6 simple steps to social media for small business

Social Media may seem daunting, but doesn’t have to be.

Creative observation: The other day, I was having coffee with a good friend of mine who is a small business owner. He was telling me how he would like to do more with social media for his business, but they didn’t know where to start because, unlike some of my larger clients, his company couldn’t afford to pay someone to do this for them. We talked a bit about how to approach the problem, and as we spoke, it seemed that this is a common dilemma for a lot of small business owners.

lynda.com online training tutorialsThere are so many options and social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.) available in the world that knowing which to use to help your business grow can be confusing. Some business owners decide to avoid it all together for business, while others over share and cross boundaries with posts and content that hurt more then help their business.

Hours of time can be sucked up maintaining a social media presence that it can seem like an out of control monster. Do you really make money when we’re tweeting instead of selling, or when posting updates instead of engaging customers?

I’m sure you know at least one business owner who brags about posting several times a day, but can’t tell you what his goals for social media is.   They post everywhere, say nothing, and can’t quantify what they are getting in return for the time and effort spent.

It doesn’t have to be such a trade-off or mystery. The key to success for small business social media is taking steps to know what’s in it for your business (hint: it’s not always sales), understand the media you will choose to use, develop a plan, and be disciplined and diligent about execution.

Social media doesn’t replace your other marketing, but…

It can be an effective long-term complement to other online tactics that are more effective way to acquire customers.  A McKinsey & Co. survey found that email is 40x more effective at directly acquiring customers than social media.  So why bother?

Social media offers a lower barrier for engaging with your audience. Like good email marketing, it is permission-based. Someone receiving your messages said ‘yes’. But unlike email, steady, relevant social media posts from your business encourage simple dialog with very low commitment needed from the recipient. Liking a business on Facebook or following them on twitter is a lot easier and less intrusive than sending email back and forth.

Social media is a no-pressure way to keep in touch. Your posts let you stay top of mind without cluttering email boxes and becoming a spammer. In a social media feed, zipping past your message once read is simple and doesn’t involve deleting and filing away like email does.

Businesses of all sizes face some similar challenges

Still worried about where to start and how much this will take away from other money-making activities? Don’t worry, you’re not alone.

Larger businesses and organizations I’ve worked with face the question of how to scale staff and resources to fee their social media habit.  As a small business owner, you’re actually in a better place to make decisions about using social media, because you don’t have the option of hiring someone to be a social media manager. Your efforts will need to fit within the tasks of someone (probably you) already on the payroll. Which means another good necessity: you need to be efficient and disciplined in your time spent on social media for your business.

Social media is not the kind of marketing tactic that always connects directly to a sale. A business of any size needs to establish what their goal for social media is.  It is a long-term effort, like other familiar marketing choices a small business makes: sponsoring local events, becoming part of a Chamber of Commerce or joining a Service Club. There may be times you question why you should continue pursuing it, but remember that while social media results are not always quantifiable, having a social media presence is something few businesses can afford to ignore.

Learn to say ‘No’ so you can win

  • Say ‘No’ to being a guinea pig.  Like any other business effort, there are people around the World trying to develop the next big social media platform so they can get rich when they sell it later.  As a small business, you don’t have time to chase what’s coolest or become someone’s social media guinea pig. Instead, chose one of the well-established social media platforms that your audience is already using.
  • Say ‘No’ to the wrong social media platform.  Different social media platforms appeal to different audiences based on the type of content shared, demographics, and interests. That’s a good reason to concentrate on a social media platform that is a best fit to your audience of customers and potential customers.
  • Say ‘No’ to doing too much.  The small businesses that do best with social media are those that have learned to say ‘no’. They don’t spread themselves too thin across social media too early. Instead, they create a presence in one or two social media platforms and build followers.

No matter what form of social media you decide on, here are some steps to help you succeed:

Step 1: Identify what’s topics are best for your business to share

Decide on what type of posts your potential customers want to read, know.  Ask your best salespeople and some good customers for input. Focus on things like:

  • Category knowledge that is interesting to know
  • Task-oriented teaching and tips that help them, including links to simple videos you produce
  • Early-bird notices, previews and news about upcoming events
  • Imagery of your finished work, or ‘before and after’ imagery
  • Fast-breaking news

Those are types of content that will help build followers and establish your company as an authority.

Step 2: Research different social media outlets, and find one that most aligns with what you will share

What Social Media platform is best for your message? Some of today’s most popular include:

  • Facebook.  You can post paragraph-long messages and can include photos, link videos, and more.
  • Twitter. It features very short 140-character messages, pictures and video also. Its a very quick read for people who are breezing by their posts quickly.
  • LinkedIn. This social media platform is business-oriented, and includes resumes, business bios, business topic conversations and information. This is not the place for for your knitting club updates.
  • Pinterest. Photo/image collection focused, and searchable. People find photos that have been ‘pinned’ by anyone and share them with their friends and followers. Your pinned photos can link back to your business website.
  • Instagram. Photo/image focused also, but used a lot for private image collections.

To decide which social media is right for you, think about which your audience uses most. Learn by asking some of your best customers and some of your new customers what social media they use.

Step 3: Get some learning on how to use the social media interface

Information on hands-on use of social media platforms is everywhere around you.  There are over 100 book titles on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble on the topic of how to use social media.

Lynda.com is a great online learning sites, has 10 courses on Facebook alone.

YouTube lists 4,770,000 videos on how to learn Facebook. Some are professionally done, others are funny, some will put you to sleep.

Step 4: START! Jump in and set your business account up on social media

Find a savvy person in your circle of friends (or their adult children) who can help by providing some hands-on guidance. Or if you think you need it, hire a coach or consultant to help you get things moving.

Set up your BUSINESS on social media platform. Notice I emphasize BUSINESS.  This is not your personal Facebook page or social media account. It is one specifically for your business.

Just as you don’t mix personal and business bank accounts, don’t mix social media accounts, in either name or content.

Step 5: Be disciplined, be diligent

Establish a realistic goal for how often you’ll post. Once a week is a good starting point. Commit to keeping your time down to less than 45 minutes a week.

Stay on point with your content, so your audience sees a consistent value in friending, following, repinning and retweeting your content

Don’t be cute. Be relevant.  Unless being cute is part of your business personality and character, stay away from sharing things because you personally like them.  For example, Puppies might be nice (I love dogs), but unless you are a veterinarian, sell pets, sell pet food, or have a spokes-pet speaking for your company and posting to social media, keep your posts focused on what is of value to your audience.

Stay focused on your business goals. Be sure you can answer the question, “What would my social media follower say is the one unique thing they can say they get out of my posts?”  Write down the answer and keep it for reference. Every time you are crafting a post, ask yourself if the post is in line with that answer.

Let people in your professional circle, including customers, know you are sharing knowledge via social media. Invite them to like you and share your posts. And add your social media posting schedule to your business calendar so you don’t put it off.

Step 6: Be patient

Think long-term.  You can’t expect to get 1,000 followers after just a few posts.

Check for comments only twice a day at most. When you do respond, do so carefully and thoughtfully to all comments, and be brief.  Treat social media as an extension of your marketing and relationship building efforts.

As a small business owner, you can master social media and make it work for your business. Just remember to establish the reason why you want to use it for your business, do a little research, get some help, jump in and get started. As you proceed, set reasonable expectations for your efforts and be disciplined in how often you post and your social media content.

You’ll find what others have – done right, social media can be a useful to keep your business top-of-mind, and as way to get fast-breaking news out to some of your most loyal customers.

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I'm a creative problem-solver helping clients who use Direct Marketing but need more effective lead generation and deeper customer relationships. You can learn more about me on LinkedIn.