Social Media on a Small Business Budget

You see it touted everywhere: social media is the new “it” thing to do in marketing, right? You need to have this wonderful marketing channel in your business strategy, or so say the pundits. But how? You’re a small business with very limited resources (time, money, and employees), so how on earth can you incorporate a social media strategy into what you’re already doing when there are so many avenues out there to cover?

There are a lot of ways that small business owners can integrate social media tactics into their current marketing strategies without taxing their resources too heavily. The key is that you have to be a bit savvier about it than just going out and registering for every new social media community that comes along. First and foremost, though, you need to understand your audience.

Use Your Resources Wisely

Be in touch with your current customers. Knowing your audience or demographic you want to connect with will help you pinpoint where it is you need to engage. It’ll assist you in also understanding just what it is that your audience is going to find valuable enough to share with others in their networks that reach far beyond the current communities you work with. Simple and affordable tools like Google Alerts, which is free, or Trackur, which has different levels of service can help you keep an eye on what’s going on with your audience when it pertains to the subjects that affect your business.

employeesYour employees. While many big companies look to one person to be the social media strategist or a community manager, small business owners might not have the luxury of being able to afford to hire one person to do just that. That’s why educating all of your employees who have direct contact with your customers about what you want to accomplish in social media is very vital when you are on a limited budget. It also helps spread the workload and helps you reach more of your customers with a lot less effort.

Take for example a restaurant or bar. You’ll want to make sure that you encourage your staff, (waiters, bartenders, managers, entertainment, etc.) to let your customers know you have a Facebook fan page, Twitter account, or even to encourage check-ins and reviews/tips on Foursquare or Yelp. Make sure you’ve already claimed your accounts with these social media communities as well and monitor them. Assign someone in your company some time to do this. Sometimes it can be as little as a half an hour a day, once it becomes part of a routine.

Your current marketing literature. Make sure that any of the primary communities you’re participating in are listed prominently on your marketing literature, so it’s easy for your customers to know how to connect with you. If you’re utilizing a blog instead of Twitter, or a Facebook page instead of LinkedIn, you have those URLs prominently listed.

Don’t just say “Find Us on XYZ.” Remember, you’re dealing with social networks – not search engines. If your customer hasn’t visited you before on a community like Facebook, it could be a tough task to find you. That’s why it’s important to list the URL, and on Facebook even more important to claim your username (i.e., a vanity URL such as Put this information on business cards, flyers you hand out to customers, menus, table tents, cups, key chains, or any other promotional items you may give out to your customers. If you’re trying to connect with them in the virtual world, make sure that on every level that makes sense in the physical world, you’re letting your customers know how to find you online.

Use your offline content online. Every business has a story to tell. In fact, I can bet that every company has more than just one story to tell. Those stories are content! And guess what? People love to hear these stories and share them, so get them off of your walls and utilize them as content for your company to share in online communities where your audience is.

It could be how your company started out, a story about how your employees pitch in with the Boys and Girls Club after hours, or even how something in your company came to be. These are the types of stories that occasionally make the newspapers as fluff pieces if pitched by a great PR person. In today’s world, a savvy small business person can “pitch” these types of stories themselves to their customers and even the media by turning them into online content that audiences can share easily through pictures, blog content, videos, PDFs, or slideshow presentations.

Small businesses can do social media; it’s just about being savvy enough to incorporate some of your strategies into procedures that already exist and understanding that you also need to focus on where your customers/audience are connecting. No business can be everywhere, so focus your efforts to connect and engage in the communities that are most important to them; not just where you think it will be “cool” to have a profile.

Shoestring Budget image on home page via Shutterstock.

This column was originally published on June 7, 2012.

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