Much has been touted about the new social media tools that allow small businesses unprecedented access to marketing channels in the digital space. Now a small business entity can become as famous as a major brand, thanks to the power of viral online marketing.
One thing to keep in mind is that Google has elevated the value of social media efforts in its search algorithm. You can see this for yourself: Google several different people you know. If any of these folks you entered have a Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn profile, these pages nearly always come up in the top spots of the search results. Because of this, you can quickly and constantly modify your overall online profile using these tools or others such as YouTube or the photo sharing site Flickr.
However, even most social media experts agree that the constantly changing digital world, with its wide array of social media tools and platforms, can be overwhelming. As a small-business owner, you have to wear a lot of hats: You have to sell, you have to execute, you have to manage your human resources, and you have to maintain your finances. The only goal with you is making sure your company performs and profits. How on earth are you going to be able to keep up with the latest and greatest social media tools?
So what should you focus on before jumping full-force into a social media marketing effort? Actually, the focus should not be so much on keeping up with every new tool that comes along, but on effectively reaching and staying connected with your target market.
1. Define Your Goals
First of all, you need to define what outcome(s) you hope to achieve through your social media efforts. Define your goals. Then ask yourself, 'What are the easiest and fastest ways to achieve these goals?' Whether you own a dry cleaning company, a retail store or a small accounting company, you need to be able to clearly spell out your goals, and then choose the tools that will help you most effectively achieve them.
You need to ask yourself, "What social media platforms will help my company accomplish its goals the fastest?" Focus on only one or two of the sites you determine match your needs and really make them work. (You can see why you need to have a clear understanding of your company's goals before you can begin defining your social media goals.)
2. Walk the Walk
If you're going to promote your company on social media channels, your product or service should appear to be very strong. Whether prospects or clients visit your site, your blog, your Twitter page or Facebook fan page, or see it described on other people's social media sites, you need to make sure they see a very professional, on-brand product. Your company's profiles need to be attractive and in sync while showing readers that you and your team know exactly what you are doing.
3. Make Your Profile Dynamic
Remember, since most established and effective sites will be around for a while, you don't have to go crazy and sign on to all of them at once. In fact, one of the biggest mistakes you can make as a business owner is to set up a profile for your company on a social media platform and then not maintain it.
As I say in my book Design and Launch an Online Social Networking Business in a Week (2009, Entrepreneur Press):
No one likes to frequent a store that is empty most of the time . People are influenced by what other people are doing and where other people are going, in the virtual world just as they are in the real world. If someone pops in to your network and sees a lot of activity--new members joining, a new post or two written by you or other members, maybe some great new photos to browse--the buzz of activity will hold their attention and make them want to stay awhile. But if that person visits your site and sees no new activity or commentary added in the past three days, they're outta there.
This phenomenon has occurred with many [social media profiles] as they have evolved: the ones that are updated the most are the ones that people come back to more frequently.
4. Delegate and Manage
Make sure you have designated or hired someone to maintain the profile. If you make an in-house person responsible, make sure he or she understands how to use the platform(s) and is fully engaged in the process. Another option is to hire an outside company to ensure that your profile pages are updated regularly with content and news that is interesting to the audience you're trying to attract.
Don't let yourself become overwhelmed. Try working on just one or two (three at most) social media sites at a time. Once you get these up and running, and you feel that you and your staff has the time to manage it, you can think about adding more. Constantly evaluate where people are finding you or interacting with you to determine any new social media avenues.
Regardless of what tools you use, you need to ensure you have chosen the ones that enable you to set up an online profile that is the most effective for your company. And you need to commit the necessary time and effort to ensure that these tools will continue to help your business.
Julien Sharp is the author of Design and Launch an Online Social Networking Business in a Week, and a contributing author to Masters of Sales: Secrets From Top Sales Professionals That Will Transform You Into A World Class Salesperson by Ivan Misner, PhD, and Don Morgan, both available from Entrepreneur Press.