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Why Social Media Matters to Small Businesses

Most small businesses don’t have the time and money to try every new online trend. While corporate giants can burn millions testing out the possibilities of a certain type of new advertising, or pour cash into a marketing campaign that may or may not get off the ground, entrepreneurs and small business owners can’t afford to risk resources like that. If they want to compete and succeed, they have to be ruthless in deciding what kinds of investments to make with their hard-earned time and money.

It’s no wonder that many of them haven’t decided whether try to find new customers through social networking sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

These online destinations don’t do a great job of allowing for direct marketing opportunities (although Facebook does offer its own advertising service), and they often seem dominated by Fortune 500 competitors, celebrity self-promoters, and a small army of men and women who spend their days immersed in online marketing. So, does social media really matter to small businesses?

Our answer would be that social media especially matters to small businesses.

The reason is simple: from marketing perspective, the advantage of using social networking sites is that you get a chance to cut through the clutter – that is, the normal course of “corporate speak” that so many people have gotten to be so tired of. People don’t go to social networking sites to read ads or press releases; they want to stay in touch with friends, make contact with vendors and professionals who can help them one-on-one, and just be entertained. These are all areas where small businesses have enormous competitive advantages over their corporate counterparts.

If you have yet to make social networking a part of your small businesses marketing strategy, here are a few tips to help you get started, and to compete with the bigger players:

Be people, not organizations. Lots of people want to be friends with you, but few are interested in joining up with a faceless organization. Make sure your social profiles emphasize the people in your company and encourage customers to get to know them. You’ll be able to make a lot more progress if users feel like they’re reaching another human, not a marketing or customer service department.

Develop a brand and voice. Really, this comes down to fun. If what you say, post, and share is entertaining, people are going to come back. Make a habit of finding something funny, or at least offering a message with some insight. Pretty soon, these will become a part of your brand, a voice that other social media users will look forward to hearing.

Start slowly, but move consistently. There’s no reason to turn your company upside down if you just want to dip your toe in the social networking tool. There’s nothing wrong with setting up a few profiles, devoting 10 minutes a day to making contacts and updating messages, and seeing what happens. Just make sure that you get started, and don’t let your activity drop off completely. Social networking sites thrive on going conversations, so don’t go long stretches without saying anything.

Whisper your marketing message. Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter are no places to go shouting about your low, low prices or some other special. Instead, use these forums to have a little fun, share some insight and advice, and ever so quietly mention once in a while that you or your products are available. If the rest of what you have to say is interesting enough, people will take notice and respond accordingly.

Integrate social media into your overall marketing plan. One of the biggest social media marketing mistakes we see – in companies of all sizes – is using those sites in a vacuum. There’s nothing wrong with hoping your online profiles and messages will bring you new customers and clients; but make sure that what you’re doing and saying this supporting other things you have going on, as well. If you frequently have sales at your retail locations, mention them online (but again, without resorting to straight advertising.) Or, if your normal way of finding business is through business journal columns, be sure to mention them on social networking sites. The point is that everything you do, online and off, should be pointing in the same direction.

Social media sites are one of those places where small businesses have a distinct advantage over large ones. Follow these tips, use your online profiles and messages to support your other activities, and you’ll soon begin to see why.

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