Social Media for Small Business

Author and USA Today columnist Steve Strauss provides tips for small businesses getting started on social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Social Media Small BusinessQ: Hi Steve, We have never used social media for our business. Don't know where to start and how to master it. Please advise. Thanks. — Sonia

A: These days it is sometimes difficult to discern what is a fad versus what constitutes lasting change. Social media is not a fad, it's here to stay, and more and more old businesses are, like Sonia above, realizing that it is time to get up to speed.

The good news is that it is not that difficult.

First, let's define our terms. The Web used to be a static environment where people read stuff. Today it is far more dynamic; watching video, reading blogs and chatting online is commonplace. While some people call all of that social media, I disagree. What small businesses really want to understand is how to participate in social networking sites like Twitter or Facebook. Let's refer to that as social media.

I think the best way to think of social media is as a conversation. People are already online, on these sites, having conversations about everything imaginable. Would it behoove you to start some of those conversations with your own customers and would-be customers? Of course. That is the power of social media. And that is why it is your job as a small business owner today to become part of the conversation.

Here's how:

1. Watch: There are scores of social media sites out there, but the big three are Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Each does something a little different.

  • Twitter allows for short bursts, or tweets, of only a few sentences (140 characters). As such, it is great for having back and forth conversations with people and posting short nuggets of information. People who follow what you do on Twitter are your "followers."
  • Facebook allows for a more robust interaction by allowing businesses to create fan pages where they can post videos, articles, contests and the like.
  • LinkedIn allows you to link to all of the people you know on the site, create a network, and then make connections to your network's network, creating an even more vast network.
  • You begin by spending some time on each site and getting a feel for how they work and how you might participate

2. Set up accounts: Next, create accounts at all three of the big ones. Be thorough and add enough information to make you and /or your business relevant and interesting. On LinkedIn, be sure to add all of your contacts. On Facebook, create a Fan page.

You should also consider setting up accounts at some of these other sites:

There are many, many others to check out of course. Indeed, if you know of any niche ones that specifically relate to your industry or business, set up shop at those for sure.

3. Choose: While I am suggesting that you cast a wide net generally, especially in the beginning I think it is smart to start small and concentrate on one site in particular. It will take time and effort, especially in the beginning, so concentrating on one social networking site will enable you to master that site and make some connections. After that, take on another site.

4. Get involved: Whatever site you choose, the trick is to immerse yourself in it. If you like LinkedIn, join a group, create some new connections, or add some apps to your homepage. On Twitter, the key is to create useful content that people like. As opposed to the misconception that Twitter users tweet mundane things about their life, the fact is that most small business people tweet articles and posts that are quite interesting.

5. Stick with it: Mastering social media takes time, and getting business results from it takes even more time. Spending an hour a day on it is not uncommon in the beginning, and as you really get into it, that may increase multi-fold. Don't get discouraged. The trick is to begin to meet and engage people, to become part of the conversation. The more you do that, the more your network will grow, and the more business opportunities you will get.

For example, I recently heard about a woman who started a business and immediately engaged on LinkedIn with people in her industry. Two months later, when she wanted to create a board of advisers, she put out the word to her LinkedIn network and was inundated with offers. Or, on Facebook, what about the diary that asked fans to post videos of their love of their ice cream? The dairy then posted the videos for all to see and enjoy.

Forging connections like that is what social media is all about.

Today's Tip: A few last tips: Understand what your brand is and make sure that your social media efforts and posts always reflect that brand. Be human, not corporate. Because the best place to find fans and followers is on your own site and blog, be sure to put social media widgets there.

Have a question about social media? Connect with a SCORE mentor online or in your community today!

About the Author

Steve Strauss HeadshotSteven D. Strauss is a lawyer and writer and is one of the country's leading experts on small business as well as an international business speaker. The best-selling author of 17 books, his latest is the all-new 3rd ed. of The Small Business Bible. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success Powered by Greatland, visit his new website for the self-employed, TheSelfEmployed, follow him on Twitter, and "like" TheSelfEmployed on Facebook. You can e-mail Steve at: sstrauss@mrallbiz.com. © Steven D. Strauss