September 9, 2013

Using social media to market your small business

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Image by Scanrail on BigStockPhoto.com

If your brand’s not using social, you won’t be top of mind for customers

Target audience: Small businesses, marketing professionals, SEO specialists, organizations.

Guest post by Megan Totka
Chief Editor, ChamberofCommerce.com

MeganTotkaIf the idea of compacting a marketing message into 140 characters of text (including spaces!) seems a task of gargantuan proportions, you’re not alone.

Only about half of small businesses are using social media to market their brands. There’s still plenty of room for growth.

Why aren’t more small businesses going social?

The answers to this question will, of course, vary, but I’ve seen small business owners make excuses and claim they:

  • 46% of online users turn to social media when making a buying decision

    Don’t know how to get started on social media.

  • Think tweeting “what you ate for breakfast” is ridiculous.
  • Don’t have the bandwidth to handle it themselves.
  • Can’t afford to hire someone to manage social media.
  • Do not think their customers are on social sites.

It’s understandable you might not want to invest much in a marketing tool you’re not sure will bring you new customers. So here’s something to chew on: 46 percent of online users turn to social media when making a buying decision. If your brand’s not on those social sites, you won’t be in the running.

And if Twitter and Facebook just seem irrelevant to you, think again. Those mundane updates can actually tell you a lot about a potential customer.

Let’s say you sell organic muffins. Using the “tweeting your breakfast” example, that conversation about what a Twitter user had (or didn’t have) for breakfast is now conversational fodder for you, the muffin-making mogul:

@HungryinLA: Stomach’s growling. Forgot to eat breakfast.

@MuffinTinTilly: Oh no! Eat something! I’d send a muffin your way if I could!

It’s a silly situation, but it illustrates how even seemingly ridiculous topics can provide opportunities to create relationships on social media.

Getting started with social

Now that I’ve put a little fear in you and convinced you that you don’t want to be left behind, let’s look at some easy ways to start using LinkedIn, Google +, Twitter and other sites effectively.

First, manage your expectations. Don’t expect to generate millions of dollars in sales right away. Understand that these are platforms to help you brand your company. They create additional opportunity for people to interact with your brand online. The more places people find you, the more of a connection they’ll feel with you, and the closer they’ll get to becoming a customer.

Next, determine what you want to share. I always suggest a mix of the following, as sticking to just one type of social update can turn people off:

  • Pose questions.
  • Answer questions and contribute meaningfully to conversations.
  • Share content — both yours and others’.
  • Provide useful tips your audience cares about.
  • Post fun pictures or comments to break the ice.

You don’t have to be all business, all the time. Remember: You’re trying to get people to like you, and the best way to do that is by humanizing your updates, not writing them like a robot.

Follow the right people & start with keywords

The next step in using social media effectively to market your business is to follow more people — but not just any people. It’s worthless for you simply to follow everyone on Facebook or Instagram. Instead, search for keywords that relate to your business. In the organic muffins example, we could search for people using the word “organic” or even “muffin.” Follow those people, as well as any who mention your brand directly.

You can also use Twitter’s “Who to Follow” link, which makes recommendations based on who you’re already following. It gets smarter the more you use it. Another option is to look at who’s following you and follow people back, assuming they fit the demographic you’re trying to reach.

Integrate social with what you’re already doing

One of the wonderful things about social media is that it plays so well with other digital toys. If you’re using Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software, find out whether your platform can pull in customer data from Twitter. As an example, social media integration with Insightly lets you access a contact’s many social media profiles just by entering an email address. You save time having to search for his Facebook, Google+, Foursquare, Picasa, Klout, and dozens more social profiles. They’re now built into his profile in Insightly.

Compress your marketing message

Now let’s get back to that 140-character message. Even if you have more room to write with other social networks, it’s still a challenge to say what you need to say in such a short space. Boil down your message to its core. Take out unnecessary words. And if you’re using adjectives, cut some of those out, too. Twitter users have become accustomed to abbreviated messages, so don’t worry about conventional English.

If you’ve got far too much to say, break it down into multiple messages, spread throughout the day. Over time, you’ll get more interactions and responses from others, so stick with it! Social media is a fantastic way to connect with existing and future customers, so put in the effort to make it work.

Megan Totka is the chief editor for ChamberofCommerce.com. She specializes on the topic of small business tips and resources. ChamberofCommerce.com helps small businesses grow their business on the Web and facilitates connectivity between local businesses and more than 7,000 Chambers of Commerce worldwide.