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Small Business Social Media: 3 Tips to Get Started

Carrie Hill
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path4You can just as easily fail as excel in social media. Setting yourself up for success will make all the difference. That, coupled with realistic expectations, is the pathway to a successful social media campaign.

There are three things a small business needs to think about when venturing into social media for the first time:

  • Your personnel.
  • Targeting the right audience.
  • Your website.

Approach these in the right order for maximum affect. Without the right socially engaged people on your staff, it doesn’t really matter where you plan on "playing" or what your website says. The engagement and return won't be there.

Personnel

We've seen the emergence of social media and community management positions explode since 2011. Prior to that, it seems like social media was an afterthought, much like email marketing (which, like social media marketing, should not be an afterthought, but that's a whole other topic).

These days we're seeing whole salaries, and departments even, dedicated to the outreach on a variety of social networks. If you're a small business, your successes are going to hinge on this person (or these people). Great social media managers are:

  • Outgoing.
  • Socially adept.
  • Smart.
  • Passionate.
  • Forward thinking

One caveat here: just because someone isn't chatty and outgoing in a face to face setting doesn’t mean they won't be online. I know quite a few people who couldn’t carry on a conversation beyond two sentences at a cocktail reception, but can carry on hour long conversations via Twitter and Facebook. I'm part of that latter category.

The skillsets between online and offline networking can be very different. Writing, and written communication, is very important. Being able to compose a coherent, and often witty sentence, spell, think fast and admit fault are very important qualities in your social media manager.

Yes, admitting fault is important. This is important in any employee, but in someone who is an online customer service representative, being able to say "I'm sorry, that shouldn't have happened." is a huge asset.

Networks

seo-social-media-buttonsOnce you've chosen the right person or people, you need to choose the major networks where you'd like to play. It makes sense to do this now so you know what badges, buttons, and content will perform best based on network and demographic of that network before making a lot of website changes.

You should have some presence on the big five: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and Pinterest. If these networks don’t really fit your niche, then just having a profile and claiming your brand is enough.

Most businesses can create a valuable Facebook network, while Google+ is good in a B2B or software/technical market, and Pinterest is good in a homemaking/food/homegoods/fashion market. Those are generalizations, so don’t take my word for it. Explore each of the big five social networks and see if your competition, or related product/service providers are doing well there. If so, you might also be able to make a place for yourself.

Don’t forget the niche-specific networks. If you're in travel, you should be very active on Tripadvisor Forums. If you're a contractor in a large city or town, AngiesList is an important website for you. Paying attention to niche social networks might be a way for you to be somewhere your competitors are not.

I also really like to advise small businesses to keep track of question-and-answer sites like Answers.com, Yahoo Answers, or Question.com. Also, writing tutorials on how your products work on sites like HowStuffWorks.com can be beneficial. Be sure you check these sites often or set up alerts so you're notified when someone asks a question related to your product or service.

Although your niche will determine which networks are best for you, keep the big ones in mind – and have an active presence if you can. It takes time, and you need to weigh the cost of not being involved with the benefits of being there. Include in your cost-benefit analysis whether your competitors have the capacity to surpass you with online interaction, because that's a huge piece of the puzzle.

You're going to need to decide what common logo to use on these sites, as well as a short but concise brand name representation if you're sporting a long alphabet soup acronym. Once you've found the networks and the persona for your social networks, you can then get your site ready for participation.

Your Website

social-media-audienceAdding the icons for your top social networks to your own website is a no-brainer, but you would be surprised how many people do it wrong.

If you want people to interact with you, don’t hide your Facebook icon on the bottom of the page. If you want your content shared, make the "Like This" button easily available next to the content you want shared. If you're investing in a person to manage social media, help them out and make the content social media friendly.

Each social network supports a demographic that likes different content. Facebook is what I like to call "memeland." Funny photos, memes, jokes, anecdotes or deals are shared and reshared on Facebook at an alarming rate. Creating content that someone wants to share via Facebook means writing content that is shareable and appeals to that type of user.

Pinterest is all about the images. Don’t expect to have your content pinned if the images are elementary and not appealing or eye catching. Make sure your images have your brand/logo watermarked clearly where they don’t interfere with the point of the article, but are recognizable as your brand.

For Pinterest, I also like to put the name of the website on the image. Here's an example of an image that has been repinned on Pinterest more than 1,000 times from my blog. It's pretty simple, but tells a story.

crockpot-freezer-meals

I took the photo with my phone, and jazzed it up and put some text over it with Pixlr Express, and voila, it went viral. This picture is on the post on my website, and the content is easily pinnable.

It's All About the Attitude

Letters coming out of a woman's mouthBe realistic in what you're looking for socially. At first, your ROI will be in online word of mouth.

These days, measuring social media ROI and engagement is much easier. There are a lot of posts on setting up custom reports and advanced custom segments for social media tracking.

Be patient. Outreach and engagement is all about time. The post I profiled above was put on my blog in July 2012. It didn’t go viral on Pinterest until five months later.

Facebook is more short term. If nobody likes or shares it in a day or so after posting, try again. How the network is used generally lends to how quickly content goes viral.

Facebook isn’t really used to search for things like "Crockpot freezer meals." Pinterest is used that way thousands of times a day.

Remember:

  • Be personable, honest, and involved.
  • An involved company is a successful company – as long as you treat everyone fairly, keep things professional and civil, and don't participate in smear campaigns. A company can trash their online reputation in a social network if someone is having a bad day, and just loses it with an irate customer.
  • The other side of not losing your temper is not burying your head in the sand. Yes, businesses have problems, everyone makes mistakes – owning what the mistake was and providing a remedy to fix the problem is key to recovering in a positive light.
  • Be approachable and involved in your social network of choice.

Don’t be afraid to try. Your small business will have successes and failures in social media. Accept the good with the bad and keep going. Study those who are successful on the social networks and see if you can try their tactics with your products or services.

There are many ways to participate via social media. You'll find one that works for you.


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