So maybe you’ve tweeted once or twice, have asked people to like you on Facebook, and thought about getting Yelped. If you’re a small business interested in social media, it’s critical to put your energies where they’ll be most beneficial.
Eric Schwartzman, founder of social media training ComplySocially.com, says that having a solid, thoughtful strategy can make the difference in a small business’ success — but it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. “I think from the get-go the type of business that approaches social media is going to have a different strategy. A retail business is going to use social media very differently than a company that does not provide retail services, that does not have hours of operation. The platforms that you would use to promote yourself would be very different as well,” he says.
Schwartzman says small-business owners should keep these steps in mind before they embark on any social media effort:
Know Where Your Customers Hang Out on Social Media
There are a variety of social media sites that serve different needs for your business, and make it easy for people to find you, buy from you, and review you. A hotel would want to make sure they’re well-represented on Travelocity, for example, and a hairstylist or dentist should encourage recommendations on Yelp. Restaurants want to engage in OpenTable and everyone — especially legal and financial service providers as well as business-tobusiness vendors — should maximize their LinkedIn presence.
“Obviously you wouldn’t want to waste a lot of time on a service that customers aren’t using to qualify businesses like you as a potential provider,” Schwartzman says.
Schwartzman says it’s also about investigating specific niche sites that focus on your industry. “You wouldn’t want to waste a lot of time chasing after customers in a place where they’re not — you’d want to engage them where they already are,” he points out. “It’s going to be the path of least resistance.”
To Buy Ad Space or Not to Buy?
Most social media sites are free to use, and most offer paid ads or upgrades for better visibility. Buying a Facebook ad or Twitter posts, for example, will get your business in front of people beyond than just your followers.
Before you decide to invest that money, it’s important to understand your goals and the potential return on your investment. If you buy ads to increase your following on Facebook, that can help solidify your reputation as you direct people to visit your established website.
“At the same time, that money could probably be spent better advertising on a social network that’s more relevant to your specific customer,” Schwartzman advises. “If you’re a restaurant, I’d rather see that money spent on OpenTable. If you’re a provider of some sort of personal services, I’d rather see that money spent on Yelp.
But be aware that the most popular social media may not be the most useful for your business. “I don’t know that I would go to Facebook with the money,” Schwartzman says. “Unless the objective was to show off the number of likes you have on your destination website.”
Have a Social Media Strategy
A few years ago, driving traffic to a website was the major digital goal for most companies. Today, there’s a shift: You can use social media to build a relationship with customers over time, stay top of mind, and hopefully convert them at some point down the road.
And maybe it’s not as important to get them to your website any more, Schwartzman says. “If you’re a restaurant, does that really matter? You can get into OpenTable and they can book the reservation right there. The conversion happens on the social network. The same is true of Travelocity. They can be doing their research there, go right over to either a consolidator or your website and book a room.”
Monitor and Measure in a Meaningful Way
Monitoring is an important component of your social media strategy. Schwartzman suggests free tools such as Netvibes, which he likes for its desktop interface; and Feedly, which has a good mobile app if you’re monitoring on the go.
The number of followers and likes on social media only tells a small part of the story, and there’s generally no monetary value to those metrics. Outcomes, like sales and leads generated, are a more powerful measure of success. If you’re a financial services provider, for example, are you growing existing accounts by watching “money in motion” activities?
“If somebody has a baby, a child goes to college, they relocate, or they change jobs, these are all ‘money in motion’ events that are indicative of financial decisions that are going to need to be made. If you can stay in tune with those rhythms in your customers’ lives and be there when they have those decisions to be made, you’re going to grow your book of business,” Schwartzman says.
Facebook may not be a great way for financial service providers to market investments, but it certainly is a good way to keep abreast of customers, what’s going on in their lives, and when they may need your service.
Create Shareable Moments
To truly understand the power of your social media efforts, look at sales, leads, new customers, reservations and reviews. “I would then ask myself how can I inspire people to share their experience that they have in my salon on Yelp,” Schwartzman says. “What is the sharable moment that I create? We all wind up in spaces where we’re inspired to whip out our phone and take a selfie, because we either like the location, or we think it looks good, or it makes us feel good about ourselves, or it’s something that we want to share with other people. How can you inspire that photo op in your retail environment?”
Schwartzman recommends thinking about where you can add your Twitter account or unique hashtag that would be included in a shared photo. “If you’re at a salon, do you watermark a hashtag on the mirrors so that people want to take pictures of themselves? You do it backwards, so that when they take the picture it shows up the right way. It’s clever things like that.”
Use Social Media for Conducting Business First — and Marketing Second
We assume people always want free stuff, but it’s important to know exactly what kind of stuff people really want. It’s probably not a cup with your logo, but something else that speaks to your business and is actually useful. “If it’s something clever that really does get them to think about you, then maybe it is worthwhile,” Schwartzman says.
But promotional swag can only go so far, and Schwartzman suggests using social media in a way that’s a bit more radical: conducting your business instead of marketing it. This means making sure people engage in public view of their friends on social media, whether they’re sharing a restaurant reservation on OpenTable, posting a review on Yelp, or checking in on FourSquare.
“In the old days at the yogurt store they would give you that punch card and you get 10 punches and you’d get a free frozen yogurt. It was great because it keeps the customer coming back, but the card in the pocket is invisible to other people. How can you move that punch card to social media so that every time you give them a punch they see it, other people see it?”
When you enter a conversation on Facebook or Twitter, “you’re basically converting customer service into public relations.”