Conceptually, many small businesses get the importance of engaging with consumers on social media. Unfortunately, according to Steven D. Strauss, small business expert and author of "The Small Business Bible," many companies aren't exploiting the potential revenue-boosting benefits of the medium.
Citing the results from the "Staples Small Business and Social Media Study," Strauss notes that the top marketing wish list item among respondents was a Facebook page with 2 million engaged fans (41 percent). It even beat out a celebrity endorsement (22 percent) or the mother of all promotional triumphs, a Super Bowl ad (18 percent).
"Social media is as big as it gets," says Strauss. Yet, 53 percent of small businesses struggle to find their footing on social media. It's a shame, because among those businesses that did calculate a return on their social media usage, 76 percent reported a positive return.
Social Media is the New Word of Mouth
"The game has changed," says Strauss. Word-of-mouth advertising, that coveted marketing concept, is increasingly being driven by social media.
Shares, likes and retweets: "that's what word of mouth looks like today," says Strauss. So don't get left out of those conversations. Small business owners who value the power of recommendations from friends and a thumbs-up from loved ones cannot ignore social media.
Strauss fondly remembers a banner that hung at his dad's warehouse during his youth. It read simply, "Word-of-mouth advertising begins with you." Even today, that bit of wisdom endures. So fire up that Web browser or whip out your smartphone and get started.
Here are Strauss' tips for leveraging social media for increased traffic, sales and growth.
Pick One Social Network
Strauss advises busy small business owners to find one social network and concentrate their efforts accordingly, at least at the beginning.
Don't spread yourself too thin by juggling multiple social media accounts. Instead, "pick one platform," says Strauss. Which network should you choose? "It's not the platform that you necessarily like best," he warns.
"Follow your customers," advises Strauss—in the literal sense. Run a poll on your website to determine if your customers are flocking to Facebook or Twitter, and set up shop there. They may even prefer YouTube or Pinterest.
Once that's settled, "master that one platform" says Strauss. It serves the dual purpose of building a strong following and focusing your social media efforts.
Hire a Millennial
"It's in their DNA," jokes Strauss. Of course, anyone of any generation can become a social media ace—no ageism here. Yet, a small business owner's time is typically best spent on keeping the business afloat. Social media can distract from that mission.
Millennials, seemingly issued an iPhone at birth, have made social media an integral part of their lives. Engaging over the medium is practically second nature for them. Leverage their skills and enthusiasm by making a millennial your social media intern.
Empower them to do a good job, but oversee their efforts just as you would in any other part of your business. "Don't put them totally in charge of it," suggests Strauss. Your social media presence should reflect your company and its values, so be sure to check in and give direction as required.
Mind Your ROI
Make sure you're "getting a return on all of this effort," says Strauss. Although social media is considered a low- or no-cost marketing channel, it should nonetheless offer you a return on investment on your time.
It's common to measure social media's effectiveness on the basis of the number of likes, followers and conversations it generates. But the bottom line, says Strauss, is that those timeline posts, tweets and other interactions "should be making you more money."
If your revenues show no signs of picking up after you've been active on social media—or worse, they plummet—it's a sign that those efforts are going unrewarded and you are failing to effectively engage with consumers. It's time to regroup.
Remember the 80/20 Rule
Once you set up your social media account, resist the temptation to flood it with news and information about your company.
Put your customers first. "Eighty percent of your tweets or posts should be about them," says Strauss. Devote the other 20 percent to your business. It's a surefire way to build a relationship with consumers and drive engagement.
And be certain to make the remaining 20 percent something compelling and sharable. Strauss suggests authoring an ebook, posting a video or having a contest. The goal is not only to create content that provides value, but also generate—you guessed it—positive word of mouth.
Pedro Hernandez is a contributing editor at Small Business Computing and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.
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