To put it mildly, social media tools are transforming the way we communicate. These days, people send a tweet instead of an e-mail and write on Facebook walls instead of dial phone numbers. So you know the best way to reach customers is to join these conversations, but how? Which platform will send the right message? Here's a look at the top five tools and how can small-business owners can take advantage of this change in communication to boost their bottom lines.
Facebook: Best for engaging with customers
Every business needs a Facebook page, period. The social media giant is on par to reach 1 billion users by August, according to iCrossing, a media research company in the U.K. Translation: All of your current and potential clients already have an account. Once you fill out your page, Barbara Rozgonyi, founder of Chicago-based marketing firm CoryWest Media, suggests sending out updates at least three times per week to start attracting attention.
“Don’t just write about your business, take a community approach and talk about what is going on in your industry and your community,” she says. “It needs to be a good mix.”
Another tip: Don’t talk at people. Instead, engage them in conversation by asking questions and responding to their comments. If you don’t have time to watch your Facebook feed all day (who does?) commit a few hours per week to replying to every comment posted on your page, advises Rozgonyi.
Make posts semi-personal, too. Sprinkle in a comment about the weather with an excited note about your favorite sports team. (Note: Don’t write about what you ate for lunch; that’s too personal.) Conversation between you and your customer will not only help put a face on your company, but add to feelings of goodwill among your base. (Here are a few tips on how to get Facebook fans.)
Twitter: Best for sharing news about your company
“Think of Twitter as a news channel,” says Rozgonyi. “It’s a good place to promote your business, talk about things happening and connect with people.”
Unlike Facebook users who, generally speaking, want to feel warm and fuzzy about a company before being sold, Twitter users are open to the hard sell, she says. So use the platform to advertise sales and specials. There is a fine line, though. Too many sales-y tweets, and you will lose followers. Post about three times per day, and if you don’t have time to do that, download Hootsuite, an application that allows you to schedule your tweets ahead of time.
Need more ideas on what to tweet? Rozgonyi recommends searching for what your competitors and target demographic are talking about. Join the conversation and you will have followers in no time.
Another tip: Post statistics about your industry—“everyone loves numbers,” she notes—and recipes.
But what if you don’t run a restaurant?
“It doesn’t matter,” says Rozgonyi. “If you post your best recipes every Friday, people will start looking for that and pretty soon they will want to know what else you do.” (Here are the 12 most effective ways to engage on Twitter.)
LinkedIn: Best for finding new clients
Margelit Hoffman is obsessed with LinkedIn. As co-founder of Hoffman Productions, a video production company out of Allentown, Pa., she joins LinkedIn groups where her target customer is hanging out and strikes up conversations.
“I post discussions and lead people to interesting things we post on our blog,” she says. “I only post things that will help people. They need to get something out of it, or they won’t click.”
Her advice: Make sure your profile page is complete and your tagline explains what the company does, a good trick for increasing your search engine optimization, or SEO. From there, join groups and be active on them. In a recent post, Hoffman shared a video to an industry group and a man she didn’t know contacted her about a job.
“He ended up giving us our biggest contract to date,” she beams.
Not sure what groups to join? First, conceptualize your target market. Then click on the “Group” tab at the top of the page. From there, type in keywords that match your market, Hoffman suggests. When you find a group that sounds interesting and is open to the public, click on it to see what they are chatting about, then join. If the group is private, ask to be invited. (Get more tips on how to find leads using LinkedIn.)
Google+: Best for improving your search ranking
Google+ has similar characteristics to Facebook, but with one major perk: It has incredible SEO. The next time you do a Google search, check out the results that appear near the top of the page. See those tiny photos of people you know? Those are your friends already on Google+ who’ve posted a topic similar to the one you just searched. Ahh, the genius that is Google.
Hoffman uses Google+ purely as an SEO tool, so every time she puts up a new blog or tweet, she re-posts it to the site.
Rozgonyi recommends using the site for its Hangout function. This is where up to 10 different people can talk to each other on video. The function is very popular (check out President Barack Obama’s use of the tool) and can be used by small-business owners wanting to schedule free videoconference chats. (Here's a look at some pros and cons of Google+ for small business.)
Pinterest: Best for increasing your visibility
Pinterest is the newest kid on the social media block, making a splash with more than 3 million monthly users. Unlike Facebook and Twitter, Pinterest doesn’t encourage comments. It does, however, still encourage sharing—in the visual form. Users are able to "pin" photos of whatever they find interesting (i.e. videos, ideas, etc.) to their profiles and share "pins" with others.
“It is a good place for businesses with a visual element to hang out,” says Hoffman. “If you are a personal chef, for example, have a professional photographer take pictures of your food and post it on there. Then, when people share, it will increase your company’s visibility.” (Here are five tips on how to use Pinterest.)
What is your favorite social network, and how do you use it to help your bottom line?
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