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June 1, 2010

Social Media for Small Business

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This is a submission to the Small Biz Discovery Contest and part of our commitment to serve the small business community with quality Internet marketing resources. This article answers the question “What one recommendation would you give to small business owners to improve their online presence?” focusing specifically on social media marketing. It is part of a group of contest submissions sharing Internet marketing recommendations for small businesses. Public voting for the contest is now closed. Winners will be announced July 2, 2010.

Author: Chris Harmon
Category: SMM

The first thing you have to realize when using social media is that you can’t just delegate it to the youngest person on your staff and assume you will connect with your customer. If your customer is following you, they are going to need to feel they are interacting with someone near the top of the company food chain.

Ask what you want to get out of social sites. Think about how you would use these tools before you ever sign up for that Facebook page. Think about the companies you do business with and what they could do to get your attention in social-space. Write down a plan and be prepared to adjust it in a month. Keeping in mind that your social efforts must meet a need to be successful.

Realize that people don’t use a blog, Twitter and MySpace to find a gas station. Simply regurgitating facts and statistics about your business isn’t going to fill up those follow lists. Much like sky-writing isn’t appropriate for every business, neither is every type of social media.

Understand that participating in a social network takes time and you need to make time for it everyday if you really want it to succeed. My favorite restaurant takes the time to tweet their specials everyday about an hour before lunch. They are injecting themselves into my awareness in a very subtle way. It is a much better use of social space than a blog or Facebook. It pops up in my Twitter feed at the perfect time. The other side is that what is in that tweet needs to contain something that interests me. Twitters brevity and informality helps in this case, they can’t waste a lot of space on anything but stating their specials in a short-hand that is usually reserved for friends. It comes across like someone doing me a favor rather than a sales pitch.

Don’t expect miracles. Social networking won’t make the phones ring overnight. If the message isn’t well planned, it may never make the phones ring. If adding a blog to your site sounds like a great idea, look at your numbers of visitors first. Let’s assume you have a housewares site. If you get 100 visitors a day to a part of your site where you sell your bacon handling devices, it is unrealistic to assume you will see 1,000 people a day reading the blog about bacon in that area. Of that 100 visitors, you might get 1-2 readers of the blog. Suddenly you need to promote your bacon-blog and do so in such a way that you aren’t spending time and money that could produce tangible results. Promote from within the channels you are already working in. Add a blurb about the blog in your emails, receipts, and site. Readers are bad at magic tricks, they rarely show up unexpectedly.

Once you get your business in a position where it makes sense to move into social media, look before you leap. Are there fans of your products talking out there already? It makes better business sense to support their efforts on your way in. If you find a fan of your company with a large network of followers, there’s nothing wrong with the head honcho giving them an honest “Thank-you” for their support. It validates the devotion and feelings they have for your company. Too often companies take those fans for granted. Think about your fans in terms of a relationship, is the road going both ways? A social network is not a replacement for a website. Keep your website up-to-date. A broken or non-existent site will have a lot more trouble convincing people to find you in social-space.

Communicate honestly with your network. If you have a product that you aren’t sure you want to carry, bounce it off the network and see what they say. Be prepared to develop a thick skin, there are people out there that live for controversy and drama. If you find yourself in a ping-pong match with a disgruntled customer, end it with an invitation to speak to you in person. Often anonymity makes for a less social interaction. One of the hardest seems to be owning your mistakes. It isn’t the fall that hurts, it how you handle yourself afterwards that people will remember.

Sometimes your employees will say things about you. You understand that your employees aren’t always skipping into work. They have bad days, they have good days. The socialization they do online is the same one they do face-to-face. How you respond to them griping about what a rotten day they had can put you in a position of looking like an overreacting big-brother. Head off trouble with a clearly worded policy that covers how discussing internal processes and identifying personnel are off-limits, but that you understand sometimes people need to vent. If you really want to have fun, give them suggestions about giving people pseudonyms with examples. Turn the issue around with frank discussions about how people make mistakes and that everyone will make a mistake, however having another employee discuss it would  be inappropriate. People have been griping about their bosses since the first caveman told the second to pick up a rock. It’s seems to be a universal truth that people gripe about their bosses sooner or later.





5 responses to “Social Media for Small Business”

  1. Brent Rangen writes:

    People need to realize that their is enormous potential in social media sites. Unless you are a company like Netflix, Trend Micro, Red Bull, etc. You are going to have to build up a fanbase. Once you do you can actually see more (referral) traffic from Twitter alone than Google, depending on your industry of course!

    As with anything else in SEO — it’s a commitment, a commitment that could pay off big time if you use it correctly.

    One of the first things I would do if I were a small business owner is figure out what social media site my target market is most likely on and then learn how to successfully use that site (whether it be Digg, Reddit, Twitter, Facebook, Myspace, or whatever) just search around, ask experts in forums, and start connecting!

  2. Chris Harmon writes:

    I hear people say that a lot. Yet I see very few examples where social media can be proven to work. The number one thing people do to companies on Facebook is to friend and then hide them. I would love to see an article on 10 small companies that had any amount of real sales growth from social media. Then find out how they feel about the ROI. Almost everything out there speaking about social media is theoretical or academic. Almost like ecommerce articles written in 1992, what they said would happen never really applied. Is social media a coal powered race car? I’m not against social media, I’m against the magical claims attributed to it.

  3. Keith Davis writes:

    Hi Chris
    Thanks for a great primer on Social Medis.
    I’m not involved at the moment with either Facebook or Twitter but I keep threatening to take the plunge.
    A few super tips here that I can digest before I make a start.

  4. kelly writes:

    There is no one size fits all solution to keep company networks secure, using social media productively in the workplace, and keeping employees happy. Palo Alto Networks came out with an interesting whitepaper on the subject of blocking social networking apps that you may have to worry about, “To Block or Not. Is that the question?” here: http://bit.ly/d2NZRp. It has lots of insightful and useful information about identifying and controlling Enterprise 2.0 apps (Facebook, Twitter, Skype, etc.)

  5. Joakim Nilsson, social media writes:

    “Does social media work?” It’s not a question about working or not… does your communication work? Sure, social media tools could be used for lead generation but the true value is in how you now have tools that open up for a true relationship with customers and prospects. And that’s not so much about the tools…

    Free e-book on social media: http://www.scribd.com/doc/36613536/E-Book-Social-Media-for-Small-Businesses



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