21 Feb 2013
By Tannette Johnson-Elie
Small business owners increasingly are using social media to market their products and services and connect with customers. But many don’t quite know how to develop a strategy and make it work for them, research shows.
The problem is that small business owners often are so caught up into the day-to-day operations of their businesses; they don’t take time to learn social media marketing and apply it in a meaningful way.
“The store needs to be cleaned, the phones are ringing. It’s hard to devote time to this stuff,” says Augie Ray, a New York-based social media strategist who has more than 15 years of experience in digital and social media. “When we talk about a social media strategy, it can sound awesomely large, something that costs a lot of money. One of the things small business owners can do is simply have a goal of bringing their authentic and unique self to social media.”
While many small business owners understand the importance of social media, particularly as they hear success stories and observe their customers using it, 47% do not use social media at all, according to SmallBusinessTrends.com.
What’s more, fewer than one-quarter of small businesses use social media as part of a planned, social media strategy, while another 29% are intrigued with social media, but don’t know how to apply it in a systematic, planned way, according to the 2012 Small and Medium Social Business Study by SMB Group.
Nevertheless, small business owners and entrepreneurs who embrace social media and the unique opportunities it offers will gain an advantage in the marketplace.
But for those who still are on the sidelines or are engaged informally, it’s not too late to learn how to use the various social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare and have authentic interactions that get results.
Here are some tips on how to develop a strategic social media plan for your business:
Approach social media planning like any strategic plan.
Determine your mission, your specific goals, and how you plan to achieve your goals.
Incorporate social media into your overall marketing strategy and be consistent. Consistent participation delivers the best results, experts say. But you need to be committed for the long haul.
“The key to social media is to be present as much as possible,” said Ray. “Try to spend five minutes every hour to see what’s going on.”
Start with the audience. Learn the unique characteristics of your audience and what their needs are, and then tailor your approach to the particular needs of your audience, says Ray, the social media strategist who also is director of social media strategy for a Fortune 500 company in New York.
“One mistake small business owners make is they cast too wide a net. Narrow it,” he said. “Who are the people I want to call me? Who are the people I want to come through my front door?
Take a slow and steady approach.
Don’t rush out and join every social media network that’s available. Remember, social media may be free, but it’s costly in terms of your time, energy and effort. Pick one or two social media channels and use them as a learning ground.
Be “uniquely” unique.
Keep in mind that people can use social media to recommend products and brands they like to their friends and family. Consumers have a low tolerance for the superficial. People want transparency. You need to be convincing and authentic in your interactions.
“People care about you as a small business. Bringing your personal self to social media is important,” Ray said. “Before you submit a tweet or post, consider what you’re posting and ask yourself if it’s something any competitor can post. The challenge is to be ‘uniquely’ unique.”
Let your customers show the way.
Determine where your customers are (which online social platforms they use) and make sure you’re in those spaces. So if your customers tend to flock to Linkedin, you wouldn’t want to put all your effort and energy into Facebook and Twitter.
Go local in a big way.
“Big companies struggle with how to be seen as local when they’re located in different parts of the country. One of the things small businesses can do is to be local. Talk about what’s going on in the community,” says Ray. “Sharing what’s going on in the community that aligns with your unique brand is great way to find good content.”
That said: Small business owners will be a lot better off if they dedicate themselves to spending time learning to use social media and engage with online communities. If you approach it with a well-thought-out strategy, you might have a leg up on your competitors