One of the biggest challenges for small businesses who want to market using social media is capacity. crowdSPRING is a small business – there are only 10 people on our team – so we understand this challenge well.
You must decide whether social media makes sense for your small business. There is no universal answer. In this two part series (part 2 will be published in a few days), I’ll offer 10 small business social media marketing tips. For each tip, I’ll discuss the basic strategy – for those who simply want to get their toes wet, and also the advanced strategy – for those who want to spend a bit more time and go a bit deeper in their social media marketing efforts. Where possible, I’ll point you to other excellent resources to help you execute your strategy. The tips are all based on my own experience leveraging social media marketing for crowdSPRING. I recommend only tools I’ve personally used – and third party references I trust.
I suggest you begin by outlining clear goals for your social media marketing efforts and figure out how you’ll measure success. A good place to start is one of my posts from a few months ago – Can Social Media Help My Company?
1. Facebook. Facebook offers exceptional, low cost marketing opportunities for small business. You might be surprised to learn that Facebook has over 300 million users. And while that seems like an outrageous number, Facebook offers small businesses a powerful platform on which to build a presence. If you’re not already active on Facebook, what should you do today?
Basic Strategy: If you haven’t signed up for Facebook yet, you absolutely should do one thing today. Sign up and reserve a name so that nobody else takes your company’s name. Usernames must be unique, and while you might not be ready for Facebook today, you should at least reserve a name to give you the option later. You should do one other thing: search for your competitors and evaluate their Facebook presence. What types of pages have they built? How many fans or “friends” do they have? Spend 15 minutes (per competitor) looking at their posts, photos and/or videos to understand how they’re using Facebook.
Advanced Strategy: You may already have a personal Facebook account, but how do you extend that presence for your business? You have several options. You can register a Business Account – which is designed for a very simple presence on Facebook. There are many limitations on such accounts (read the FAQ here) and you’ll most likely prefer to have a Business Fan Page. A Business Fan Page lets you create a page where customers or fans of your business can register as a “fan” – expanding the presence of your business (because your updates will also flow to their pages). For an excellent and more in-depth discussion about using Facebook for business, I recommend you read yesterday’s from Duct Tape Marketing – 3 Ways for Businesses to Take Full Advantage of Facebook. You might also want to consider running hyper-local ads on Facebook. For more about hyper local advertising on Facebook, see the second tip in my post from last month: 5 Things Your Small Business Should Do Today To Increase Profits.
2. Twitter. Twitter has grown tremendously over the past year. For some small businesses, it offers an incredible marketing platform. For others – it’s a waste of time. crowdSPRING was fortunate to be included in a recent BusinessWeek profile on 20 ways businessese use Twitter. That article might give you some ideas about how you can leverage Twitter for your business.
Basic Strategy: If you haven’t signed up on Twitter yet, you should sign up today and reserve an account in the name of your business. While you might ultimately tweet in your own name, you’ll want to have the option to tweet from a business account. More importantly, you don’t want your competitors to register your business. Twitter has put together a simple guide to help you understand what Twitter can do for business. Next, you should spend 15-30 minutes on Twitter’s homepage, doing basic searches to become familiar with the type of content available on Twitter. For example, if you are operating a small gift basket business, do some searches for various terms and phrases such as “gift basket”, “gifts”, “gift basket business”, etc. You should also search for the names of your competitors to see whether they’re on Twitter and if they are, how they’re using Twitter. And – don’t forget to search for your small business name – your customers may already be talking about you! Once you become comfortable with the content that’s already available and how your competitors are using Twitter, you can begin thinking about a strategy for how you’ll leverage Twitter for your business.
Advanced Strategy: To truly leverage Twitter, you’ll want to learn and use a few more advanced tools. This includes PC clients like TweetDeck and iPhone clients like Tweetie (you’ll want version 2) (or TweetDeck for the iPhone). PC and iPhone clients give you more flexibility and more control over your Twitter strategy than you’ll have on the Twitter website. Among other things, you’ll be able to pre-define searches (so that you can monitor certain keywords, including your business name) and group people you follow so that you can minimize the noise and focus on the real content. You might also use a web tool like Twitterfall, which will allow you to define (and color-code) various custom searches that you can review from time to time, and also to follow trending topics. For example, I use Twitterfall to identify helpful graphic design and industrial design resources to share with the crowdSPRING community.
If you want to better understand about how businesses and individuals are leveraging Twitter, I recommend you read Shel Israel’s excellent book – just published last month – Twitterville (crowdSPRING appears in the book at pages 154-6). Another good resource: Small Business Trends – an outstanding blog for small businesses. I recommend you read their post from earlier this year: Twitter: The Killer Small Business App?
3. Company Blog. Although there’s more attention focused today on social networks than on company blogs, blogs continue to offer great value for small businesses.
Basic Strategy: At a minimum, you should consider reserving a URL for your blog – if you don’t already have a custom domain for your business. If you’re comfortable enough to set up your own blog, that’s generally the best way to proceed – although this requires a bit more technical knowledge (many hosting providers, including Media Temple, for example, offer a 1 step easy setup for blogs that will automatically install WordPress for you). You can also setup a blog directly at WordPress (it’s easier to do, but you don’t have full control over your domain like you would on your own site). One easy alternative is to set up a simple blog at Posterous – a place to post stories, photos, videos, mp3s and files. There are pluses and minuses to all of these options – you should take a look and compare and do what makes sense for your business. I caution you only about spreading yourself too thin.
Advanced Strategy: Now that you’ve decided to start or improve your small business blog, how do you build an audience for it? It all starts with great content. Decide on a focus for your blog, and write awesome content that people will enjoy. For example, some months ago, we decided that we wanted to write more about small business issues in the crowdSPRING blog – and we’ve been writing original posts focusing on issues affecting small businesses, including issues concerning customer service, investment, marketing, logo design and web design, public relations, and much more. Think about your expertise and importantly, things that you’re interested in writing about. A blog requires a long term investment of time (and resources), and you don’t want to be stuck writing about things that bore you.
You’ll also want to consider how you can make it easier for your readers to help promote your content. For example, install helpful plug-ins, such as a TweetMeme button (you’ll notice one at the end of every post in our blog – it makes it easy for people to re-tweet our posts on Twitter). You might also install a Twitter plugin that integrates your tweets directly into your blog (look to the left of this post and you’ll see crowdSPRING’s Twitter feed). WordPress gives you a nice collection of their most popular plugins. But don’t go overboard. You want to keep the blog focused, and easy for your readers to use. Don’t be afraid to experiment, but keep it simple. To learn a bit more about small business blogging, I recommend you read this post from Mashable: 6 Tips for Customizing Your Small Business Blog.
4. LinkedIn. LinkedIn is a business oriented social network for professionals. It’s a large network – nearly 50 million users from over 200 countries.
Basic Strategy: Once again, you’ll want to at least reserve your business name (or your personal name) so that others can’t use it. Similar to what you might start out doing on Facebook and Twitter – you should look around on LinkedIn to see how your competitors are using the service. You might also look up your customers and connect with them on LinkedIn.
Advanced Strategy: LinkedIn has some powerful features that most people don’t use. For example, you can encourage your customers, clients or vendors to give you a “recommendation” on LinkedIn. Recommendations are useful because they’ll make you and your business more credible with new customers. If you’re a roofer, ask your customers to recommend you after a successful job. You’ll find such recommendations useful – particularly since your LinkedIn profile will come up high in search engines. Chris Brogan had a good post last year discussing the elements of a good LinkedIn recommendation – I recommend you read it. Another strategy involves the many subject matter groups on LinkedIn. Find some groups that have a connection to your small business and become involved in the conversations. Answer questions when you can – and help to establish yourself as knowledgeable about specific topics. There are many small business and general marketing groups that will be very useful resources for you. And if there isn’t a group that interests you – consider starting one. I recommend two additional posts about LinkedIn for small business. The first is from the LinkedIn blog – Win new clients by optimizing your Linkedin profile keywords and the second is a series of success stories of people and businesses using LinkedIn.
5. Participate On Other Blogs. It might seem counter-intuitive for you to spend your valuable time by participating in discussions on other people’s blogs, but the payoff can be very valuable. Remember that it takes time to build a reputation and establish your credibility, and you can’t always expect everyone to come to you. Sometimes, you have to go out and build your own credibility and reputation.
Basic Strategy: Identify 2-3 blogs in your industry, or those that focus on small business, and get into the habit of regularly reading the content and participating in the discussions. Whenever you can, try to add value by sharing a personal story about what has/has not worked for you. Get to know the writers – they’ll be valuable contacts for you. One strategy for identifying good blogs is to use Guy Kawasaki’s Alltop – which is a directory of popular blogs across many different subject areas. For example, for blogs focused on crafts – you might follow this page on Alltop. If you want to participate in blogs focusing on small business issues, you might take a look at Technorati’s Top 100 Small Business blogs (crowdSPRING is currently ranked #21).
Advanced Strategy: Once you’ve spent some time on other blogs and have participated in discussions, you’ll find that you’ve built a level of credibility and trust, based on your participation. You should consider reaching out to the blog owners and asking whether they’d allow you to guest post an article on their blog. This is a nice way for you to get in front of a bigger audience, and many blog owners will invite guests to posts from time to time. Agree on a topic in advance and provide a draft of your post sufficiently in advance of the publication date to give them an opportunity to review. Alternatively, ask if they would consider guest posting in YOUR blog. Since you’re looking to attract more readers (and more potential customers), either option works well for that purpose. Don’t worry so much about going after the A blogs right away. There are many excellent blogs and it might take a bit of time to build your reputation to such a level that you’ll have opportunities to post in the top blogs. That doesn’t mean you should wait – make opportunities for yourself and offer to guest write whenever you can find a new audience. I recommend you read Problogger’s post: How To Guest Post To Promote Your Blog.
I hope that this first part has helped you to learn a bit about specific options for your social media marketing strategy. Look for part 2 – with five more resources, in a few days.
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