The notion of getting into social media might seem overwhelming for any small business. Spending time upfront before launch to create a plan with goals that includes how to translate that social media presence into dollars will go a long way toward achieving success.
Nine percent of small and medium-sized businesses use Twitter to market their businesses, according to the latest wave of BIA/Kelsey’s Local Commerce Monitor study. And 32 percent of those businesses said they plan to include social media in their marketing plans in the next 12 months by using a page on a social site such as Facebook, LinkedIn or MySpace.
The study showed that 16% of small and medium-sized businesses that have been around for three years or less use Twitter for promotion versus 2 percent of the same size businesses that have been around for at least 11 years.
Here are some tips to help avoid panic when thinking about launching a presence on social media platforms.
1. Have a plan.
Don’t just get on the social media bandwagon because everyone else is doing it. Does it make sense for your business? Is it where your customers are?
Jason Falls, social media consultant and strategist at SocialMediaExplorer.com, said the first thing to realize is social media is not for every business. “Understanding that is going to take a lot of the panic out for small business owners,” he said.
Falls recommended small business owners familiarize themselves with social media tools, look at who the target audience is to see where they are and then figure out how to engage these people and reach them. He said that as small business owners do this, they will be able to determine what their goals are with using social media.
He stressed having a clear call to action with anything in marketing. Social media is no exception. “You can still engage with people, provide valuable content and give them a call to action,” he said.
2. Take small steps with a goal in mind.
Building a loyal customer base using social networks such as Facebook and Twitter doesn’t happen overnight. At the same time, this approach might not be the ideal tactic for a small business that needs to move fast. Understand what your small business can get out of social media. For example, is it to sell products or build relationships with customers?
Falls said that deciding on taking small steps depends on how fast a business owner needs to see results. However, he stressed that social media is about building relationships and that takes time.
“I think the smart thing to do as a business owner is to have a plan with clear goals and objectives,” he said. “Social media is much more about building lifetime relationships with customers.”
3. Be willing to put some time into it.
Set up a social media presence and then check in regularly, but don’t feel it’s necessary to sit on Facebook and Twitter all day.
Falls suggested small business owners set up their social media pages so they can get notifications sent to their smartphones from these channels. But the more time you invest in using social media, the more you’ll get out of it. The more content you produce, the better rank you’ll have in search, which means more visibility and being able to drive traffic back to your site, according to Falls.
4. Track progress and results.
Have a system in place to gauge how the social media effort is working.
Falls said that if small business owners want social media activity to drive customers to do something, then they need to know what to measure.
Some examples of metrics to look at are: How many visitors came to your site from a social media site; Conversion (i.e. how many people clicked through to your site and then bought a product or service), Falls said. In minimal terms, be able to say something like: I spent X dollars and was able to track X amount of revenue (or percentage).
Link shorteners can help track click throughs on Twitter. Twitter tools such as Seesmic, TweetDeck, HootSuite and others can help users track mentions, direct messages and @replies. Facebook fan pages and YouTube Channel Partner pages have their own set of insights for admins. Use tools such as Google e-mail alerts to track mentions of your business online.
He said small business owners need to understand how to measure those goals and what they got out of the social media spend so they know what to budget for next year. He added that there are paid social media monitoring services such as Radian6 and Scout Labs whose services can range from $500 to $600 per month.
5. Be flexible.
Striking a good mix with social networks can mean trying more than one strategy because there isn’t a magic formula for success. Falls advised being flexible not only about the tools you use but about where your audience is.
For example, if you’re not seeing some kind of boost after using social media for four to five months, then back off and find other ways to use the time spent or reassess to see if you can do something to move the needle a bit more, he recommended.