How Are Small Businesses Using Social Media Effectively?

It’s official: social media has moved beyond the “early adopter” phase and into the mainstream business world. According to a 2010 Mashable report, “technology adoption rates in the U.S. have doubled in the past year from 12% to 24%.” This is not a coincidence. Once thought of as mere entertainment portals, social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn have become serious revenue generators for small business owners who know how to use them.

Company Pages On Popular Networks

According to the above mentioned survey, one in five small business owners now integrate social media into their business processes, with Facebook and LinkedIn being the social sites of choice. An astounding 75% of those business owners have official company pages on one or both of these websites.

Additionally, 69% of that same group actively sends out status updates on these networks. Both of these statistics suggest what many experts have long preached: that social media requires constant engagement. Businesses that follow a “set it and forget it” model are often disappointed when their social profiles bring them no sales, but they have only their own approach to blame. The companies who are succeeding on the social web treat it like interactive platform that it is.

Cheap Lead Generation

Another effective use of social media on the business side is cheap, targeted lead generation. Using blog posts and sites like Facebook, companies are able to cast a wider net, attracting interested prospects with free content and trapping their contact information for future promotions.

It’s an excellent strategy for companies whose existing lead generation efforts are stalled or stagnant. The key, though, is not making your social presence too commercial. It’s fine to promote your sales and offers (after all, that’s what you’re ultimately online for anyway) but social media is about interaction first and transactions second. Focus more on providing content that your readers will enjoy and want to share – then trap the lead or sale.

Direct Communication With Influencers

As a business owner, you may be familiar with the concept of “influencer marketing.” Basically, this approach states that some of your customer are much more vocal and persuasive than others. These “influencers”, simply by spreading the word about products they love, sway dozens of their friends or relatives to do what they do and buy what they buy. Target the influencers in your customer base and you can inspire them to reach the rest of the market for you.

Social media offers an unprecedented opportunity to do this. By paying attention to the most active participants on your Facebook page or Twitter feed, you can interact with these influencers directly, in real-time. Any new messages or angles you want conveyed to the public can be systematically fed through your influencers and spread further than you ever thought possible.

Casual Follow-Up

Social media also helps small business owners stay connected with their customers via casual online follow-up. Responding to customer tweets, participating in discussions on your Facebook wall, updating your status to reflect customer concerns – all of these are simple yet effective ways of showing customers that you’re there and paying attention to them.

Though follow-up does not always yield immediate sales benefits, it does solidify your involvement and generate good will between you and your customers. In a July 2010 USA Today article, one entrepreneur said “the value of Facebook is that it gives you efficient ways to retain current customers and reach out to and find new customers. It’s happening on a scalable, digital way among you and your friends.”

Online-Only Promos & Deals

Once your business has a lively following on your social site(s) of choice, you can run unique deals and offers whenever you wish. “Facebook-only” promos and limited-time specials are all common in today’s social media environment because they foster a sense of exclusivity within your customer base. It gives your social followers a reason to keep following you and paying attention to what you put out.

Again: don’t overdo this. None of your followers want to be pummeled with sales pitch after sales pitch on a daily basis. For best results, follow a 70% content/30% pitch formula, where 70% of your posts and social interactions give something to the community (entertaining statuses, informative articles, video, etc.) and 30% request something from the community in the form of a sale or lead trap.

Guerrilla Market Research

While concurs that the biggest small business use of social media is for lead generation, it’s not the only use. Smart entrepreneurs are also using the social web to do guerrilla market research. Using their Facebook and Twitter pages, it’s possible to do all of the following at virtually no cost:

  • Polls
  • Q&A sessions about new or current products
  • Quick testing of proposed new ideas, products and initiatives
  • Surveys about customer concerns, likes and dislikes

Prior to social media, companies who wanted this sort of information paid huge fees to market research firms, and many small businesses simply didn’t collect this data at all. Now, it’s easier than ever, instantaneous and costs nothing.

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