Social media, popular Web-based technologies that let people socially interact with one another online, has changed the way small businesses communicate with customers and market products and services. Social media lets many businesses -- especially small businesses that cannot afford to launch private online communities -- interact with customers in a more personal way to build better customer relationships.
One thing a small business owner should know is that using social media for marketing is a time-consuming task, and there is definitely a right and wrong way to deal with customers in online social spaces.
While your efforts may be derived from a marketing perspective, your online social interactions with customers needs to be honest, open and provide value to be successful. You need to focus on building relationships more than blasting customers with marketing messages and sales pitches.
The following top 10 social media tips for small business marketing will help you understand how to interact with customers in online social spaces and also guide you in building better, smarter relationships with customers on social networks.
1. Plan Your Social Media Marketing Strategy
As with any small business marketing campaign or business strategy, you have to create a plan and stick to it in order to be successful. Outline the goals and the steps you will take -- in addition to the tools you will need -- to meet your marketing objectives.
Your plan should outline how your small business will integrate social media marketing into existing marketing strategies. Some social media-specific issues you will need to think about include:
Delegating the daily tasks and updates to an employee with marketing and social media experience
Deciding on whom within your organization will create profiles and accounts and which individuals will have access to the accounts
Choosing tools that will help automate the social media marketing process and finding social analytics tools to help you track success
Reviewing your current small business marketing strategies and deciding where an expansion into social media will be the most beneficial
2. Find Your Customers
With so many social networking platforms available to consumers, it can be difficult to choose a social network for your business to use. Before you randomly log on to Twitter or Facebook to start your small business marketing campaign, research to find out where your customers already congregate online.
Existing communities of customers will have formed the basics of the "social glue" that holds online relationships together. It takes less time and effort to join customers where they are, compared to creating multiple profiles and accounts in the hopes that customers will find you.
3. Schedule Social Time
Once you become a social resource for customers you have to stick with it and be there on a regular and frequent basis. Using social networks is time consuming, so schedule social time for yourself and your marketing staff.
You want to have enough time each day to monitor conversations, converse with customers, and to send out new messages. Splitting the time up throughout the day will be a benefit as it shows customers you care enough to check back and respond quickly.
4. Be Authentic and Human
People are more likely to create relationships with other people more so than with businesses. You can encourage customers if you use a "human" voice -- not a corporate presence -- when connecting in social spaces. You can do a few simple things like show a picture instead of a business logo on your profile, and assign one or two people within your small business to be your social voice.
Another big part of being human on a social network that businesses often find challenging is to "own up" to customers in public when they make a mistake or someone posts criticism. If a customer complains about your shipping, don't ignore it or follow-up outside the social network. Keep the conversation public; drop the corporate tone and converse with the customer on a personal level.
5. Be an Expert
One of the best ways for a small business to interact with customers is to be an expert in social spaces. By joining existing communities where your customers are, you can easily insert yourself into the community by being a voice of expert advice.
For example if your small business is plumbing hardware, find those online social communities on Facebook, Twitter, discussion forums and blogs and start answering questions and offering advice. Remember to let people know you are a business owner -- never pretend to be "just another consumer" when you participate in social discussions.