Getting Started With Social MediaMany of your customers have adopted social media and are already talking among themselves about your business. It’s essential that you become part of the conversation. Your customers use social media to narrow their buying choices. During the 2010 holiday season, 45 percent of shoppers had planned to use social networks to get shopping ideas and to research purchases, according to eMarketer.

Social media is here to stay. The people you want to do business with have adopted it. According to Facebook Insider, 86 percent of Internet users ages 18 to 29 have Facebook accounts, as do 61 percent of Internet users 30 to 49 and 47 percent of users ages 50 to 64. The average income of Facebook users, as reported by Anderson Analytics, was $61,000 in 2010.

Social media is for everyone. The fastest growing demographic on Facebook is women older than 55.

What’s in it for me?

One goal of a social media campaign is to build trust with current and prospective clients. If you’re not Nike or Coca Cola and you don’t have a multimillion-dollar marketing budget, this is a relatively cheap way to build a following. It does take some time. Plan to spend 15 to 30 minutes per day steadily building your base with timely, useful and relevant information.

Let’s get started.

Choose your platforms

Decide which social media platforms will work best for your business. Here are some ideas:

If you’re operating a restaurant, Foursquare is a great platform for most food-related businesses, and offers good suggestions in its business section.  Claim your Yelp page (click on “Work Here? Unlock This Business Page” just below the columns of restaurant features) and monitor and respond to reviews. Use Twitter to alert followers to daily menu specials and other news.

Retailers should include Foursquare, Gowalla and Facebook Places in their social media lineup and encourage followers to check in. You can claim your venue (for instance, on Foursquare, click on “Do you manage this venue? Claim here”) and then offer specials to people who check in. Use Twitter or Facebook to thank frequent customers or to give birthday shout-outs, and to highlight new merchandise.

Many kinds of businesses can offer coupons to attract buyers. Post coupons on sites like Dex Knows, or use its mobile app to send coupons to your customers’ mobile devices.

If you’re operating service businesses such as contracting, a beauty salon or a dry cleaner, claim your Yelp pages, activate a Google Places account, and monitor comments at the major local search sites.

They include:

  • DexKnows
  • Angie’s List

If you’re a consultant, blog about trends in your field to elevate your status and influence as an expert. Use Twitter and Facebook to alert followers to new blog posts and industry news from sources other than your blog. Sign up at the Small Business Administration Community to answer questions from other business owners.

Open accounts and claim pages

Here are some suggestions for getting your social media accounts started, but there are many, many more to choose from.

  • Social networking: Facebook, Friendster. If you’re a musician or a music promoter: MySpace
  • Blogging:,  (what’s the difference?) and Blogger
  • Business reviews/local search: DexKnows, Yelp Micro-blogging: Twitter
  • Video sharing: YouTube
  • Photo sharing: Flickr, Photobucket or Picasa
  • Podcasting: Blubrry
  • Social Q and A: Top 10 Wholesale Answers (questions and answers about sourcing for overseas manufacturing), and Yahoo Answers (general Q&A), PartnerUp and the Small Business Administration Community (strictly business).

Complete all of your profiles

Protecting your personal privacy online is smart, but hiding information about your business online can prevent prospective customers from finding you. It’s the fastest way to send buyers to your competitors. Log into all social media accounts, including local search sites such as DexKnows, and make sure your profiles are complete. They should include, when applicable:

Business name, address, telephone numbers and fax numbers

E-mail address, Skype name and instant message handles

Web address, Facebook profile link, Twitter handle, YouTube channel link

Type of business, areas of expertise, industry, size of your company, your name and title

Write a brief biography of 150 characters or less and save it to a Word file on your desktop. Now you’re ready to copy and paste a basic bio whenever a business profile asks for one.

Plan realistic social media goals

Create goals for your social media campaign. Remember the SMART way to set goals? It applies to social media, too. Goals should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely.

For example, you might set a goal of earning 100 five-star reviews on Yelp this year. Broken into achievable chunks, that’s about eight per month or two per week. Other goals could include:

Statistical: Specific number of fans and followers, number of times your video was viewed, number of times your links on Twitter were followed.

Conversion: Number of times social media connections generate a sale. Thought leadership: Specific number of likes to your Facebook posts in a given period of time, number of times your blog post was re-tweeted by Twitter followers, number of times your readers comment on blog posts you’ve written.

Create a schedule (also called an “editorial calendar”)

Social media just looks spontaneous. The best campaigns are planned and executed on a schedule. Decide how much time each week you will devote to updating offers on Yelp, Foursquare and other channels. Planned updates keep you and your offers fresh. Here are some examples and ideas for keeping followers happy:

If you are a restaurant, update Twitter and Facebook daily and every time you have a menu change or a special purchase from your suppliers (Great buy on lamb shanks today! See them on the menu in 3 days). Consider blogging about food and cooking techniques.

If you are a dentist, post to Facebook and Twitter less often than a restaurant. Talk about the latest in dental technology and procedures or give tips about oral care at home. Occasionally include information about products, services and specials available through your office.

If you’re a landscaper or contractor, post before and after photos of jobsites on Flickr and Facebook. Create an album for each job.

Always get permission from your clients before posting pictures and discuss with them how much information can be revealed. Keep posts lean and mean. People skim when they read online. If you make the skimming too challenging, they’ll click somewhere else. Always ask permission to post photos of employees, customers and jobsites. Remove address and license plate numbers from the images when posting photos from private events or homes. Maintaining your customers’ privacy is important.

Posting too much can cause followers and friends to hide your Facebook posts and un-follow you on Twitter. Be considerate of followers’ time when thinking about how much activity is necessary on social media channels.

Videos shared on YouTube work well for businesses that execute projects with a strong visual element.

Tamp down the urge to post “Buy! Buy! Buy!” messages. Messages should be relevant to your followers and valuable.

So remember: Social media is about developing — and keeping — great relationships. The key is to share information that’s relevant to your target audience, provides value, and leads to an action or sale.

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