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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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