Cheat Sheet: Social Media Basics for Small Businesses

Just one in five small businesses are using social media, according to the Small Business Success Index report released by The University of Maryland’s Smith School of Business. The good news is that it is not too late to get on the social media bandwagon. Social media efforts can be less expensive than traditional marketing efforts but yield equal if not better results.

So what exactly can you expect from putting time and energy into social networking for your business? A company presence on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn can:

• generate qualified leads
• allow you to listen to and interact with your community
• put a personality behind the brand
• expand relationships with other businesses and professionals
• build general awareness of your brand and product
• promote special deals to targeted groups
• enables you to keep a finger on the pulse of trends in your area of business
• keep an eye on the competition
• create a new channel for customer service
• drive traffic to your website
• help establish you and your business as thought leaders in the channel (and beyond!)

The key to success with any social media platform is not to inundate your community members with sales message after sales message. Make sure your messaging is not all about you. Post educational content, industry news and include your marketing messages in there as well. Social media management is an emerging art form, really, and timing and frequency of posting play a huge factor in how successful a small business can be online. Some of the main reasons cited for unfollowing businesses on social networks include over-communication, under-communication or lack of updating, irrelevant status updates, only talk about yourself, and do not engage in conversation with the community.

You don’t need to hire a so-called social media consultant to get your social media presence up and running. My best advice is to start slow, dedicate time to the craft and make every status update count. You’ll be able to grow your online community in an organic and sustainable way. To get started, sign up for the following three networks:

1) Facebook: There’s a reason more than 500 million worldwide are on Facebook. You will need a personal profile in order to set up a company page for your business. Setting up a company page for your business is easy. Here is a helpful guide with commonly asked questions about getting started. 
2) Twitter: Your updates are limited to 140 characters on Twitter, so be ready to get creative. Think of Twitter as a game, and the main goal is to gain quality followers. Get inspired by reading this New York Times article, "Marketing Small Businesses With Twitter."
3) LinkedIn: Again you’ll need a personal profile in order to set up your company page. Here's how to get started

Once you have the basic setup taken care of, here are some of my general tips that apply across most, if not all, platforms:

1) Listen and don’t add more noise. This goes back to my earlier point of making every status update count. Great tools for listening that I use personally include TweetDeck and Google Alerts. You can customize tools to suit your needs. For example with Google Alerts and TweetDeck, I am monitoring all mentions of Doyenz, (our company name) and Shadowcloud (our product name) in real-time from 8 am to 6 pm, Monday to Friday. These tools ensure that you are responding to negative mentions of your business and jumping in the conversation about your company that you may previously not know was happening.

2) Give credit where credit is due! If you get a link or borrow a phrase from another Twitter or Facebook user, give them a shout out! It takes little effort and will help you build a community that respects you and create positive interactions with your brand, one step at a time.

3) Think of your social media content as an editorial operation. Create a general schedule to follow (ex: we are going to send out tweets 3x a day Monday to Friday and once a day on the weekends.) You don't have to follow the schedule religiously, but it will help to ensure you’re updating your networks within an acceptable range. Also be sure to curate the links you send out to ensure you are adding value to your community. You don't want to be a company someone unfollows because you are flooding their news feed with irrelevant messages, or vice versa - you haven’t updated in months and your community knows it.

4) Social media platforms provide a forum for word-of-mouth recommendations in the digital age. Studies continue to show the importance of personal recommendations in influencing buying decisions. These days a large chunk of these recommendations are made on Facebook or Twitter. Keep this in mind and consider offering a special deal just to your Facebook fans.

5) Stay on top of the latest trends and news in social media with sites such as Mashable’s Social Media vertical, the HubSpot blog and the SmartBlog on Social Media.

6) Finally, and perhaps most importantly, measure your efforts and iterate based on metrics. Use Klout to get an idea of what your doing well and how to improve on Twitter, use Facebook insights (also free) to gauge how well you are interacting with your community through your Facebook company page. You can also use Google Analytics to assess how many referrals are coming to your website from each platform (See “Traffic Sources”). Looking at the past 30 days, four of our top 15 referring sources of traffic -- which includes our paid campaigns with Google AdWords and ads on other websites -- are social networks (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Quora).

Social media efforts cost less than traditional advertising and marketing campaigns and often produce better results and can have a greater financial return. So, what are you waiting for?

Adriana Dunn is a content strategist at Doyenz. She can be reached at adunn@doyenz.com, on Twitter and on Facebook.

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