Those of you who use Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and even Yahoo Groups, for personal use know these social sites can be addictive – you find yourself still online well after midnight, wondering how it got to be so late. Even though social media usage is quickly increasing among small business owners, the vast majority still aren’t using social media at all.
It seems most small business owners think that social media is a waste of valuable time they could be using to grow their business. As an entrepreneur, you dont have any time to waste. You’re busy meeting with customers, advertising your business, or trying to improve your product or service.
If you’re a small business owner, don’t waste your time using social media. Use social media to do the things that help you grow your business. Social media can help you do the things you already know help you grow – often more efficiently or effectively than you do them now.
Before you start, you need to answer one very important question:
What is my business objective?
If you’re just getting started with social media, here are three common objectives to consider:
- Gather market and product research – Use social media sites to listen to your customers and prospects. Listening can help you get important product feedback or insights about your customers that you might not be able to get in face-to-face interactions where people are (usually) more polite and guarded than they are online. You may even find some customers are shouting product or service advice at you through social media. More Effective.
- Provide customer support – If you do start with listening to gather market and product research, you’re likely to want to respond and help your customers or prospects. One of the great things about most social media sites, especially blogs and sites with customer reviews like Amazon, is that you can respond to the needs of many customers by helping just one. Other customers with the same issue are likely to find your response when they do a search and get the answer they need. More Efficient.
- Unleash your fans – Social media tools can help you promote your business by collecting and sharing positive reviews from your existing customers. Word-of-mouth marketing and referrals from customers have always been important for small businesses. What is different to day is that social sites help the conversations spread far, fast – and they are more permanent. Recent research shows 90% of online consumers trust recommendations from people they know; 70% trust consumer opinions posted online. More Effective and Efficient.
Does one of those objectives meet a need for your business? Here are three steps you can take to get started:
- Test social media as part of your marketing mix. Social media should be part of your marketing, not all of it. If you currently devote 10 hours a week to marketing activities for your business, consider allocating 10% of the that time (1 hour) to social media. Like any new tool, it takes time to learn and optimize, which means that you also need to commit to trying it more than once. Two months is a more realistic time frame to see if you are able to use social media to help your business grow.
- Listen. Even though I suggested three options for your objective – there is really only one choice for beginners. Gather market and product research by listening. There are many free tools that can help you figure out what your customers and prospects are saying and where they are saying it.
Google Alerts – Set up Google alerts to deliver once-a-week results via email about your own business, competitors, industry and target customers.
Social Mention – Set up daily alerts with search results from blogs, microblogs, videos, and other social sites. Social Mention also provides a ranking score based on popularity for every search (i.e., how often the search term is mentioned, if the sentiment is positive/neutral/negative).
These are both great tools, but I would recommend starting with Google Alerts since they are delivered weekly. If you aren’t diligent you can run the risk of spending more time than you should. Over time you can optimize and narrow your searches to monitor the most relevant information, then apply those optimized searches to Social Mention.
Once you know what your customers and prospects are saying, and where they are saying it, you can move on to providing customer support and engaging online. Listening will help you choose where to participate (if your customers and prospects aren’t on Facebook, but they are on Twitter, or Amazon or in a forum, then you have more information to decide where to spend your limited time. By observing, you’ll also learn the online etiquette of each site.
3. Help your customer help you get more customers. Ask your best customers, in person, on your website or via email if they like your product or service. If they say yes, don’t just enjoy the sweet reward of their kind words – ask them to share their positive feedback online on a review site like Yelp, with a Shout! on Foursquare. You can even ask them to help share their comment on Intuit’s LoveALocalBusiness.com, where their testimonial could earn you a small business grant worth $30,000. You also get to vote for your own business. If you do, you’ll get a free banner ad in the form of a widget you can post on your website or blog that rotates through your fan comments.
Here are some resources if you’re looking for more advanced information on using social media.