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Small business got a taste of social media in 2010. Following the lead of Fortune 500 companies and big brands, small business owners were probably introduced to social media on a personal level first: joining family on Facebook, taking note of Twitter on ESPN or Tosh.0, or someone e-mailing a funny video from YouTube. Of course there were also the e-mail invitations to connect to former colleagues on LinkedIn, checking out personal photo albums on Flickr, and for a few, even adventures on Foursquare. The average “Joe” or “Jane” with a locally-based small business was indoctrinated into the “social” world in 2010.
So there it is. Social media has pervaded our lifestyles and the lexicon. After recognizing the networking and communications potential of social media on a personal level, “Joe” and “Jane” decided there must be a business application for all of these free, web-based tools. Some have already added social marketing to their business arsenal and a small percentage are doing it well. Many more have floundered awkwardly into untested waters. One thing is certain, more small businesses will try to use social marketing to create new prospects and new sales in 2011. Here is what we have learned, so far.
Five Things We Have Learned About Social Marketing
1. Social marketing is not free. It requires time and that means money. Setting up your company account is typically free, but that’s only the beginning. Blogger Lyndi Thompson says you need “someone that is customer focused, understands how to write headlines and reaches out to the right audience”. If you don’t have the time or skills to manage your own social marketing then consider hiring someone qualified to do it.
2. Don’t think of social media as a way to sell online — at least not directly. Many social marketers use the 80/20 rule — 80 percent useful, content, commentary, education, or PR versus 20 percent direct sales ads. I prefer maybe 5-10 percent sales messages. Personally I don’t think they are that effective anyway. Social marketing is akin to networking at a business after hours. You wouldn’t shake hands with everyone over a scotch and soda then slap them in the face with a sales pitch at the same time. Not for long anyway. That is the definition of spam. True social marketing can ultimately lead to increased sales but the crux of this strategy is making yourself helpful, sharing useful content, and caring about people within your target audience.
3. Keep it “social”. Social marketing means building relationships and shaping how people view your brand. Don’t be afraid to talk about things other than your products or services. Be real or your followers will see through your thin, trivial facade. Just like when you engage people offline, learn to listen. Address followers/fans concerns, comments, and criticisms as quickly as possible. Your audience will know what you sell. Then when they need your products or services, who do you think they will think of first? The brand they share a relationship with, of course.
4. LinkedIn connections are very different than FB friends and Twitter followers. Unique social audiences call for unique messages. Your social audiences are not all the same. LinkedIn connections tend to be more corporate, B2B, and career-driven. The tone is more business than Facebook for example where content is funny, friendlly, and more casual. Understand your audience, the culture of each social site you utilize and shape your messages accordingly.
5. The 500 lb. Gorilla in the Room. Who is going to be your social voice? Who will make the actual updates, respond to questions, control your message? I am convinced that 90 percent of small business owners are too busy to teach themselves how to use social marketing and maintain it. Most “Joes” and “Janes” have neither the marketing expertise nor the time to manage their daily social marketing strategy. Try finding a social partner who can help develop your voice and content, deal with technical account issues, and write, edit, spell check , and post updates, photos, and video. Again, effective social marketing is not really free. The business owner can still login to Twitter or Facebook and make their own individual posts. A healthy combination will work best so posts don’t come off as canned or lack authenticity. Either way, decide up front who is the social driver on your business team.
No doubt other small business marketers will have their own tales to tell of social marketing successes and failures. Please fell free to share your experiences in the comments below.