How SMBs Can Optimize their Social Networking Time, Part 1

We’ve covered some great topics in the last few installments of Little Biz, and this week is no exception. Many small business owners know that there’s benefit to be had from social networking; the challenge is not spending all of your time Twittering away when you have other work that needs to be done.

Large branded companies have full-time employees that visit social networks and act as brand advocates. As a small business owner, you and your employees already have multiple responsibilities. So how do you keep a social networking plan on track without derailing all of your other responsibilities?

Let’s start by discussing how to maximize your time on Twitter. Twitter is my personal choice in a social network; it works well for the work I do and the way I interact with people.

Awhile back, I wrote “Small Business Owners Need Twitter and LinkedIn,” and Jeff Quipp wrote “Social Media Marketing for Small Business.” These are both great reads, so check out these articles after you finish this column.

I’ve been working to evolve my understanding of how to use Twitter to market my services and talent, and I’ve learned how advertising and brand advocacy can help small businesses expand their reach. The crux of social networking lies in the huge time commitment.

Because there’s a huge amount of “noise” on Twitter and a small amount of “signal” to be found, it’s important to weed the signal out without reading every tweet thoroughly.

Consider using my favorite time-saving tool, TweetDeck, to minimize the noise and find the people you really need to talk to in order to promote your business. Create a saved search using keywords related to your business, and then read through those updates once a day and offer suggestions and help to anyone who needs it.

You can schedule “promotional tweets” to go out throughout the week using EasyTweets. It’s a great way to spend an hour a week crafting good engaging messages and scheduling them to go out in your Twitter Stream. You can do something else while Twitter is working for you. This means the time you spend on Twitter can actually be spent engaging with potential customers and friends.

One important note: promotional tweets are different from engagement tweets; you need to have an understanding of both to make a go on Twitter. A promotional tweet is more of “push” marketing where you’re pushing your message out to make everyone aware. Offer “25% off your coffee today if you walk in and give the code word.”

An engagement tweet is somewhat more like “pull” marketing, wherein you’re recognizing a particular person’s need and asking them if you can help, or showing them your expert answer. For example, if you’re a plumber in Denver, someone with a leaky faucet might Tweet asking how to fix it. You can engage with that person and tell them how to replace a washer. They feel good about being empowered to do the fix themselves so when they need a new hot water heater or a new sink, they might reach out to you first. It’s all very karmic. The more helpful you can be, the more your help will be asked for.

Expand your Twitter reach with TwitterLocal or Who Should I Follow? Both sites will help you find followers either in your area (TwitterLocal) or via crawling through your followers to find people you might be interested in following also (Who Should I Follow). In both cases, you’re expanding your reach and your sphere of influence. If you follow them, they will most likely follow you — unless your stream is disingenuous.

In many cases, observation is the best way to learn how to use Twitter. Keep your “noisy” tweets to a minimum in your business stream. Being a “real person” is OK, but sending out more noise will make your signal less effective.

For many brick-and-mortar small businesses, the ROI you find in the local networks is going to pay off much more quickly and quantitatively. In Part 2, we’ll focus on finding local networks and forums to help you out.

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