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Why Small Businesses Need Social Media

As the Internet has evolved and new technologies have exploded into being, the emergence of social media has undeniably had the most affect on society.  On the positive side, social media allows you to reconnect with friends and loved ones, discover new topics or trends that would’ve otherwise been unknown, and share milestones and achievements with never before seen ease.  The downside is that many people overuse these great advancements in such a way that is irritating to some, downright obnoxious to others, and of course personal data is now easier than ever to obtain by individuals and companies alike.

With Facebook’s 10 year anniversary this week, it is time for small business owners to stop referring to social media as a fad and enter into that final stage of grief: acceptance.  The key for small business owners is to strike a delicate balance that allows for the sharing and spreading of information without adding to the “background noise” that is so prevalent online today.

Think of social media as the “Word of Mouth” of today rather than as “just another marketing channel.”  So often I hear CEOs and Presidents tell me that their number one lead source is “Word of Mouth.” This is outstanding and it is the perfect reason to engage with those referrers online!  According to a Pew Internet Study released in late December 2013, about 73% of online adults use social networking sites. By providing social media channels for your clients, you are also providing them a much easier way to share your business with friends or colleagues and in SO MANY MOREways than just waiting for someone to ask, “Hey, anyone know a good tax guy?”

This is true for B2B models, as well as B2C models.  Let’s look at some examples.

1. B2C Local Business – The Check-In

Many people have heard of the “Check-in” feature of Facebook, but don’t know how or why this impacts a business.  Think of it this way: Your sister is a “foodie” and is always discovering new restaurants in your area. She’s also recently discovered the “check-in” feature on Facebook that allows her to share where she is, what she thinks of the place, who she is with, and will even let her add a picture. This simple check-in is now visible to all of her friends scrolling through their newsfeeds, as well as any of the friends of the people that she tagged. If each of them has, say 200 friends and 30% of those friends are on Facebook that evening, that restaurant has just been exposed to 180 potential new customers. For most local business owners, 180 exposures to new customers is something to celebrate.

And yet there is another reason why social media is so powerful as a word of mouth tool. Say that your sister had a terrible experience at that new restaurant. Most small business owners would agree that a negative experience shared with 180 potential new customers would be detrimental to their business. This is NOT a reason to shy away from social networking as a business tool and I can’t emphasize that enough. Businesses in today’s world are held accountable by customers online like never before, whether they participate or not. Choosing to not take part in the conversation about your business can do much more harm than responding and addressing any issues. If you don’t believe me, just consider the example of SeaWorld and their current situation with Blackfish. They took over a year to respond to the claims made in the film and now many see their response efforts as futile because public opinion has already been formed.

2. B2C Ecommerce Businesses

For most online retailers, social media is a no brainer. Companies can post links to their products, special offers, and customer reviews. The number one mistake I see with Ecommerce brands on social media, however, is ONLY posting sales related items. While it is true that your customers want to take advantage of discounts on your product, they also came to the social media site to BE SOCIAL.  They want to see pictures and memes, watch a video, or have a conversation about something important to them.

Too many businesses forget that the purpose of social media is to take part in a conversation and they enter into robotic advertising mode. To be truly successful at leveraging the power of social media for your business, you need to add the human element to your content. Ask questions, ask customers to share picture of themselves using your product, post funny videos that would appeal to your audience. All of these ideas will create interaction with your brand, which will be then visible to the networks of all those people who interact with you.

3. B2B or B2C Customer Service

Many successful brands use social media platforms as a customer service tool. It is the perfect platform for instant updates and demonstrating your company’s commitment to outstanding customer service.  This will also foster brand loyalty from those whom you help.

Imagine this: You are a software company that has created a Twitter account especially for customer service and your handle is @SoftwareService. A Twitter user Tweets: “@SoftwareService Having trouble with logging in, lost my password.  #frustrated”  Your support team can then respond  immediately via Twitter: “@UserName Visit this link to reset your password in under 60 seconds! Http://passwordreset.com/link”  A Few minutes pass by and @User tweets: “Thanks @SoftwareService! What great service, that was so fast!”

This interaction has just been shared with all of their followers who have seen from a third party point of view what great service their connection has just received. The key here is that you have to have a system in place to respond in real time to requests, but it is extremely powerful. Your business can also use this as a sales tool to illustrate live versions of happy customers and great customer service.

These examples are only a small sliver of how businesses can use social media to their advantage for authority within your industry, better brand recognition and potential new leads. It is important to remember that your content should not be 100% self-serving or you will turn your audience off.   A good rule of thumb for any business on social media is to create content that is 70% informational and engaging, 20% sharing other peoples’ content, and 10% sales oriented.

In next week’s blog post, I will cover which social media channels are right for your business and what types of content are right for each channel.

Gwen Beren

Author Gwen Beren

Gwen Beren is founder and CEO of Illuminous Marketing, Inc. in Southern California. She is passionate about SEO, social media, and voice search, as well as how consumers adapt to emerging technologies. Follow her on Twitter @IlluminousGwen.

More posts by Gwen Beren

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