One New Year’s resolution that many small business owners are making is to increase their use of social media to promote their business online through sites like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. Better Business Bureau recommends that small business owners ease into the waters thoughtfully when planning to launch a social media strategy; otherwise, they risk abandoning the ship in frustration.
Small businesses are shifting their marketing strategy away from expensive ad buys and are increasingly looking toward social media engagement as the less expensive alternative. According to a recent survey by VerticalResponse, Inc., 70 percent of small to medium-sized businesses plan to increase their use of social media in 2010. At the same time, 79 percent say they will not run television ads and 70 percent say they will not make radio buys.
“Small business owners are taking a hard look at their marketing budgets and traditional advertising is becoming too much of a burden in these lean economic times,” said Alison Southwick, BBB spokesperson. “Adopting a comprehensive, but manageable, social media strategy can be an inexpensive yet effective way to improve customer relations and spread the word about your business.”
BBB offers the following advice to small business owners who want to start promoting their company online through social media:
Don’t Get in Over Your Head - If you’re a small business owner who is also the marketing department, the worst thing you could do is launch a large, unmanageable strategy that takes up too much time and ends up neglected. You don’t have to do it all at once. Instead, try to set aside a few minutes every day to engage one or two aspects of social media promotion. Start small, such as with a Facebook page or by commenting on blogs or connecting with customers on Twitter. Let your social media strategy grow and evolve as you learn what works best for your time constraints and business goals.
Create and Share Information – Social media is about engagement, and creating and sharing content is key to connecting with customers and other industry leaders. You may not realize it, but you, as a small business owner, are an expert and have sound advice and informed opinions to share. When writing your own content, always maintain an appropriate and professional tone and use plenty of links to other sites, blogs, or news articles to help illustrate your point. You can share this content on any number of places such as on your own blog, a community blog or on your Facebook or MySpace page.
Keep everything connected – Once you’ve created your page on Facebook, or established your blog or Twitter account or other online presences, cross-promote your content so that the same message is going out across every site. For example, Tweet about your blog post or send a link in a message to your LinkedIn group. Many social media tools can be integrated. For example, you can display a Facebook badge or a Twitter widget on your blog or Web site.
Engage in the Conversation –An online conversation is taking place right now about your business, your industry or issues affecting your community. Inject yourself and opinions into the conversation by following opinion leaders on Twitter and social networking sites and commenting on blog posts. Whenever possible, include a link back to your content or Web site.
Engage with Customers – Your customers are talking about you online whether you like it or not on their blogs, consumer-focused Web sites and on review sites like Yelp, Yahoo! Local and CitySearch. While you can’t take control of the conversation you can help steer it by listening, engaging with customers and working to resolve any problems. Click here for additional advice on how to resolve online customer complaints
For more advice you can trust on running a small business, visit www.bbb.org