The Small Business Social Media Crash Course for 2013

BY: ON TUESDAY, JANUARY 22, 2013

Social Media is tricky territory for most small business owners. It's a field of Internet marketing that evolves so quickly that it's difficult to keep up if you aren't explicitly paying attention. Furthermore, there's a significant amount of upkeep involved that may require a steep time commitment for the modern small business owner. Couple that with the fact that there are even more sites on the social network now than ever before, all of which every other small business “guru” is telling you be a part of.

Is your head spinning yet?

As intricate and complicated as social media can be for small business owners, it doesn't have to be rocket science. The average SMB does have time to work with social media; we don't have to think of it as a nemesis or a waste of time. As sites such as Facebook have become more and more integral with our society and the way we communicate, it'd be rather impractical to turn a blind eye to the social network or the implications it may have for a small business.

Strategy matters, as always. Consider the recent trends and shifts in social media that will help you drive an effective strategy in 2013 that won't waste your time:

The New Face of Customer Service

In short, social media is being seen by many users as the new face of customer service. As one in three users prefer to contact customer service through social media versus a physical telephone call, we can see the direction that we're going in terms of communication. It's relatively quick and painless for users to leave a comment on a Facebook wall to ask a question; furthermore, multiple users may get their questions asked at once or spark a conversation for the business to get involved in. Additionally, whereas many physical businesses cannot always be reached by phone, it may be seen as more advantageous to “leave a message” on Facebook or Twitter rather than utilize an answering machine.

Social media offers a channel for customers to reach out to you; small businesses need to make sure that the channel stays open. It's quite easy to waste time on the social network, but if you keep your focus on customer service, interacting with users and sharing your content, you'll be more likely to find success. As always, be mindful of your goals.

Quality Over Quantity

There used to be a very heavy focus on the amount of “Likes” or “followers” one had on their social media sites. While having a higher number certain does look nice, it doesn't truly mean much in a world where one can simply “buy” 1,000 Twitter followers for a pittance from shady services. You can fight all day in order to obtain a certain amount of fans, yet the time you put in doing so will most likely not be time well spent. What does a high follower count mean when most of them are fake? Do you want your business to look like spam?

Focus on quality over quantity when it comes to social media. If you have a company and product that people are interested and want to talk to about, the fans will come in time. Instead of trying to superficially boost your follower count, put in the hours to make people want to talk about your business instead.

Tip: If you're a local business, focus on local fans and followers. This may seem like a no-brainer; however, many small businesses waste their efforts on trying to boost their numbers on users that will never step into their doors. Remember that local followers can be powerful evangelists for your business.

Making Connections Versus Making Money

For a long period of time, many small business owners seemed fixated on the idea that they could become millionaires overnight through Facebook and Twitter.

Simply put, it's not going to happen.

The shift in social media towards customer service has perhaps detracted somewhat from the commerce aspect of such sites. You're much more likely to find success in interacting with your customers and handling their concerns rather than selling a product directly through the social channels. Many users have learned to tune out ads on Facebook, for example, although some larger businesses are finding success in their targeted ad campaigns.

With all of this in mind, however, it may be more advantageous for the typical small business owner to focus on trying to make money elsewhere. The amount of time and effort it takes to push products through the social channels is probably not worth the headache; instead, focus on customer service. Although social media has certainly changed over the years, the old adage “time is money” certainly has not.

What Sites Should I Be Using?

Understanding how social media is being utilized by the modern business is indeed important; however, perhaps equally important is where you put those efforts into action. Some social sites are much more suited for businesses than others and some require a fair commitment of time. We've broken down a quick list of the current social media giants and what they mean to the ordinary SMB.

Facebook - Still the major player and the breath of your business online; this is where many of your efforts need to be. Facebook has become so much more than just a social channel. Between its billion-plus user base and integration with almost every corner of our digital lives, Facebook represents how we communicate. Furthermore, the new graph search function looks to change the landscape of how businesses are found on Facebook. For these reasons alone, your business needs to be here.

Twitter – Twitter seems to be heading more towards a focus on entertainment rather than business. Hashtags and trending topics still remain a cornerstone of Twitter, making the site more inclined to the entertainment world. While Twitter probably isn't ideal for selling products,although it perhaps never was, Twitter does allow an easy avenue to responding to customers and sharing content. Your business should still have a Twitter presence, especially if you want to reach out to other businesses.

LinkedIn – Smaller businesses have less use for LinkedIn which focuses more on job seekers. It would be advised to have some sort of presence here, though, especially for the sake of sharing business content. B2B content is ideal for LinkedIn, if you create such content then share it here by all means. Having a presence on LinkedIn will provide your business with some legitimacy and the upkeep is rather minimal.

Google Plus – Google Plus has evolved slowly but surely, and while not the “Facebook killer” it was predicted to be, it has a number of functionalities such as Google Hangouts which may be of use to the tech-savvy SMB. Furthermore, sharing with Google Plus has positive SEO implications, as demonstrated by Google Plus authorship.

What Sites Are on the Fence?

While there are a number of sites gaining steam on the social network, small businesses may find it difficult to thrive on such sites due to their demographics. Sites such as Tumblr, for example, attract a much younger crowd with a heavy emphasis on art and sharing images. Furthermore, Instagram has its uses on Facebook and Twitter when it comes to sharing images; however, there's not much out there in terms of small businesses specifically. The elephant in the room remains Pinterest, which has seen a surge in traffic over the past year. The demographic of Pinterest is predominantly female, an estimated 80%, and focuses heavily on product photography and creative ideas. While there certainly are small businesses that Pinterest is practically made for, such as small retailers or fashion companies, the average SMB may want to focus efforts elsewhere.

The Bottom Line

When it's all said and done, it's important for small business owners to spend their time wisely. Nobody is forcing you to sink time that you don't have into Social Media; however, such sites cannot be ignored as more and more users begin to utilize them to interact directly with small businesses. Where will you be putting your Social Media efforts in 2013?

About the Author

Brent Barnhart

Brent Barnhart is a freelance content writer specializing in topics such as Internet marketing and content marketing for small businesses. His goal is to help business owners find their voices online and improve their content strategies. You can reach Brent or find out more at brentwrites.com.

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