digital landscape is now littered with upstart social networks promising to be the "next big thing" in social media. But until they live up to such hype, develop your presence where the masses are: Twitter and Facebook. Concentrate your initial efforts on established, trusted platforms that will still exist by the time you get the hang of them.
2) Give Social Media Equal Billing
One of biggest social media mistakes a small business owner can make is to separate the physical business from its digital presence. In reality, social media should share equal billing with your company. Do you have a logo? Be sure to revise it to include the small print of your Twitter handle. Even a simple Facebook icon would be adequate to inform customers of your online presence. Once your social media footing is secure, shout it from the rooftops and draw customers into your social media circle.
3) Invite Customers to Participate
"Businesses used to have a small suggestion box near the door that mostly housed dust bunnies and an occasional piece of gum," said Charles Nelson, President of Sprinkles Cupcakes. "Rarely would someone get back to you. But people can now make a post from an iPhone or a BlackBerry while they’re sitting in your restaurant.” While the overwhelming majority of social media is used for direct marketing purposes, small business owners who creatively invite patrons to share their experiences and offer feedback via Twitter and Facebook gain real-time customer insights the value of which cannot readily be measured.
4) Use Social Media for Research
Not only are the likes of Twitter and Facebook remarkably effective promotional vehicles, they serve as vastly underrated research tools. Many of the world's largest companies now employ scores of individuals whose sole responsibility is to troll the social media space to gather consumer information, read customer feedback, and explore what the competition is doing with social media. Any small business owner who uses social media exclusively for promotion is missing a tremendous opportunity to gain valuable consumer and marketing insight.
5) Develop Your "Tweet Cred"
Urban slang defines “street cred” as commanding a level of respect that results from substantial experience or knowledge. In the world of social media, "tweet cred" is the amount of expertise you convey via Twitter communications with customers and members of your online community. For this reason, it's important that you don't dedicate every Facebook post and tweet exclusively to your business or the latest deal you're offering. Instead, frequently share useful information about your industry or the community in which your business is located. As your credibility grows, so too will the stature and recognition of your business.
6) Use It or Lose It
Despite vast misconceptions to the contrary, social media does not automate your marketing efforts. In fact, social media requires substantial elbow grease to run properly. Simply having a Facebook page or a Twitter account is of incredibly limited value. In the digital age, that which isn't fresh isn't useful. To be effective, social media must be used frequently, but not overbearingly. A small number of thoughtful or pertinent tweets each day is more than sufficient for the social media newbie. As your audience and the functions served by your social media grow, so too will your level of engagement and commitment to social networking.
7) Be Consistent as You Become Competent
Let your use of social media represent a daily work in progress. Both a commitment and a craft, contemporary social media requires a consistent investment of time and energy. Over time, as you cultivate your social media presence with relevant and topical information, you'll grow exponentially more competent in social networking. Soon after, your knowledge and level of comfort can be used to advance your social media efforts and, ultimately, make them more sophisticated.
Michael Essany is a business writer for Intuit and is passionate about solving small business problems.