What use has social media for small businesses?


Alice

I’ve just got back from giving a talk about social networking to a group of home businesses. This kind of business is not usually on Chantal’s agenda, as she sees them as not having enough money or commitment, but I see them as embryonic enterprises for the future, as you never know which one will become hugely successful, and they also are very good at word of mouth referrals if they like what they hear!

I concentrated on the main four: Blogging, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. If anyone wants to see the PowerPoint Presentation I used during my talk, you’ll have to connect with me on LinkedIn to view it on my profile page!

Blogging is always first, as to me that is the most important. Ideally it should be treated as the hub of your business, a medium of expression and social interaction, an extension to your website that can be regularly updated, making it attractive to the search engines and feedable to other social networking sites. New material is fed to and from it, links transport spider activity from fully stocked blogrolls and overflowing comment boxes, and tags and categories stimulate searchable reactions and a researcher’s dream. Subscribers wait with bated breath for your next contribution, and Twitter transports your humble post to an unconceivable audience.

LinkedIn gives us order in the social networking world – you know where you stand and there is no nonsense to cloud the issue. Your CV-like profile could easily be scrutinised by prospective employers and even headhunters. Gather as many recommendations (and give back in return) to boost up your credibility. Explore the social scene through its Groups and use the Questions section to aid research to expand your business or solve a problem, and the Answers to spread your expertise while helping others – remember best answers are shown on your signature!

Twitter should be treated for what it is, instant messaging to a large audience. It is purely social (selling is not tolerated) and provides access to a huge amount of people you wouldn’t normally be able to meet. Use it to keep your ear to the ground – what are people saying about you? Are your tweets valuable enough to share? What is your competition up to? What has the person you most admire said recently? Are there any happy or disgruntled customers to respond to? What questions can you put into the Twittersphere to get almost immediate answers? What links can you glean to direct you to websites and blogs in your industry so you can learn more? OK, there’s plenty of silly antics going on, but light-relief is sometimes a good thing, and relaxed networking can gain you good contacts, especially if you have the same sense of humour!

And last but not least, Facebook. Seen as a purely social, this networking medium can be adapted for business purposes. OK, it’s great for keeping an eye on your kids while they’re travelling, catching up with your sister’s family in Australia and sharing your latest photos, (not mentioning sheep throwing and the like), but your personal profile is vital if you want to extend your Facebook uses further. Without it you cannot create group and fan pages, which can act like mini-websites or blogs that are totally searchable in one of the biggest websites on the net. Paste up your latest information in all forms of media, brainstorm some sessions, feed blog posts and answer comments and requests from your ‘fans’, while updating your status updates automatically appear on Twitter (careful what you say!). Treat it as an extension of your website and blog all over again…

This is a lot to cope with, and many worried expressions confronted me from the other side of the room as their owners puzzled how they were going to find the time to keep up with all of this. Don’t worry, you don’t need to social network constantly, just consistently. Either set aside specific times to update your profiles, or dip in and out during the day to catch up on what’s going on and pop in your contribution – you’d be amazed how much you’ll achieve! And if you really can’t keep up with it all, hire an online marketing business to do it for you – of course!

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2 Responses

  1. Hi Alice
    Great article. I find that once people understand the whole picture of social networking and how it fits into the overall marketing spectrum and relates back to their main objectives it becomes much clearer and then they can ascertain exactly how much time is needed each day to fulfil their networking requirement for their business needs. It’s highly individual and varies depending on where you’re at with reaching your goals. The tools used change too again dependant on your goals.

    • Quite right Jane. Social networking is dependent on where you are with your business, and how much you need to do to obtain the level of visibility you need. It is time consuming, but you learn over time the right way to do it and at what level, or if you’re especially canny, get someone else to do it for you!

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