The social media audience is huge. According to Nielsen, which measures people's digital habits, nearly 80 percent of active Internet users visit social networks and blogs. That's a lot of customers and potential customers for small business owners to connect and engage with.
So which social media outlet really helps an entrepreneur reach out and win clients? The answer depends on who and where those clients are.
"Social media should be about connecting," says social media strategist Hillary Chybinski. "For most businesses, especially small ones with limited budgets, it isn't necessary or practical to be everywhere. It's a much better return for your investment to be on one or two social media outlets and do it really well, than to be on 10 and do it poorly."
A business owner has to decide which social media venue or venues potential clients are most likely to visit.
Chybinski says businesses with brick-and-mortar establishments may want to investigate Foursquare and offer perks for checking in. Foursquare isn't as likely to be as useful for a strictly online business as Facebook or Twitter might be.
The social media caper
"I would say Facebook converts more into sales," Aikens said. "My main consumers are moms ages 26 to 42 and they are on Facebook talking to their friends and sharing information."
Aikens likes the real-time feedback she receives through social media. "'My followers and future customers learn about me and how I do business and they relate to me as a mom and a business owner."
Facebook or Twitter?
"In my opinion, it's important for businesses to be on Twitter and Facebook," Chybinski said. "Those are the two heavy hitters. It's not about the number of likes and followers, it's about what you do with those people who like and follow you."
Aikens displays Twitter and Facebook logos at the top of her custom-cape website.
"I think Twitter is like a cocktail party at a club that is hopping. Facebook is like a town block party." She says she composes messages differently on the two different sites.
"Twitter is easier for me because a tweet stays in the stream for a few seconds and I don't get hung up on the message," Aikens said. "A Facebook message sits on your wall longer until you post again, so I feel a need to put a lot of thought into what I say."
Chybinski says business owners shouldn't stress about postings.
"You don't need to post constantly all day," Chybinski said. "Once a day to Twitter and to Facebook, if meaningful, will be fine."
Social media success
To find business success online through social media, it's important to know where the target audience is being social. Americans spend more time on Facebook than on any other online site. Visitors to LinkedIn are three times more likely than other Internet users to have post-graduate degrees. And teenage girls hang out in large numbers on Tumblr.
Once a business owner gets a feel for where the clients are, the next step is to create a clear social media strategy with a defined message and style.
"I think the key is to be authentic," says Aikens, the cape creator. "It's not just about broadcasting your message. Interaction is key."
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Carla Turchetti is a veteran print and broadcast journalist who likes to break a topic down and keep her copy tight. That's why this bio is so brief. Carla blogs for Contently.