Having been a small-business owner for roughly six years, I'll be the first to admit I've made mistakes along the way. Mistakes are a part of the growth process of a small business, so I look at each one as a learning experience. I'm a better leader (and business owner) because of them. One of the biggest mistakes I made, however, was underestimating the power of social media marketing.
When I first started out, I didn't look at social media as a viable marketing option. It hadn't yet dominated the industry as a marketing tool, so it simply wasn't on my radar. And while we certainly enjoyed increased exposure from other forms of marketing, such as TV spots and recognition in national publications, our overall marketing strategy was struggling.
After analyzing my competitors' strategies, here's how I turned my marketing efforts around to help find success.
1. Introduce social media channels one at a time.
When I decided to get serious about social media, I knew I needed to focus on the bigger channels—namely, Facebook and Twitter. Even though there were lots of other options available, it made sense to go where our audience already was.
I quickly learned that mastering each social channel takes time and dedication. It's easy to get overwhelmed if you try to take on too many at once. For instance, I tried to launch and maintain additional accounts on YouTube, Pinterest and Google+, but it led to inconsistent messaging, poor follow-up and subpar results.
It didn't take long to realize I was better off introducing new social channels one at a time. I stopped the all-out effort and started exploring Google+ as our third social network, with plans to branch out further into Pinterest as Google+ grew.
2. Balance content sharing and social engagement.
One of the other things I struggled with was striking a balance between post type and social engagement. Our followers wanted to engage with us, not just see links to our latest content.
I had to come up with a strategy that balanced both. I started asking questions on our Facebook page, and hosting Twitter chats to make sure we were serving followers the right way. The social media marketing effort paid off, and our accounts continue to grow today.
3. Have a posting schedule for your social media marketing.
Another mistake that I made was not establishing a posting schedule. Consider creating one based on how much time you have available to dedicate to this activity. If all you can come up with are three quality social media updates per week, then go with that. You never want to simply publish an article that hasn't been well-written, researched and edited.
The reason for the schedule is two-fold: First, you know when you need to carve out time for your social media marketing strategy, and second, your audience will know when to expect updates. If you're inconsistent in your efforts, your target readers may lose trust, or at the very least be a little confused.
Also, make sure you respond to every comment: Even if you simply thank a follower for complimenting one of your articles, that can also help boost your overall success. It can help your current readers know that you care about them, and potential customers may see that your audience is important to you.
4. Track your social media marketing efforts.
Consider tracking your efforts using a monitoring tool such as Google Analytics. Just because Twitter works well for your competitors doesn't mean it will be successful for you. You may want to take a look at the sites that are performing better for you, and focus your efforts there. If one simply isn't catching on, eliminate it.
The successes we enjoyed with social media didn't happen overnight. But by using the above strategies, most of our metrics improved.
5. Know when to hand over the reins.
The most significant thing I learned is that engaging successfully on social media takes time. When I realized my efforts with social media marketing were distracting from my other work, I contracted a savvy social media manager to take on the planning, scheduling and tracking of our social engagement. I still personally engage with followers to answer questions or host chats, but to keep my whole business growing, I needed to delegate responsibility.
Business ownership isn't easy—mistakes can happen. Don't beat yourself up when you recognize a problem; simply acknowledge the misstep and craft a game plan to minimize damages and get back on track.
You may realize, like I did, that the road to overcoming mistakes isn't always a straight shot. It takes trial, error and a constant pursuit of improvement to see results. The good news is, success can be possible over time. We may have been late to the game, but we currently have more than 30,000 social followers—and the numbers continue to grow.
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