I suppose it should be no surprise, but since launching my new business venture I’ve been blown away by the number of small business owners I speak with who think that social media is some sort of “magic bullet” that will lift flagging sales and solve all their marketing problems. I’m sure some of this is a result of listening to pitches by the “snake-oil crowd” — marketers who, when they offer to manage your social media campaigns, mean that they will post a few times a week to your Facebook page and get you more “Likes.” When I ask these hopeful folk how Facebook postings and Likes will help their businesses, I usually hear things like “I’m not sure, but I’m willing to try it out and see how it goes.”
It’s understandable. There’s a lot talk about social media and when used as part of integrated marketing strategy it can certainly be a worthwhile investment. But business owners would do well to take an active part in planning any social media activities. Consider your objectives beyond wanting new customers — every business owner wants new customers, but it’s difficult to get hard numbers to gauge how many new customers come to you via social channels.
One area where social sites can really make a difference is customer service and engagement. Some small businesses in my neighborhood have very active Facebook pages, where they announce events, current offers and specials, insight into their industry, handy tips for the customers, etc. They may not have thousands or even hundreds of followers, but by building an online relationship with those that do follow, they leverage the best that social networks have to offer: interactivity and customer engagement.
It’s important to remember that people on social sites don’t want to have marketing messages shouted at them — that’s not why they visit your Facebook page. Your postings should convince people of your knowledge and expertise in a specific area or industry, and provide them with valuable and accurate information on an ongoing basis. Build relationships with your online audience by encouraging and participating in the online conversation. They will come to recognize and trust your name, your products and your services.
Whatever your focus, take the time to plan properly. Don’t hand money over to any social media “expert” unless they are working with you to craft a strategy. If you have the inclination and energy to undertake a do-it-yourself effort, there are plenty of free resources available to help you do it right. Here’s one particularly helpful post by guest blogger Susan Gunelius on AdMaven: “10 Tips to Develop a Content and Social Media Marketing Strategy.”