The social media bandwagon is getting pretty crowded with corporate marketers and PR professionals. Big corporate players such as Old Spice, Kraft, Coke, Skittles, and others have been one-upping each other with creative social media initiatives over the past few years.
While there’s lots of dazzle in these campaigns, the reality of social media is that you don’t need a big fat marketing budget to experience the direct customer engagement you’ll get from Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn, Flickr, and others.
If you walk down Main Street USA, you’ll find that many small businesses haven’t caught the social media bug. It’s easy to understand why. Small business people are the most time-stretched of all the entrepreneurs I meet. They’re often operating on a shoe string, and seek help from family and friends to keep the payroll down. It’s hard enough to consider promoting your small business brand when you’re trying keep the lights on and the doors open.
If you can relate to all I’ve just said, perhaps you might want to take a few baby steps before taking the social media plunge. Here are a few ideas that might save you time and budget.
1. Focus on Facebook. Don’t get dizzy wondering whether you should be on Facebook, YouTube or Twitter. With 500 million users and growing, Facebook is where it’s at. It may not stay the most popular social network forever, but with that many eyeballs, and with the constant media chatter about its popularity, keep your focus on its potential to let you talk directly with your customers.
2. No need for high priced experts. Look in your own backyard for help. Better yet, look in the next room. If you’ve got a kid on Facebook, see if you can capture your attention for a few minutes to show you how to set up a page for your business. Hey, maybe you can dangle an incentive such as a boost in the weekly allowance in exchange for help in creating AND completing a business page. Don’t have a teenage techno wiz available? Small business development centers all around the country are offering social media introduction classes, and often they cost next to nothing.
3. Take advantage of customer relationships. The best small business people get to know their customers through casual conversations. You’ll probably find a few marketing professionals among your customers with experience setting up social media pages and profiles for their clients. Suggest to arrange some sort of barter relationship to take advantage of their expertise.
4. Be a Google Meister! There’s a wealth of how-to information on how to use Facebook. Facebook itself has a wealth of help resources, but don’t stop there. Sites such as AllBusiness.com and Mashable.com offer up-to-date news and knowledge about the best uses of Facebook and social media trends.
5. Inspire Your Customers. Once on Facebook, let them know you too have a presence. Encourage them to find you and “Like” your business page. When they leave comments or give you the thumbs-up sign on your page, comment with a thank you or post something on their wall. Make it relevant to their lives. Offer advice. Explain your products or how to best use them. Post photos of happy customers. Launch Facebook-only promotions. Give them tips. Establish trust. Entice them to come back for more.
6. Scope out your neighbors. See what other stores and businesses are doing on social networks. Join a club in your community. I found more than 88 million results in a Google search of “finding social media clubs,” so go find one, you’re likely to find new customers as well!
7. Don’t be intimidated. If somebody tells you they’re a social media expert just nod and walk away. We’re all just learning this new and exciting way to market your business. So start with a healthy but realistic search for knowledge.
8. Share your experiences with others. Social media is all about developing relationships and establishing trust. Help out others who face similar challenges, and watch your network of fans and customers grow.
Have any other ideas for small businesses dipping their toes in the social networking waters? I’d love to hear them!