Social media is the topic du jour for small business owners everywhere. Wondering if you need Facebook or Twitter accounts for your business can leave you with more questions than answers. And let's not forget the sheer number of social networks out there: Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn, Foursquare, Digg, MySpace, etc. The list seems never-ending.
Setting up the accounts is the easy part. The magic question is “What's next?”
The answer isn't the same for every business. Your social media goals and the social media habits of your customers will inform the specifics of your efforts. The only way to know exactly what will work for your business is to get out there and get involved. So here are some tips for getting started, plus a few basics that every business needs to consider when connecting with customers via social media.
Social Media is a Two-Way Street
Don't think of your social media efforts as a one-way broadcast; instead, approach it as an ongoing conversation. Once you put something out there, it's part of a community dialogue. Your followers may reply back to you with a question or relay your message to their followers. Keeping the conversation going will help your network grow.
Set It and Forget it? No Way
One of the worst things you can do for your new media efforts is ignore them. Once you establish a presence on Facebook or Twitter, you have to keep up with it or risk missing questions or commentary from your fans, which says to users that you don't care. Just as bad, if someone looks for your company online and sees that the most recent post that is several months old, your brand can look as if it's out of touch. Constant and consistent dialogue with your followers is key.
Focus and Track Your Efforts
Depending on your business and its core customers, certain social networks will be more relevant than others. As you establish your business online, think about the sites on which your customers will be found. Calibrating your online marketing efforts will focus your energy and place your business in front of the right people.
Plus, be sure to track conversations about your business and links to your site from social networks. Seeing what your customers are interested in and how they're interacting with your brand can tell you where to invest time and money.
Build Authority Online
Once you've found a following, build authority for your brand by relaying interesting news, articles, and blog posts. When you see relevant content posted by someone in your network, spread the word to your fans and followers. Think of how your posts and online activity can establish your business as the leader in your field.
Social Media Is NOT Advertising
This is perhaps the most oft-broken rule of social networking for businesses. People join social networks for the social aspect—not to receive endless promotional blasts. When someone connects with your business, he or she is welcoming a deeper connection to your brand. That trust should be rewarded with helpful content (and not just your own!), exclusive offers, and access to insider information. What value are you offering your fans, friends, and followers?
Of course you can share your own content and make brand announcements, just make sure self-promotion is a small fraction of your social media participation and not the main event.
Promote and Grow Your Networks
You've put a lot of hard work into building your community and now it's time to promote it. Link to your online profiles on your website, promotional materials, newsletters, etc. Connect your different networks with each other to encourage engagement across networks; when you publish a new blog post, let your Twitter followers know and link to it from your Facebook page.
The world of social media and networking is evolving in front of our eyes. Online networks are already the first point of interaction for many consumers and that trend is likely to continue—make sure you're ready to meet your customers wherever they are.
And don't forget to connect with LegalZoom for more great small business tips!