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article imageOp-Ed: Social media 101 for small businesses — the 5 W's

By Anne Marie Marais     Jan 27, 2014 in Business
Are you a small business owner trying to figure out if social media is the right place for your company/product to be? Are friends telling you "It's FREE. It's easy. You have to be there?" Let's take a minute before we commit to anything.
Yes, social media may seem free and easy and you may have to be there. But really it's not. You have to commit your time to maintain it, understand how it works and figure out what will work best for your company/product. Everyone may seem to be there, but are they really? Just because you've created a Twitter account or Facebook page, it doesn't mean you are on social media unless you invest time and effort into those initiatives.
Let me try to make it a bit clearer by breaking it down by way of the 5 W's.
Who should be on social media?
If you can commit some time to social media then it might be the place to for you. But if you think that just creating a Facebook page or a Twitter account is enough, then you might want to stop and think again. You need to be able to find the time to maintain those social media pages or accounts?
You will have to share interesting content and engage with those that become your followers. Do you have the time to create or find content? Do you have the time to check in daily on these accounts and engage with your followers in a timely manner? If you are thinking that you don't, then maybe social media isn't the right place for you, right now. What about starting small, with just a presence on one social media platform? It could be that Twitter is something that you feel you could take the time to understand and manage. So start there. Starting small with being in one place and doing it well, is much better than trying to be everywhere but really no where.
We've all seen those social media accounts that haven't had anything new posted on them for more than a week or a month or longer. That doesn't present a good image for your company. Better to do what you can handle and then grow when you better understand the platforms and have the time and interest to commit.
What will I use social media for?
This is an important question to ask yourself as you consider social media for your small business. Are you creating your own unique content that you want to share with potential followers? Maybe you are blogging about your area of expertise or have access to content that you can share. This will help build your brand as a thought leader within your space.
Or you could be looking for a different way to handle customer service for your business. Especially if you are just starting out, then a platform like Twitter is perfect for that, as long as you engage and monitor so that customers know that some one is on the other end and listening.
Social Media is about engagement. People who follow you, no matter what platform, are looking to engage with the person, company or product. You must be able to commit to that. But remember this rule of thumb: the 80/20 rule. Eighty percent of posts are geared to your audience and 20 percent are to promote your company. Obviously, social media is a form of marketing, but you don't want to overwhelm your followers or potential followers with too much ME ME ME. You have to remember that it's about them. Engage them with interesting posts and content and they will support you.
Where should I be?
That's the big question. There are so many social media platforms and more and more popping up each day. But where should you be? Some people will say that you should be everywhere. But as we discussed, you may not have the time to make the best of too many platforms and that will not reflect well on you and your business. Plus, do all the platforms make sense for you? Maybe your product or business is not a visual one, so why would you be on Pinterest? Or you don't have a lot of content to share, so why would you be on Facebook? One place that I would suggest small business owners be, is on LinkedIn. Either with your personal profile and/or your a company page. This is an important tool in building your business and yourself as the owner.
Take some time and do some research to find out where your customers are. Maybe your business or product is similar to one that is already in the market. Check out their social media pages and see which ones are strongest for them. There are also social media monitoring or listening products like Sysomos and Radian 6. These will help you figure out where your audience might be. They can help you find the influencers in your space who you should engage with and try to get on your side.
At the end of the day, the most important thing to remember as a small business owner, is what can I handle and maintain well. If one platform is all you as one person can handle, then just do that. But if you see that your audience is in a few places that you need to be, then you might want to consider getting some help so that you can be where your customers are. There are many social media contractors out there that can help you with your needs. They are small business owners as well, so you should be able to find the right person at the right price.
Why should I be on social media?
Because everyone told you that you should be? It's FREE marketing? Wait, no it's not. Many person hours have to go into making it good and a place where people will engage. It is a great way to create relationships with customers, provide customer service and build you and your company's brand up as thought leaders in a specific space.
As long as you make the decision to be on social media with your eyes open, then you can make it what ever you want. It's just about your time, commitment and the tools that you have your disposal.
When should I be on social media?
Once you have made the decision to be on social media and found the right platforms for your business, then it becomes a different game. Now you have to figure out what you will post, how often you will post, when will you engage and how you manage it all.
Content for posts can come from your own blogs/articles or thoughts or you can share the content of others that you engage with through business or online. Once you have created your presence on the platforms, then you can build your following by following others. From that you can gather content that you might want to share. You must build your following so that people know you are out there. You can do that by engaging with others on social media by commenting, sharing or retweeting. Also, make sure that you promote your social media accounts on your website and business collateral.
Following that, similarly to how you had to find out where your followers were, you need to find out when they are using various social media platforms. You want to make sure that your posts/tweets are showing up in their feeds when they are looking. You can gather that kind of data through what is provided in the Facebook insights or with tools like Crowdbooster. These can provide you best times to post and what your followers engage with most (video, pictures, status updates). You want to give your followers what they like so that they engage more.
How can I best use social media?
You are a busy small business owner that has decided to take on social media. So now how do you keep everything fresh? There are great tools out there that you can use that will help you schedule posts and keep your social media fresh. Tools like Buffer and Hootsuite give you the opportunity to spend an hour or so a couple of times a week filling your social media with scheduled posts. So maybe you can spend some time on a Sunday night setting up tweets or posts to go out through out the week. This helps to keep things fresh and alive.
With those scheduled posts, you still need to be engaged with your social media platforms so that your followers know there is a real person at the other end. Replying to comments, retweeting, sharing etc., all of this is important on a daily basis.
And don't forget when you post or engage it's very important to use good spelling and grammar and to come across as social and friendly. Remember this is your company and your reputation.
Making the decision to put your small business on social media is an important one which you need to be able to commit time to just like anything else you do as you build you company.
Anne-Marie, owner of Long Leg Productions, is a seasoned social media marketer. Clients such as the Toronto Star and Summerhill, work with Anne-Marie to increase their social presence in order to develop and retain community. You can follow Anne-Marie on Twitter @atmarais.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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