15 Mar 2012

Social Media Tips for Small Businesses

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In my previous post, I discussed that social media channel growth is a key area of focus for small business marketers looking to reach niche groups.  Today, I’m taking a look at specific tactics any small business owner can start using today to build social media presence and participation.

I would first like to address a seemingly “gray area” among small business marketers when it comes to social media.  While the trend shows that small businesses are increasing their social media efforts, the question is whether they are tapping into its full potential? By this, I’m referring to a perception of social media as a low-cost or “free” marketing tool that requires minimal time, rather than utilizing it for the true customer engagement tactic it has the power to be.

The greatest benefit of social media for small businesses is the opportunity to have conversations directly with your audience. With paid media you are shouting your message out to the masses, but social media provides an in-road to your customers.  You can hang out where they are online, listen to what they are saying about you and your competition and join in the conversation when the timing is right.  And, naturally over time, you will build up your fan base with people following you for the resources you offer and access to promotions and special offers.

As your business increases its participation in social media, it is important to keep in mind these primary reasons for doing so:  building awareness, building sales and building loyalty. Let these goals shape your messaging and outreach efforts.

Here are (10) action items to fast-track your social media participation:

  1. Start by making it easy for your company to be found through social media by creating profiles on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn and Google+.  Make sure to include keyword phrases that are searched by the audience you are trying to reach when optimizing your profiles.
  2. Create a blog where you can continually post updated content.  This is where you will drive the followers and fans you interact with on social networks.
  3. Engage in targeted outreach by researching and connecting with bloggers and online reporters who might write about your company. Jason Acidre provides a great post on varied approaches to outreach.
  4. Set up Google alerts to start social listening and learn what others are saying about you and your competition.
  5. Now that you are monitoring what’s being said, it’s time for reputation management.  Tackle questions, complaints and positive feedback by crafting well thought out responses on your Twitter and Facebook profiles.
  6. Build up your Facebook Fan Page with interesting posts, polls, likes, special offers and contests.  A recent survey from Constant Contact showed that small business owners found Facebook to be the most effective social tool. Over 9 million small businesses are currently using Facebook to interact with their customers.
  7. Network with influencers in your industry through LinkedIn connections.  Join groups and associations that your influencers belong to. This will help you to be seen as an authority in your industry as, over time, you offer expert solutions, information and resources important to your audience.
  8. Use Twitter to not only boost your visibility but as a great resource for blog content ideas.  Monitor chats and trending topics among your audience then tailor your content accordingly. This will also ensure that the content you share is highly relevant with your followers.
  9. As you develop content, make sure that you commit to feeding all your social channels with information. Repurposing content is one of the easiest ways to provide fresh takes on subject matters for each of your networks.  This post on Small Biz Trends by Susan Payton, gives five great examples.
  10. Test out paid advertising on Facebook if you are looking to reach consumers and LinkedIn for decision makers and target by demographics, interests, geography, etc.

As a small business, it may seem challenging to do all of these things effectively. It’s best to begin with a couple platforms, find what works best in communicating with your audience and adjust as you go. Often I’m excited to see a client with profiles set up for every platform, only to visit the site and find out their last engagement was 3 months earlier. As a best practice, keep your social profiles actively managed and in sync with one another.

So start small and make sure to commit to keeping conversations flowing once you get started.

I’m interested to hear other tips for small business marketers – please share your ideas below!

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  • Amie Marse Mar 15, 2012

    Great post – I’d also point out the need to include competitors in your social sphere. Don’t be afraid to engage or even offer to hang out with one of your competitors. Your clients will see this as a positive and if you are trying to portray your company as approachable, what could be better? It seems every industry is saturated these days, so don’t hoard your potential clients like they won’t ever find your competitors. Instead, embrace them and be quick to refer them when they offer something you don’t. They might not return the favor, but it goes a long way in building trust with your audience.

  • Thomas Hefke Mar 15, 2012

    I think you are missing Pinterest in the list of social media plattforms. Hence it is booming right now + it delivers rel=follow links :)

    And i also want to add one important bullet point to the list of 10 important things to take care of.
    It´s not enough to start “being social” – You also should help users to share your content in social media. So add +1 Buttons, tweet button, like button stumpleUpon, Pin etc.. Further add links to your social plattforms on your main page, too make it easy to follow !

  • Ann-Marie Jancovich Mar 15, 2012

    Thanks, Amie. You make a good point on viewing competitors as an opportunity to make inroads with your potential clients.

  • Ann-Marie Jancovich Mar 15, 2012

    Thanks for the feedback, Thomas. I included the social sharing buttons and Pinterest in Part I of this post but a good reminder to include in the checklist. In regards to Pinterest, I have learned that they changed most of their links to rel=”nofollow” a couple months ago.

  • Amie Marse Mar 15, 2012

    Yes – most social sites start as do-follows to gain momentum, once they have a good sense of traction they tend to switch that up. Just another reason to be an early adapter :) I would imagine a lot of other sites do the same thing :) Getting the word out that you give do-follow is sort of like CommentLuv. You get a lot of attention… but a lot of spam with it.

  • SR Guyot Mar 15, 2012

    With Pinterest I have found that the picture links themselves are still follow but the comment links are not. I think the SEO impact of social media is an important consideration ie dofollow thursday However for most small businesses it is the conversation that is critical. Years ago, (yes I am an old guy) one would spent a lot of time, effort and $$ to have some of these conversations with your customers..

  • Andria Gaskin Mar 22, 2012

    Thanks for the post, I just created my first Google Alert.

    Ann-Marie makes a great point. I make it a point of following and interacting with my competitors on Twitter, it’s also a great way of keeping up with what your competitors are doing. There is no doubt that social media participation is beneficial and a great way of networking, however it’s important to be strategic in your efforts as it is not the quantity of your followers but the quality.

  • Nick Stamoulis Mar 23, 2012

    A small business obviously has less resources than a large corporation. When it comes to social media it’s important to spend time using it wisely. Choose the social networks that your target audience members are using and have a strategic plan. Without a plan, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.

  • Ann-Marie Jancovich Mar 23, 2012

    Agreed, thanks for the comment Nick.

  • Ann-Marie Jancovich Mar 23, 2012

    Glad you found the post helpful, Andria. It truly is about the quality of engagement. You may feel your business is participating in social media by sending out tweets and posting on Facebook, but it is the direct conversations and responses that impact audience following.

  • Simon Mar 24, 2012

    “By this, I’m referring to a perception of social media as a low-cost or “free” marketing tool that requires minimal time, rather than utilizing it for the true customer engagement tactic it has the power to be.”<—sounds like an important distinction; it's easy to, in different ventures, based on a limiting belief stop just before the goldmine.
    "The greatest benefit of social media for small businesses is the opportunity to have conversations directly with your audience."<—-exactly — anyone not seeing direct-conversation as the most powerful of reaching the market, are definitely not making as much money as they could (or making the difference). Also, I love to long-term perspective you're giving.

    "You may feel your business is participating in social media by sending out tweets and posting on Facebook, but it is the direct conversations and responses that impact audience following."<—easily solved problem, though. All anyone needs, to solve this, common sense; and not be lazy.

  • Bryan Nisperos Mar 30, 2012

    Great tips Anne! I definitely agree with your points, social media is the new approach for business development and survival.

  • Cizon Apr 06, 2012

    I found your suggestions very informative. If anyone had told me five years ago that companies would becoming a part of social media, I would have asked to what end. With the world getting smaller it is a great way to tell people what you have and as you pointed out to get involved with their customers and learn what their needs and wants are. Thanks!