First-time entrepreneurs have a lot on their minds. When you're building your brand, hiring your staff, coordinating operations, and managing your business down to the smallest detail, it can be easy to let marketing take a backseat.
There was a time when you may have had to contract a marketing or public relations firm to help expand your reach, but with the remarkable boom in social media, even the smallest businesses now have access to the same platform blue-chip corporations use to market themselves. Social media offers a cost-effective, user-friendly way to build your brand, expand your Internet presence, and ultimately increase business. You just have to know how to make the most of it. Follow these six tips to get going:
Get customers to your social media pages. Your first challenge is to get your customer to notice you. Start by inserting Facebook and Twitter links on your blog or website. Also include links on all marketing materials you send out, from business cards to flyers to email blasts. Be prepared to talk up your Facebook page and Twitter handle whenever you're pressing palms and networking. And don't just let your social media accounts lay dormant waiting for people to find them. Spend some time seeking out second- and third-degree friends and suggesting that they "like" or "follow" you.
Expand beyond the norm. Facebook and Twitter may be the Holy Grails of social media, but there are plenty of other outlets waiting to be seized by first-time entrepreneurs. Pinterest and Instagram are ideal platforms for visually-oriented businesses. Digg and Reddit are powerful user-oriented, trend-focused websites that are growing in popularity.
When you sow your seeds in the fields of social media, just be sure you tend to them. Don't let any of your pages wither, and always track the effectiveness of your efforts with programs like HootSuite or Sprout Social, and use whatever information you find to inform your overall strategy.
Make the experience interactive for your customers. Once you've established a presence on Facebook, Twitter, and the many other platforms available, it's time to reel your customers in.
Conduct weekly TweetChats - virtual meetings in which participants discuss a topic of your choice that you moderate by interspersing questions or comments - and post giveaways on Facebook to generate buzz. If you have a blog, make sure you write intelligent, incisive content to develop your readership and encourage commenting and reposting in the hopes that something goes viral.
Avoid automation. Automating your social media efforts can save you a ton of time, but it presents far too many risks to make it a viable option for your small business.
You run the risk of alienating your followers with pre-packaged content and timed posts. Instead, tailor your content to each of your social media streams. Reserve your shorter content for Twitter, longer posts for Facebook, and photographs about your business for Pinterest. Make all content as inviting as you can, and always post manually. Remember, customers are real people, not just numbers.
Assign someone to monitor social media accounts. If you don't feel you have the time or expertise to effectively handle your social media marketing strategy, it may be worth bringing on some outside help.
A social media expert can help reach out to build your networks, respond to comments on your pages, and in some cases, craft effective content. An assistant can also help set up accounts, track effectiveness, and present you with new strategies and tactics to improve your reach. Start by looking at your own social network, searching on LinkedIn, or checking out the Global Social Media Managers Association.
Respond to everything. Regardless of what type of comments you receive on your social media pages - whether they're positive or negative - be sure to respond. Remember, potential customers are going to be viewing your pages and deciding whether or not they want to be associated with you. A complaint is never helpful, but if you follow up quickly and correct the issue, that negative can turn into an overwhelming positive and can help draw new customers in.
And make sure you thank posters for their positive comments as well. Anything that reinforces the notion that there's a human being behind the pixels is going to help your overall cause.
If you do decide to get an expert's help, just remember that this is a young field, and as such it's difficult to define exactly what an expert is. Anyone can call themselves a social media expert on a resume, so when you interview any candidates make sure you ask to see specific accomplishments on previous projects and follow up with references. One mistake in social media marketing can be disastrous, so don't go into it lightly. Develop a solid strategy and consult the right people, and you're on your way to success.
What ways can you think of to take advantage of social media marketing?
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David Bakke is an Atlanta-based social media strategist and contributing member of the MoneyCrashers.com team. He is the author of the personal finance book, "Don't Be a Mule" and writes about small business marketing tactics, money management - including banking and credit cards, careers, and methods for people to get out of debt.