Unless you’re living off the grid somewhere—in which case you wouldn’t be reading this blog—you are probably aware of social media.
What started as a way for friends to connect online has mushroomed into a massive cross-cultural trend. Watch any commercial and you’ll see invitations to like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, watch us on YouTube, and connect with us on LinkedIn.
Should your business join the crowd on the social media platform? If you decide to do it, how can you make it an effective marketing strategy instead of just another time-consuming task?
The Pros and Cons of Social Media
First of all, why is social media so widely promoted? Let’s take a look at the statistics:
57% of Americans are on Facebook; 64% of Facebook users check their page each day
Worldwide, Facebook counts more than 1 billion users
LinkedIn has 300 million users
Google reports that its social media platform, Google+, has 300 million users
Twitter currently hosts more than 240 million accounts
In other words, social media is where you’ll find people—potential customers to you and me.
By its very nature, social media is designed to spread the word, making it a shoo-in for marketing and outreach efforts.
What’s the problem with using a free, built-in media service? Before you launch into a new social media campaign, ask yourself these questions
Are my potential customers likely to use social media to find business information? (Note: the question isn’t “are they on Facebook?” but “will they use Facebook to find my business?” It’s an important distinction.)
Which social media platforms will best help me connect with my target audience? Do I need an account for each platform, or just for a few?
Do I have the time to run an effective social media program? If not, can I assign an employee to do this? Or am I prepared to hire someone to do it for me?
Social media will cost the small business owner either time or money. Given your unique business needs, is this something you can or should commit to?
If Social Media Is For You…
If you decide that your business would be well served by extending into social media, don’t just dash out and start typing up a paragraph or two for your new profile page.
There are two things you absolutely must remember about social media: it requires time and strategy, and whatever you post will represent your business. Yes, things can be deleted—but often the damage has already been done.
So before you post anything, from a reply to a customer’s comment to your latest company picnic pictures, scrutinize it. Don’t post anything unless you mean it, want it to be seen, and have carefully proofread it. Before you launch your new profile, read up on the social media milieu.
There are rules of behavior and good taste that apply specifically to businesses. And a good social media presence requires an overall plan.
Here are some resources to help you get started: CNN.com: Which social media is best for your business? Small Business Administration (sba.gov): Ultimate Small Business Guide to Social MediaInc.com: Small Business Owner’s Social Media Toolkit
Another good way to investigate social media is to look at other businesses’ profiles, especially the very successful ones. While it’s a good idea to check out profiles of others in your business niche, be careful that you don’t unconsciously copy their style or content.
Think inspiration, not imitation. Notice who is getting lots of interaction with their customers, and who isn’t.
Finally, remember that this is going to be an investment of time. It takes hours to craft quality posts and to interact with customers.
Unless you’re willing to spend (or pay for) this extra time regularly—at least each week, if not each day—then your social media efforts will be lost in the crowd.