Many companies have Twitter accounts that spit out periodic updates on new products or services, and a few even have a Facebook page. But there's a big difference between having a social networking account that puts out spam to a followers/friends list that consists of employees and the owners' immediate family, to being part of an actual online community.
At Ars, we use Facebook and Twitter to promote our work, but that promotion is really more like a side-effect of the primary thing that we do with these tools: connect and communicate with readers and other journalists and publications. Based on our own experience, we've put together a list of five things to keep in mind when you turn to Facebook and Twitter to promote your SMB.
People may identify with abstract entities like brands, but they don't communicate with them. People communicate with other people, which is why the time-honored role of "company spokesperson" still needs to be filled online. For the Ars Twitter feed, we have different writers trade off hosting it for the week. Each of these writers brings their own personality, interests, and voice to the official Ars Twitter feed, so that instead of an automated series of tweets with content links in them, it becomes an actual venue for communicating with the audience.
Content is king
You have to do more than just plug your work on Twitter or Facebook. People gain followers on Twitter and friends on Facebook my posting links to things that are actually worth clicking. And the best source of such links is your own surfing and research.
For instance, I follow a few beats closely in the course of my reporting, so I typically find way more material than I could ever cover as reporter. Twitter gives me an outlet to share that material and comment on it, without having to do a full writeup. I also follow friends who have small businesses and who are good at what they do, because they often share links to tips or developments in their field on their Twitter feeds. So while they do plug their work, they also offer enough in the way of relevant and interesting links to make following them worthwhile.
Off-topic is good
Not only are off-topic Facebook updates and Tweets ok, but they're actually a good thing if you don't overdo it. Funny headlines, cool pictures, or short, smart or funny comments on the big news of the day will often get retweeted. And when someone retweets you to their followers and friends, that instantly exposes your Twitter account to that person's entire network. Indeed, most of the Twitter accounts that I follow I've found via retweets.
Post regular updates, but don't get annoying
As with all things in life, there's a happy medium between "not enough" and "too much" when it comes to social networking updates. If you rarely update, then you don't create any sort of connection with your network. But if you update too often, people will unfriend/unfollow you or block your updates from their feed.
The only way to figure out which update frequency is right for you is to keep track of how many followers/friends you're losing or gaining as you vary (deliberately or not) your level of activity.
Reply to people
Conversations are two-sided, so it's important to actually reply to friends/followers. Not only do people like being replied to, but when they reply back to you all of their friends/followers will see that activity and become aware of your existence.