Thinking of investing in social media but struggling to know where to start?
According to a December 2009 survey by Ad-ology, 46% of small business owners said they wish they knew more about social media. And, while coming up with a social media strategy is one thing (the resources at the end of this article provide pointers on this), it also helps to have a basic understanding of what each of the major social media sites can and ca;t do for your small business and its customers.
Her-s a quick 101 on how to best leverage the top three social networking sites- Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
I's a common misperception to think that Twitter is just about personal updates and'Tweet' (messages of 140 characters or less) about where folks are and what they are doing. Today, Twitter offers many benefits for small business outreach:
Why Leverage Twitter? ' Twitter can be a valuable business tool for brand exposure and monitoring (applications such as HootSuite can help you track what is being said about your brand and the competition online). Twitter is also a great tool for communicating and engaging with customers' helping you to stand out from the crowd and keep your finger on the pulse of your custome's needs.
The Potential Of Twitter' If you have a well thought out social media strategy, great online content that is updated frequently (such as a blog, online offers, etc.), and time and resources, Twitter can also help generate traffic to your site, improve the viral nature of your outreach, and build your brand. Twitter can somewhat improve your Web sit's search engine ranking since Google and other online search sites now index Tweets, although don't pin too much hope on this.
What Twitter is Not - Twitter offers no benefits to business users who simply use it as a vehicle for personal musings or as a news feed to promote product - while neglecting the social element.
Ever-evolving and ever-growing, Facebook is no longer simply the realm of networking teenagers. For many customers, Facebook is now their defacto site for interacting with friends, family, and their favorite brands.
Why Leverage Facebook? - As with Twitter, Facebook is a great way for engaging with people who like your brand, want to interact with it, stay abreast of latest developments, andtake advantage of giveaways, contests, surveys, etc. It is also invaluable for brand exposure.
The Potential of Facebook - Once you have a fan page established you can increase awareness of it, and your brand, through targeted ads. You can also customize it to easily add video, events, discussion boards, blog feeds, and more. While having a Facebook presence doesn't guarantee a huge uptick in visitors to your Web site, using it strategically to link back to online blogs, menus, event or newsletter registration landing pages and special offers, can improve site traffic.
What Facebook is Not - Facebook is not a replacement for your Web site. Think of it as another communication channel for extending the reach of your brand and giving your business a social face. Your Web site should remain your online hub for product and service information, lead capture devices, blogs, and your best bet for helping your business get found in online searches.
LinkedIn and Facebook have evolved in tandem over recent years, with LinkedIn essentially functioning as the Facebook of business professionals. Over and above promoting your own personal profile, LinkedIn has several uses for small business:
Why Leverage LinkedIn? - Search for any business professional on Google and you'll almost certainly find their LinkedIn profile and company name at the top of the rankings. LinkedIn is very effective for personal branding, networking and building the professional reputation of your business and its employees.
The Potential of LinkedIn - Join industry groups and demonstrate your know-how by sharing news, answering questions, linking to your latest blog post, and so on. Leverage LinkedIn's big strength - networking - to find and form relationships with potential partners and customers, and solicit recommendations. Use the job boards to target the right candidates and boost your job search efforts.
What LinkedIn is Not - When I think of LinkedIn, I think of it as a respectful and courteous nurturing ground for professionals and businesses. It is not an outlet for lead generation, your latest offer, or for gratuitously plugging your business. Do this and you'll quickly find yourself losing connections.
At the end of the day...
...to get a real sense of the potential that each social media site can bring to your business it's worth taking a look at what other businesses are doing.
Google and the SBA have partnered to make this a lot easier for small business owners, by producing a series of videos that showcase successful small businesses at work on their online marketing strategies.
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