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How to "Pull Your Head Out of the Sand" and Use Social Media in Your Small Business

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How to "Pull Your Head Out of the Sand" and Use Social Media in Your Small Business

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: July 19, 2012 Updated: March 7, 2013

Social media is one of the fastest growing channels for businesses to connect with existing and potential customers. However, taking that first step or next step can be a challenge.  How do you find the time for it? How do you build a following and engage with your audience? What social media platforms are the best for your business?

If any of these questions have crossed your mind, you’re not alone. During this year’s National Small Business Week Conference in Washington, D.C., in May, hundreds of small business owners posed these and other questions to a panel of experts from Twitter, Yelp, Google, GrowBizMedia and Constant Contact during a well-attended Social Media Forum.

Despite the cultural and marketing phenomenon that social media has become, many small business owners still struggle to juggle the demands of business and justify the effort it takes to engage social media, despite the opportunity social media represents – or as panel moderator, the Wall Street Journal’s Brian Moran observed: “ … stick their head in the sand and pretend social media isn’t there!”.

If this sounds like you, here are some social media best practices shared at the event that may inspire you to pull your head out of the sand!

Getting to Know Your Customers Again

Why is social media so important to small businesses?

Panelist Rieva Lesonsky, CEO of GrowBizMedia, sees social media as an opportunity for small businesses to reignite what they once did automatically in the past, before the advent of big malls. Today, those traditional small town relationships are harder to build.  But “…social media lets you have a relationship with existing and potential customers… you’re not just some anonymous business owner to them.”

Luther Lowe, director of Business Outreach at Yelp agreed: “…social media is an extremely powerful way to retain existing customers… and keep that person educated about why they should continue to use you as a small business.”

Jenna Golden, a member of Twitter’s Public Affairs and Public Outreach team, stressed the importance of not thinking about it as a digital relationship, but something as something that can actually turn into an in-person relationship.

Which Platform is Right for Your Business?

Twitter, Google+, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest—the list goes on. But which are right for your business? There is no silver bullet when it comes to answering this question.

As Lesonsky explained: “...find out where your customers can be found, go there first, and then spread out from there… if you run a restaurant, yes, you probably should be on Twitter, but you should really be on Yelp first.”

Erica Ayotte, social media manager with Constant Contact, recommends businesses start with one channel test it and nurture it. Erica also recommends a little diversification, suggesting you “spend a little time each week exploring new platforms and figure out if they might be for you.”

Reaching the Right People

A fundamental challenge for small business owners is finding the right people to follow and engage.  

Twitter’s Golden stressed the importance of asking yourself who it is you want to reach? “If you have the right people following you, you can count on them to re-Tweet the information and really get it out further.” In this case, quality of followers is often more important than quantity.

The panel also recommended using search tools to identify and follow people who are influencers in your industry. For example, if you are in the restaurant business, identify the food bloggers in your region, give them a follow, and slowly you’ll start to build and grow your followers and influence.

The panel also stressed the importance of connecting your social media activity to your already loyal email subscriber list. Send them an email to let them know about your social media presence and quickly generate new follows from those who are already engaged with you.

Get Ready to Engage

Engagement isn’t always easy; it takes time to build up a loyal following of like-minded people.

Starting with information that is perceived as interesting is one step. Jeff Aguero, head of Local Marketing for Google, encourages small business owners to “…start with quality content, something that you do really well, and then use social media and web tools to amplify it.”

Web chats, contests and surveys are also great ways to engage, but the panel cautioned small business owners new to social media to resist this form of heavy interaction until their network has had time to grow. “Once you’ve established awareness and trust, then look to step up your approach,” suggested Constant Contact’s Ayotte. “Don’t let perfection be the enemy of progress,” she explained. “It can take some time to figure out what content is going to resonate with an audience… Try something new if no one responds to your Facebook posts.  It’s OK.  Tweak your posts until you find your sweet spot.”

And last but not least, authenticity is critical. “Try to use your authentic voice,” stressed Twitter’s Golden.

For more tips, information about tools that can help you manage your small business social networks, check out the video archive of the Social Media Forum online.

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About the Author:

Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

Comments:

The business is constantly changing, and social media is the most effective way to reach consumers. And so, I would take social media as seriously as traditional forms of advertising and marketing.
Social media is also a great way of retaining your customers base as it provides more active engagement with your customers on a larger scale.
At my small business, we have incorporated social media to our online marketing strategies in the past 12 months. We have seen increased engagement from our users as well as some conversions. I would love to see more data and information on how social media actually brings business to similar small businesses. To my knowledge, the direct effects of social media on small business bottom line is very limited.
Social media is a must in today's competitive world. It is very important to engage and be a part of a community and social media does just that! On the other hand it can also harm one reputation so be cautious and always keep an eye out on what is being said about your company
Although interesting, I think before starting a business, you have to calculate very good neighborhood, who will make that business and where your money will come.
Excellent article! It is important to see where your customers go on social media and then to invite them into your social media. Posting current info about your product or service via an article would be good. Social media likes quality content.
I've been learning online business. Yes, I agree we can use social media to gain success. This post was edited to remove a link. Please review our Community Best Practices for more information about how best to participate in our online discussions. Thank you.
Starting to getting our business on the social media platform. We still try to learn what to do! Thanks for useful information
You should direct your customers regularly to your social media profiles, specifically twitter and facebook. In your store, have the links by the cash register, on the store front, even on your receipts if you can. Put them on your business card, at the bottom of your email, everywhere! The more people see them, the more they'll understand you want to interact with them there.
I think people do not understand social media. I know it took me a long time to understand this myself. It's really about networking with others online vs in person.

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