Social Media Strategies for Small Business

SCORE ExpertAnswers

Does your social media strategy really say everything about your small business? Are you missing out on sales opportunities because prospective customers can’t “find” you? This month, social media strategist and author Cindy Ratzlaff addresses some of the biggest issues involved with spreading the word about your small business via social media.

 

Q: You’ve been involved with many aspects of brand marketing during your career. Do you recall a technology/tool having as much effect on small businesses as social media?

Direct mail had an enormous impact on marketing in the late 90s. Combined with traditional print and web advertising, it created the impression that the product was “everywhere.” That’s the opportunity every brand or business now has, only at a much lower price of entry. Through social media, we’re effectively accessing the biggest “permission-based” marketing tool yet created. It’s more efficient and cost-effective than e-mail marketing or advertising, and more targeted than TV or radio advertising.
 

Q: What attributes of social media make it such a valuable tool for small businesses?
 
  • It’s a low-cost promotional tool. It changes the “point of purchase” from the brick-and-mortar location to the location of the consumer. People can make a purchase right from Facebook, follow a link to purchase right from Twitter or YouTube, and do it immediately without delaying gratification.
  • 24/7 availability worldwide. Social media never sleeps, and can introduce you and your product or service to millions instantaneously.
  • Real-time feedback. Want to do a quick survey on a new offering, split-test a new packaging concept, or monitor your brand’s current reputation to see if you’re hitting the right audience? Social media can do it all.
Q: What are some things you can do to help improve your visibility and attractiveness to new customers?

Social networking and online presence play a big role here. Gather testimonials from satisfied customers that you can use both in print and online. Also, ask customers to “like” you on Facebook, endorse you on LinkedIn, and post positive reviews on review sites such as Yelp. I’ve seen studies that show that, depending on the purchase, between 55% and 90% of consumers will research a product and/or company online, so legitimate reviews are important.
 

Q: What are three essentials to planning and implementing a social media strategy?
 
  • Determine the end goal. Do you want to move units of a product or build a large following to create brand awareness? Do you want to launch a new line or combat a corporate perception problem? Do you want to test the waters on a new direction for your company? The goal determines the strategy.
  • Pick the proper platforms. A multi-platform approach is best in most cases, but not every social media platform is right for every marketing goal. Thinking about how and when people use each platform will help you pick the right one(s) for your campaign. If your product is highly visual, and you have a beautiful or inspirational photo of it, Pinterest might be your ideal platform. If your message can be broken up into 140-character info bites, Twitter is your workhorse. If sharing images and videos with a slightly longer message best serves your goals, Facebook might be your primary driver.
  • Think like Google. Every post, every tweet, every pin is a unique URL, and a digital breadcrumb. Create a list of your ideal keywords, and use them strategically in every social media consumer-facing post. People search for what they want and need. If you’re there and ready to deliver, you have a better chance of convincing them to purchase from you.
Q: What are some common social media myths and realities?
 
  • Myth: Social media is free.
    Reality: Social media platforms are free to register and use. Your time is not free, nor are design, graphics, and customization. But it’s still a great bargain.
  • Myth: Social media hasn’t proven the return on investment.
    Reality: If you don’t have a goal, a strategy, and a roadmap to execute that strategy, this is true. But the return on your investment can be worth the effort if you do. If you have something to sell, you should be on social media. Not being there is like opening a business but having an unlisted number.
  • Myth: Social media takes up too much time.
    Reality: You can waste a lot of time, that’s true. But with a strategy and a simple timer, you can execute your plan in just 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the evening. If you don’t have a half-hour a day to devote to marketing your product or service, you need to rethink your business model.
Q: When it comes to Facebook, you’ve written that “you have to be here.” What are some fan page “must-haves”?
 
  • An inspirational or informational cover photo and clear avatar.
  • An opt-in box so you can grow your e-mail database, giving you permission to bring deeper, richer, more complex offers to your customers.
  • A clear point of view so that a visitor knows exactly what the page is about at the first visit.
  • A live, clickable URL to your website’s “about” page.
  • Valuable information that demonstrates authority and celebrates the fan’s desire to have a relationship with the brand.
Q:

In addition to the leading social media sites (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn), what other channels should small businesses explore?

YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world. If you can demonstrate or motivate, you should create how-to videos. Pinterest is the fastest growing new social media platform, and ideal for visual brands. Tumblr is a micro blogging site that’s extremely popular with 20-something customers, and is heavily reliant on visuals.

Livestream is a broadcasting platform that allows you to speak to your customers, real time, live on line, on Facebook, and from your blog. Instagram is a photo-sharing site to upload photos that your followers can view and comment on, as well as share on other social platforms. G+ is a great site for sharing visuals and connecting with tech fans and business people.
 

Q:

A big challenge for many entrepreneurs is coming up with ideas to share via social media. What are some keys to generating good content?

  • Register for a Google Reader account, then bookmark and save articles you like. Chances are good that your ideals clients and customers will like what you like. By sharing links to great articles, you train them to turn to you for information they can use. They recommend that others follow you for more of the same.
  • Pass it on. When you learn something new, make a quick video to share it. Always think of yourself as simply one step ahead of your ideal customer. Teach what you already know, and teach what you just learned.
  • Praise. If you run out of things to say, visit the profiles or pages of each of your fans, and find something to admire or praise about them. Create a “fan of the week” profile or customer of the week. Lift them up. Share their story. Promote them. Again, when you become a connector, more people want to connect with you.
     
Q: You also suggest sharing your struggles as a means for engaging followers.

For example, if you are stuck trying to figure out your next offering, tell your followers you want to offer even more value and aren’t sure what to do next. By asking them to help you decide, you first reveal you’ve got multiple new possible products and secondly, you invite them to co-create with you. Every step of the way, ask their opinion. In the end, they’ll be emotionally attached to your launch. Thank them for their input, give them a special “insider offer.” And ask them to help you spread the word at launch time.
 

Q: Is there a way to determine how often one should post/tweet?

Some studies indicate that posting at certain times may help your posts be seen by more people, but there is no magic formula. I post to Facebook every day, seven days a week before 8 am Eastern Time. I post to Twitter five times per day at regular intervals, specifically during times I believe the average business person is taking a break and surfing social media—before work, during mid-morning, lunchtime, mid-afternoon, and after supper.
 

Q: Entrepreneurs may become frustrated when their blogs/posts/tweets don’t result in new followers. What can they do to get “found”?

Post quality content that your ideal customer can truly use. Help them solve a problem. Don’t just sell, sell, sell. Also, use keywords so people can find you in search. Nobody is searching for the “president of XYZ Gardening Supply Company,” but someone is searching for “gardening supplies.” Leave your title for your website “about” page, and create keyword-rich bios, posts, and tweets.
 

Q: You’ve also written that to you have to “find in order to be found.” What does that mean?

Find and follow others like yourself. Be visible to them by commenting, praising, sharing their stuff with your followers and they’ll do the same for you. I follow 100-200 new people on Twitter every day. I find at least one new page on Facebook to view, like, and comment on every day. I share at least one person’s links or posts every day. When you’re visible and valuable, you’ll be found.
 

Q: Is there also a networking element to social media?

No one is going to knock on your virtual door and ask, “what do you do?” Get out there and ask them that question, then tell them about yourself. Attend live events. Be a part of the community that you want to stand out in. Network in person and online by bringing something to the table with every interaction.
 

Q: How can you be sure most of your followers are truly interested in your business, and will likewise refer you to other “quality” followers?

You can’t be sure, just like you can’t be sure that everyone who walks into your brick-and-mortar store is there to purchase something. But your goal is to have everyone who bumps into you, in person or virtually, walk away thinking “wow, what a interesting person, product, or offer.” So give every connection something worth remembering. Focus less on the numbers and more on the delivery.
 

Q: Social media is but one way small businesses can connect with customers. Why is SCORE such a good resource for developing and evaluating a sound, balanced marketing strategy?

A mentor and a support group can make the difference between success and failure in your business. Very few business owners have all of the skills, knowledge and resources needed to go from startup to expansion without advice, guidance and assistance. Having access to business people who have done what you want to do and who can shorten or ease your learning curve is invaluable.
 

Q: What current/emerging social media trends should small business owners be watching?

Graphics and video are the most important resources in your small business marketing toolkit right now. They rank higher in search than just words. Make finding a graphics design resource a top priority, and don’t be afraid to try adding video to your marketing mix.
 

 


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About the Author

Cindy RatzlaffCindy Ratzlaff was named by Forbes as one of the "20 Best Branded Women on Twitter," and Forbes Woman called her one of the "Most Influential Women Tweeting about Entrepreneurship." She is a regular contributor to BusinessInsider.com's War Room, writing on social media and marketing strategy, and her essays have appeared on Oprah.com, CNN.com and Wowowow.com, among others.

Ratzlaff is a 20-year veteran of the book publishing industry, having worked for or consulted to Simon & Schuster, Pocket Books, Rodale Inc., Meredith, National Geographic, Macmillan and Oxmoor House.