If you believe everything you hear and read, then you probably think every small business that jumps on the social media bandwagon is destined for fame and fortune. All you have to do is set up a Twitter feed and a Facebook Page and voila! Soon you’ll be adding more staff to keep up with the demand for your products and services. After all, according to a 2010 Regus survey, almost one half of small businesses have successfully connected with new customers through social networks. But what about the other half?
One of my favorite conversation starters with small business owners these days is, “How are you doing with social media?” The answers vary, though in most cases I hear comments like, “I did the Facebook thing, but nothing happened,” and similar laments about whether social media is actually worthwhile. I always respond that it is.
When I ask a few more questions, I usually discover that learning social media tools wasn’t the biggest obstacle to social media success. In many cases, it was unrealistic expectations that prompted these small business owners to quit social media prematurely.
I always urge entrepreneurs who are frustrated with social media to give it another go—but not before sharing a little insight from small business owners who have used social media successfully to cultivate fans, friends and followers.
Here are five ways to do it:
1. Be consistent
You don’t have to let social media soak up all your time, but if you build it into your routine and dedicate at least 15 minutes per day (or an hour, or more), you’ll start to see a steady rise in the quality and quantity of the network you’re growing.
2. Initiate and participate in conversations
This should happen naturally with customers both online and in person. Open up the dialog with compelling facts, intriguing questions or news in your industry. Join in the conversation and share your expertise and insights. And when you’re talking with your customers offline, don’t miss the opportunity to ask them if they’d be open to continuing the conversation via e-mail or on your Facebook Page.
3. Be responsive
It’s true that we’re all busy with our day jobs, but don’t forget to respond as soon as possible to any inbound questions, customer feedback or invitations to connect.
Spend your time on one or two online communities as opposed to spreading yourself too thin across many different ones. This way, you can better manage the flow of traffic and the individual conversations. An added benefit of this strategy is knowledge that there’s strength in numbers; a growing number of customers and followers concentrated on one or two sites can influence how you’re perceived.
5. Be engaging, not intrusive
I know there’s probably a strong temptation to use free social media tools as a way to blatantly advertise your business. Just keep in mind, these tools are meant to facilitate conversations, not to serve as mini-billboards. The small businesses that are most successful with social media are the ones that engage their communities by sharing insight and participating in genuine two-way dialogues, as opposed to posting streams of one-way marketing messages.
If you follow these guidelines, you’ll see better results from your social media efforts. Most importantly, though, set realistic expectations. Don’t fall for the common myth that you need to attract hundreds or thousands of devotees in short order. Instead, identify customers, prospects, and industry experts that you’d like to connect with online and get to it. When it comes to attracting fans, friends and followers, it really is quality versus quantity.