Last fall, e-mail marketing service Constant Contact surveyed 2,000 small-business owners. It found 81 percent of them have taken to social media to market their businesses. That figure is up from 73 percent of respondents the previous spring, and it's about time the trend took hold.
Small businesses need social media, and they can use it in ways their larger corporate counterparts simply can't. And that's a good thing, considering that the outsize marketing budgets of big companies more than trump the dollars set aside by small businesses to cover marketing.
Becky Lang, a creative at Minneapolis branding agency Zeus Jones, talked with OPEN Forum about how a focused, pragmatic approach to social media defines small-business success.
"For small businesses that probably don't have a lot of money for messaging, it's a totally free way to connect with their community and build a fan base," she says. "So, they tend to use it in a more functional way because they need it to be functional." Zeus manages the Cheerios and Purina One Facebook pages, among others.
So what, exactly, does meaningful engagement with consumers on social media look like?
Start with Facebook
Facebook is an easy place to start, especially because you can suggest that your friends follow your business, and ask their network to do the same. But to keep them interested and win their Facebook fandom in the first place, you have to keep a simple strategy in mind.
“Post relevant content every day,” Lang says. “If you're having a special sale, post about that. Post pictures. Hand-select and curate some of your favorite items or offerings of your business.”
Don’t be a robot
Particularly on Twitter, repetition can become a problem. No one wants to see their Twitter feed swallowed up by dry, repetitive or otherwise useless content from a sole parasitic account. In fact, that’ll probably shrink your network. Remember, that the Unfollow button is only a click away.
Instead, focus on telling the Twitter-sphere who you are, as a company.
“Just try to be human on Twitter,” Lang says. “Use it as a way to show your company culture and not just creep on what people are saying about your business and write back to them all the time.”
Have some consistency
You can build in widgets to your main website that direct visitors to the content you’re pushing out through Facebook, Twitter and other social media.
Showcasing a rounded presence across several media makes your business look more tech-savvy and plugged in, Lang says. It also leads people to your business across social media channels.
Transparency is not only appealing to users, it also helps a business build favor with its consumer base.
“It helps them satisfy their curiosity, but it also helps you seem like a more trustworthy and reliable business to people,” Lang says. She suggests posting photos and tidbits about employees. This practice can especially resonate with people in the immediate community who can best relate to (or might even personally know) your staff.
Give your audience credit
Pandering is a big no-no. Instead, your objective should be to foster dialogue.
“Ask them questions and use it as a way to learn from them and learn what they are interested in and what they think of your products,” Lang says.
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