Getting Your Small Business Started with Social Media

used with permission from Microsoft US Small and Midsize Business Blog
by Cindy Bates

Should you build a social media presence for your small business? According to Social Media Examiner, small businesses cite increased exposure, increased website traffic, and decreased marketing expenses as the top benefits of social media marketing. Additionally, over half of surveyed small businesses that had been using social media for two or more years said that it helped them increase sales.

Investing in social media can help you connect with new prospects and build stronger relationships with current customers, but it won’t happen overnight. Social success takes a lot of hard work and time. These tips will help you get off to a quick start and build a solid foundation to reach your long-term goals.

Choose the right channel

Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Snapchat—the list of social media platforms keeps growing. Each has its benefits, and there is probably more than one that will work for your business. But if you are just getting started, you will see the best results when you focus on one platform at a time. Start by establishing a clear business objective for your social marketing efforts. Do you want to provide better service, generate leads for your sales team, or increase brand awareness? Next, think about your target audience. What social media channels will put you in front of the right users?

Become an expert on that channel

Unless you are already a social maven or plan to hire outside help to run your social marketing efforts, your next step after selecting a social platform should be to open an account for personal use—not for your business. Dive in for a month or two and make it your most frequently-used app. You’ll quickly learn the nuances of the platform—which types of content are popular, proper etiquette, do’s and don’ts, and, of course, the lingo.

Add value first

It’s been said that it is better to give than to receive. Keep this principle at the forefront of all your social interactions. Regardless of the channel, users know what they want to get out of their social media time, and it isn’t a sales pitch. Whether your customers are on social media to find articles and resources, entertainment, or new products, make sure that you are meeting them where they are and adding value to the conversation. To do that, you’ll need to be more focused on creating and sharing relevant content than promoting your business.

Develop your voice

Your voice, or the manner and tone with which you communicate across social channels, is an important piece of the puzzle. Customers may be turned off by language that is stiff and formal or, at the other extreme, riddled with grammatical errors. Finding the right balance will depend on your brand and the social platform you use. And while there is no one-size-fits-all approach, most successful social programs can be best described as authentic and conversational.

Maintain your pace

Your first foray into social media may not require a full editorial calendar. It will, however, require that you maintain a running list of relevant topics and important dates (seasonal events, industry conferences, product launches, holidays, etc.). You’ll get a lot of social mileage out of these ‘moment-in-time’ events, and having a mechanism for recording your ideas and tracking topics will help you establish a consistent cadence. Other than your initial account launch, when it’s a good idea to seed your profile with a surge of content, you’ll want to maintain a pace that’s appropriate for the platform and for your own busy schedule. Posting sporadically or failing to respond to comments will generate more frustration than goodwill.

Get the word out

Many small businesses use social media to drive cost-effective advertising campaigns. It’s free to get started on most platforms, and when social content goes viral, the return on your investment can be enormous. For most businesses, though, waiting for content to spread organically is a slow process. If you are serious about driving leads and sales today, you may want to invest in paid social campaigns. The pricing, targeting, and requirements will vary, but most platforms offer paid options that will help you get your content in front of a wider audience in less time.

Social media represents a powerful opportunity for small businesses. Just remember that social media is not a strategy—it’s simply one of the channels you have at your disposal. To make the most of your investment, you’ll need a thoughtful approach and some patience.