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Wow, social media’s reputation with small business really took a roller coaster ride last week.  First, the “2009 Tribalization of Business Survey”   reported that that 94% of small businesses plan to increase or maintain their social media budgets. Then came the Citibank Small Business survey that found 75%  of small businesses have not found social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to be of value in generating leads or revenue for their businesses.  

So what are we small business owners and marketers supposed to believe about the effectiveness of social media as a lead generation and revenue driving marketing tool?  Wanna know what I think? I think it’s free – SO WHO CARES (what the reports say)? OK, I realize that may sound short-sighted and maybe even irresponsible to some of you, but think about it: what if someone offered to mention your business to 100 friends – for free – would you stop them? As long as it wasn’t a negative mention – of course you wouldn’t. I’ll make it even more realistic:  what if 100, 1000 or even 10,000 customers and potential customers asked you to send them something of interest, either about your business, your industry or even you, on a regular basis and all you had to do is spend 15 minutes to prepare that message – would you do it? I hope your answer is yes. Guess what? That is exactly what social networking is. So then why would you automatically rule out social media as another way to promote your business without giving it the old entrepreneurial try? 

With over 200 million people using Facebook alone, social media can’t be ignored as a viable and respectable marketing tool. Yet for many small business owners it’s still a big ole scary unknown. But let’s face it, social media is the fastest, easiest and least expensive way to build a presence and earn trust;  but it still takes planning – and time. What harm is there in trying it? As long as you follow a few simple “rules” there is no harm- it can only help.  Here are a few tips to get you started. 

  1. Start small – Start with 2 social networking sites you are somewhat familiar with. Got a personal Facebook or LinkedIn profile? Great – set up a page for your business. You already know how to use the site; you already have a few friends, so use that to your advantage. The great thing about being in business for yourself is that your friends want to help you. Recruit them as your first fans. When they become fans of your business page, all of their friends see that- a great way to start building your business network.
  2. Become a fan or a follower – Your job (at first) is to watch and learn. Find companies that you like, especially those that are relevant to your business, and follow them (on Twitter) or become a fan (on Facebook) to learn what they do to stay in touch with their audience. On Twitter, I love @Zappos  and @SmallbizMag and on Facebook Whole Foods.   Another tip – search for people or businesses that are most likely to buy your products or services and follow them on Twitter. This will help you get to know them better and they may decide to follow you too!
  3. Don’t Sell – When you do start tweeting or updating your status the biggest mistake you can make is to start selling. No one is on social networking sites to have products and services crammed down their throats. That is the quickest way to alienate your social networking followers. Watch what other companies do – I have never seen Zappos even mention shoes in their tweets and Whole Foods – although they will promote specials and sales – they are usually promoting seasonal recipes or healthy eating tips that I find very interesting and almost always take the time to read.  What are they doing? Getting me to know, like and trust them, so that when I do want to buy what they sell, I will think of them.
  4. Be helpful – There is no better way to start growing your social networking community than by helping others. Follow others in your industry (I would stay away from competitors) and repost their blogs or help them promote their events by retweeting or posting on your Facebook status if you think your followers will be interested in the content.  By doing this you are making friends with others in your industry who may later refer you and you are offering interesting and educational content to your readers. Voila, you’re a social networker!

That’s it, 4 simple steps to get you started on your path to social networking success.  Remember, social media is not going to take over the world as the only way to promote your business – it’s is just another tool in your toolbox. Used as part of a marketing plan, along with other forms of promotion, it can help you grow your business. Does it take a little time? Of course it does.  But if you aren’t investing time growing your business, is your business really growing?

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