The Social Side: Social Media for Small Businesses

“I want to do it, but I don’t get it.”

The above is the most common statement about social marketing I hear from my clients or potential clients. They have been persuaded through the mounting evidence and successful case studies that social marketing works, but entering the space is an entirely different challenge.

From my vantage point, as a professional digital strategist, their acceptance is a sign of huge progress. In fact, accepting social media and, more importantly, finding the patience to let its effect take hold is paramount to “getting it.” So, congratulations. You’ve made it this far.

Now what? Making your move into social media.

Over the next several weeks, I’ll be writing a series on outlining the key steps and strategies small businesses should take before and after entering the social media space. These tactics also can be used by medium- and larger-sized businesses, but the hours and budgets I mention would have to be adjusted significantly.

Our series will use local case studies to cover the following topics: goal definition; determining whether Facebook, Twitter, or both, is best for your brand; why blogging is a must for every small business; setting a budget and/or hours for your social media mix; executing your social media plan; the art of the successful social media campaign; and finally, assessing and readjusting your strategies for the months and, hopefully, years that follow.

Before we dive into the nitty-gritty, I want to outline what I consider the 10 Golden Rules of Social Media. Take them or leave them, but they inspire my thinking and strategy in social media.

1. Nothing in social marketing happens overnight and anyone who tells you otherwise should go back to guru school. The odds of creating a viral sensation on Facebook or Twitter are similar to the odds of being hit by lightening. Instead, building a fan base on Facebook, or developing quality connections with followers on Twitter, takes time. However, if you follow the tactics I’ll outline in this series you should see a steady, healthy and consistent uptick in your Web traffic.

2. The only mistake you can make is not being there. Perhaps the toughest element in social media marketing for corporate types to swallow is the room for potential missteps. The truth is, the biggest mistake a company can make is to ignore social media, to ignore the conversation already happening about their brand, product or service. As a small business owner, this puts you at a distinct advantage. While the larger businesses have meeting upon meeting on when and how to update their Facebook page or Twitter, you can dive right in.

3. You will waste time. Having a social media presence requires an unspoken amount of hours lost to “figuring stuff out.” You will inevitably run into a few dead ends, but they typically make up for all of your victories. And once you’ve learned something, you will spend far less time setting it up the second time around.

4. Content is King. Nothing trumps quality content. Every successful business within the social media space has invested time or money into creating interesting and relevant content. There is no getting around this golden rule.  Content, by the way, includes blog posts, YouTube videos, photographs, fan posts to your Facebook wall – anything that adds to the conversation.

5. Take a huge bite of humble pie. Leave your ego at the door because your brand may not be as popular as you think. One of the hardest parts about social media is throwing something out there and then not hearing a whisper back from your fans or followers. Don’t be scared of that silence. Just like individuals, every business has to start somewhere. It may be quiet at the start, but if you keep focusing on content and other key elements I’ll outline in this series, the conversation will follow.

6. Invest in the right equipment for you and your staff. Everyone who is customer facing should be equipped with a smartphone for updating Facebook and Twitter and social media training. No excuses on this one. And if you don’t trust your employees to make those updates, why do you trust them to communicate with your customers every day?

7. Embrace the negative. Another top concern about social media for businesses is the looming threat of the negative comment. The worst negative comment is typically countered with positive comments from loyal fans and even then, very few of your customers will ever read that comment. Best to embrace the negative comment, respond accordingly and move on. Whatever you do, don’t let the negative scare you away from social media because it’s really a rare occurrence for small businesses.

8. Ignore your competitors. It may appear that your competitors have a lot going for them on their Twitter accounts. After all, they have more than 4,000 followers. But what if those followers aren’t quality followers? Don’t waste your time worrying about what your competitors are doing; you should be too busy focusing on your own content.

9. Learn as you go and be transparent. People respond more to brands when they are transparent and personal. Letting your guard down and being transparent about the fact that this “social media thing” is new to your business is fine and many of your fans will thank you. In fact, why not ask your fans for recommendations on what you can offer them within social media?

10. Social media is a long-term investment. If we’ve learned anything in the past few years, it’s that social media isn’t going anywhere. Companies should see social media as a necessity in their marketing budget – or should you file that under “utilities”? Wherever you put social media, it’s an investment that will continue to grow and pay itself forward as you build quality connections with your customers.

Don’t miss the rest of “The Social Side.” Upcoming posts include: