By Julia Campbell, Principal at J. Campbell Social Marketing

 

In 2012, businesses of all sizes are using social media tools more than ever to share information about their products, to build critical relationships and to engage their customers.

When used correctly, social media can be a powerful marketing tool. However, many small business owners and budding entrepreneurs are overwhelmed and overworked and lack the necessary training and support to effectively build and manage successful online communities

Jumping into the online arena can be intimidating. Use this checklist to ensure that your business is maximizing its presence on social media sites and working toward achieving your goals online.

  1. Set up profiles and pages on at least 10 social media sites (even if you don’t think you will ever use them). Claim your business URLs and user names, just as you did when you registered your website domain name. Keep all the user names, URLs, emails and passwords in a spreadsheet (ideally in a Google Doc if you are going to be sharing the work of managing the sites). Be consistent if possible when registering – for example, if your website URL is http://smallbiz.com then your Twitter handle should be @smallbiz, your Facebook page should be http://www.facebook.com/smallbiz, etc.
  2. Fill out all profiles completely. To be complete, a profile must have a photo/avatar that is square (not a cut off version of your horizontal logo).  Each social network requires more or less information, but make sure that they all include at least one photo, hours (if you are a storefront), your products/services, brief history, your vision statement, contact information and website link.
  3. Spend time learning the unique culture of each network. Facebook has a different culture than Twitter and LinkedIn, and it is important to understand the distinction. Spend some time listening and observing, learning the language, and getting the pulse of your industry.
  4. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, but don’t spread yourself too thin. Start out using one or two networks frequently, and move on to others if you have more time and more capacity. Quality over quantity is paramount when using social media.
  5. Promote your profiles! Just because you build them does not mean that your customers will find them. Add social media buttons to the main page of your website and email newsletter (ideally visible on all web pages, easy to find, with links that work). Put the URLs on business cards, in email signatures and on all print materials (brochures, press releases, flyers). Put a sign in your waiting room, lobby, office – anywhere people congregate.
  6. Be responsive and accessible. There is no greater online sin than a social media profile that has questions, comments and engagement that is not managed. If your online community engages and asks questions, answer them promptly. If you need to wait to get the answer, let them know you will get back to them as soon as you can. 24 hours is an eternity in the social media realm – respond immediately to comments, questions and feedback on your posts.
  7. Always incorporate photos and videos in your posts. Photos and videos get more engagement (comments, clicks and shares) than simple text.
  8. Ask for help and feedback, but only if you are prepared to use it. And if you areare you doing it only because you think you have to? Are you aiming to “increase engagement” without having a plan about how to acknowledge and use that engagement? Do you follow up with and/or implement the suggestions and recognize the people who took the time to reply to your request?
  9. Be personable. Let your fans and followers know there is a person or persons behind the tweets and the posts. Go off topic once in a while – talk about the weather, sports, humor, local events. Don’t just talk about your business and your product in a dry, impersonal, formal way. (Behind-the-scenes posts and photos are always very popular.)
  10. Always, always say thank you! Thank people for sharing your content, for following you on Twitter and Facebook, for posting your video on YouTube, for “plus-one”ing you on Google+. Acknowledge customers on your social media profiles, thank a vendor for going above and beyond, link to another local small business. Create good karma and it will certainly come back to you!
  11. Keep your expectations grounded in reality. Just because Old Spice can get millions of views on YouTube does not mean that you can be held to the same standard. If you are a small shop with two hours or less a week to spend on social media sites, you are not going to get hundreds of fans and followers overnight. Creating an active, engaged online community takes time and effort, trial and error, success and failure.

Getting the results you want from social media is time-consuming but well worth it. If you are consistently engaged and online, if you are authentic and accessible, if you are adding value to your fans and followers, then success will follow. Start with realistic goals and you may be surprised to surpass them!

Julia Campbell, principal at J Campbell Social Marketing, helps nonprofits and small businesses reach new supporters and strengthen relationships with current ones using online tools. Email her at julia@jcsocialmarketing.com or call 978-578-1328.