Running a small business is all about balance — managing day-to-day operations, bigger-picture administration, and marketing. If you want to be successful, effective use of social media is key. Not having an entire marketing department at your disposal is no excuse. If you’re a social media noob, have no fear, we’ll get you started in the right direction.
When you start on social media, don’t bite off more than you can chew. There’s no need to jump onto every social bandwagon. Better to start with one or two platforms so you can master them and monitor the effectiveness of your online presence. As GoDaddy founder Bob Parsons says, “Anything that is measured and watched, improves.”
Before your first posts, consider the character and nature of your business and establish some rules for your social media use. Identify who is authorized to post or respond to comments, your policy on posting personal opinions, and how often you will be posting and responding. Consider how you define success on social media and identify measurable standards accordingly so you can quantify your success.
Start with Google + or Google Places or Google Whatever-the-Newest-Google-Thing-Is. You may have noticed this little company called Google. They — for all intents and purposes — run the internet, so make sure your company’s information is current. Google is ever-evolving, so search for tips and someone is sure to have posted in the last 20 minutes about how to maximize the visibility of your business on Google.
Facebook is essential. Your Facebook page must, at minimum, tell people where and when they can get your product (retail store location and hours, for instance), how to get in touch with you, and give a feel for your company’s culture and attitude (pictures are a great way to do this.) More-advanced maneuvers on Facebook include gaining “likes,” hosting contests or giveaways, hosting polls and receiving feedback publicly.
Foursquare is also a fantastic tool for small businesses. It, like Facebook, can get pretty fancy, but you can gain some real traction just by claiming your location (for free) and setting up your page. Foursquare is a social platform where people “check-in” online to where they are in real life. Most Foursquare users post their activity to Facebook or Twitter. The most-frequent visitor to a location is called “the Mayor.” If nothing else, get your location and contact info online so people can spread the word about you. Who knows, you just may become the next business tycoon like Parsons of GoDaddy.
LinkedIn is a fantastic tool for networking, not so much for gaining new business. A small business owner can generally do just fine with maintaining a personal page on LinkedIn rather than managing a personal and business page. You can network with other local business people to stay apprised of local events, legislation that will affect business owners and so on. It’s also a great place to look for new hires or check references for job applicants. If you’re looking to establish yourself as a thought leader in your sector or neighborhood, this is a good place to be.
A business blog is a great way to humanize your business — if you have the manpower to keep it frequently updated with quality content relevant to your audience. It’s a pretty high-degree of difficulty for most small businesses, so don’t start here.
Twitter can be a great tool to reach a big audience, but you have to build that audience by being consistently clever in 120 characters or less (leave 20 characters for “retweeting”). For the few readers that run a food truck or similar business, you should consider Twitter essential. For everyone else, it’s sometimes more trouble than it’s worth.
Pinterest is fun, but non-essential, and if you’re like most of their users, you’ll spend lots of time on the site which means little return on investment.
I’m sure whatever niche your business exists in, there is probably a social network that will work really well for you, so do some research and good luck on your venture.