Social Media IconsAs a small business owner, have you set up social media accounts? If so, are you happy with your social media efforts? Are you engaging with customers and getting new leads? If not, is it because your social media accounts are neglected? Or worse, does it seem out of control with spam or negative or off-topic comments? The purpose of this post is to provide you with ways to improve your small business social media marketing efforts by using concepts from project management best practices.

Defining Terms – Operations vs. Projects

In general, many of the tasks of a small business manager are operational in nature. Operational activities are repeatable events and they are the tasks you perform routinely, such as ordering inventory, managing financial accounts, and receiving phone calls from customers. A useful metaphor is to think of “operations” as the assembly line of your business.

Projects, on the other hand, are non-repeatable activities. Projects introduce new features to your assembly line. The Project Management Institute defines a project this way: “A project is temporary in that it has a defined beginning and end in time, and therefore defined scope and resources.”

When you are considering setting up a social media marketing program for your small business, some activities will be singular one-time projects, but you are also setting up a new, permanent operational channel that must be attended to on a regular basis. In summary, “social media projects” will involve creating new posts (such as video or digital media about new products or services); “social media operations” will involve handling customer questions and complaints in a public forum.

The Two Most Important Social Media Projects

If you are starting at the beginning, there are two major projects required for setting up a social media marketing program for your small business. The first project is setting up and attracting followers to your new social accounts (i.e. Facebook, Google+, Twitter, etc.), and the second project is publishing marketing content to your followers and friends.

Setting Up Your Social Media Accounts and Attracting Followers

There are dozens of social media platforms for you to consider – Facebook, Foursquare, Twitter, YouTube, Google+, Vine, Instagram and on and on. Where to begin? I suggest that you should start with these basic concepts to help guide your decision making process. Any given project management process takes into consideration:

  • Scope (How many social media platforms and which ones?)
  • Time (How much time to set up, and, more importantly, how much time to manage? Once set up, you must respond to customers in a timely fashion.)
  • Cost (How much are you willing to spend to support your social media campaign? Will you handle all communications yourself, or will you hire someone to assist you? Will you purchase tools to help you manage your social media accounts?)
  • Quality (Which social media platforms are best for your small business? Some may not be a good fit for your business and will not be worth the time to support.)
  • Communication (How will you communicate your new social media accounts to employees and customers? You should have a communications plan to promote your new social media accounts to your customers.)
  • Risks (What are the risks to a social media program for your small business? Hint: the biggest risk is not having the discipline and employee support to respond in a timely fashion to customer questions, comments or complaints. )
  • Human resources (Who will set up and operationally maintain your social media accounts?)

Creating Compelling Social Media Content

For many, the most enjoyable aspect of owning social media sites is the opportunity to create content explaining your services or showcasing your products and employees. The possibilities are endless for marketing, promotion and having fun with your business.

It is difficult to make serious mistakes here, as long as one uses common sense. The basic rules are to focus on your business (not your personal life or opinions), remain customer focused (by taking into account good manners and maintaining a friendly demeanor), and always remember the purpose of social media is to create and maintain relationships. The key to success is making “compelling content.” You customers want interesting or attractive content, and this requires planning.

Project management concepts can help. There are five major project management process groups that will help you structure your content creation.

  1. Initiating – For social media marketing, this includes the brainstorming phase. You should create a list of all possible content concepts for the month, including picture ideas, opportunities for positive testimonials from satisfied customers (written reviews and videos), photo ideas of your service in action or your product line (if possible). Offers and specials would be excellent promotions on your social media site. In this phase, you should also prioritize and schedule your best ideas, taking into consideration holidays or consumer shopping behavior based on time of the year.
  2. Planning – Once you have a prioritized list of ideas, you can plan the details of each content element (i.e. picture or video). Good lighting, attractive locations and well-dressed employees, for example, must be planned in advance. You must also communicate with everyone involved what your expectations will be for a photo or video shoot. Ensure that your copy writing is error-free and grammatically correct. Make sure to put some time on your calendar to create this content, and stick to it for the sake of your social media program.
  3. Executing – With proper planning in place this is straight forward. Once your content is complete, and you like it, post it!
  4. Controlling – The controlling process for social media marketing is about measuring and tracking your successes and failures. You need to define both (failure and success) in order to make this process meaningful. On the one hand, a great success is a post that people like, +1, or share with others. But if you don’t get the engagement you want, realize that customers will research your business online as part of their purchasing decision. An up-to-date social media presence that is open to public comment and criticism will raise the confidence of consumers to work with your business. (Note: Keep track of what your social contacts are engaging with so that you can adjust your strategy to increase future customer interactions.) On the other hand, failure is breaking your discipline of posting regularly and not responding to customer questions and complaints. The biggest failure is to break the rules of friendliness, good manners and maintaining business focus.
  5. Closing – You should select a period of time to review your progress (perhaps monthly or quarterly) to review whether the social media marketing campaign is meeting your goals. Past experience shows that it takes some time for your social media program to achieve success. Your overall objective should be to see an increase in customer interaction and new customers walking through the door. Be sure to ask new customers if they are aware of your social media sites. In this closing phase, review what content was compelling to your customers, and thank employees or customers who helped create that content.

Operations: Your New Social Media Responsibilities

The major operational activity that you need to consider is customer relationship management. During the day and early evening, you should acknowledge (not necessarily resolve) all customer questions and complaints within two hours. Customers consider interaction on social media to be similar to placing a phone call or sending an email. The fact that these interactions are public (and visible to everyone on the social network) makes their priority perhaps even more important than one-on-one phone calls or emails. Social media operations are about building relationships with your customers. All your project efforts aim at creating this channel of communication with your customers and the general public. Consumers expect this accountability and transparency, and if you can provide it, you will have an advantage over your competitors who do not.

Please let me know if you have any questions or comments below, and good luck!