Jay Conrad Levinson coined the term "guerrilla marketing" in the 1980s, defining it as an approach for "achieving conventional goals, such as profits and joy, with unconventional methods, such as investing energy instead of money."

With four words--energy instead of money--Levinson won the hearts and influenced the marketing plans of entrepreneurs everywhere. His concept fueled the sale of 14 million books, leveling the playing field between marketing-budget haves and have-nots and inspiring a long-standing preference among small-business leaders for innovative, low-cost, high-energy communications over textbook, big-dollar tactics.

Viewing Social Media as a Guerrilla Marketing Tool
Yet small businesses, the original guerrilla marketing advocates, have been hesitant about investing effort--which is about all that's required--in the fastest-growing, most innovative and unconventional communication channel of the day.

"If a business can devote just an hour every other day it can achieve social media presence that nurtures leads and keeps people engaged," says Peter Wylie, lead researcher for the Emerging Media Research Council of Three Ships Media. "But small businesses have a wait-and-see attitude because they don't understand what's involved and they overestimate the commitment of time required."

Social Media Deliver Online Presence and Customer Interaction
"University of Maryland research shows that only a quarter of small businesses have social media presence," Wylie says, "and many don't have websites at all. Yet U.S. adults spend increasingly more time online, with social media their No. 1 activity behind search."

For the many companies that don't have a site, social media offer a bargain-basement deal for achieving both online presence and social media participation.

Wylie recommends that businesses begin with two easy, practically cost-free steps. "A business can achieve online presence with nothing more than a WordPress blog and a Facebook business page," he says. "The tools are so simple, so easy, and free."

Social Media Success Tips
"For businesses with a large customer base, Facebook is the initial place to be," Wylie says. "For consultative companies, a business blog written by real people in conversational language is a great vehicle. Either tool, or both combined, let businesses provide evergreen responses to customer questions while developing customer interest and interaction."

Wylie offers these tips:

  • Be useful. Use social media to talk about more than just your business. Give local perspective, behind-the-scenes information, and advice outside the confines of your market niche. Provide long-term value and inspire repeat visits by adding links to places your customers would want to go for related information. Additionally, of course, provide a clear description of what your business does and how to contact you online and offline.
  • Deliver value. Incentives, discounts and promotions provide site-visitor benefits, prompt repeat visits, and allow you to track customer interactions. Also consider adding value with online surveys (free through sites like SurveyMonkey) that let people voice and view opinions.
  • Be consistent and conversational. Commit to keeping your social media sites routinely updated with short entries that are written as if you're talking to someone over the counter. Entries don't have to be perfect. They do have to be current and interesting to customers, otherwise people won't bother to check back regularly. The Three Ships Media blog is a good example of how you can spread writing responsibility among members of your business team.
  • Be competitive. Do some online sleuthing to learn what competitors are up to in social media. Seeing that those you're up against are already online, growing their awareness levels and deepening their interactions with customers, may give you just the incentive you need to get started.
  • Be relevant. As you build social media presence, Wylie says to continually ask yourself, "Why should people come to this site? What unique values and benefits separate us from competitors? Are we telling our story and demonstrating our distinction? Are we showing expertise in a non-salesy way? Are we delivering long-term value more than advertising messages?"

Answer yes to those last three questions and you have a formula for turning social media into the newest guerrilla marketing tool in your marketing arsenal.

© 2010 Business on Main by MSN

This story originally appeared on Business on Main