Social media websites (sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus) are one of the single most effective ways for business owners to connect to customers, potential customers, and their communities. These websites are the 21st century version of the town square, where people gather to talk about their experiences and interests. Whether you’re already using social media to promote your business or not, you can be sure that your customers are using these sites to talk about you. Make sure that you’re part of that conversation!
If you’re a small business owner who has been working to establish a presence for your business online, it’s likely that the last thing you want to think about is devoting more time to the Internet. However, social media gives you the opportunity to interact with the public in unique and positive ways, both promoting your business to new potential customers and building loyalty among your existing customers.
How do I get started with social media?
If you aren’t already using social media, the first step in using them to promote your business is to create profiles on the different sites. The three biggest websites you need to worry about are Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus. They all work basically the same way, but each has unique quirks that you can use to your advantage.
- Facebook: Facebook allows you to create a page for your business, including pictures, promotions you may be running, and other information, which you can then encourage customers to “Like.” When someone clicks the “Like” button on your Facebook page, they’re signing up to see any updates or posts you publish, but the website will also tell all of that person’s friends that they have liked your page. This gives you some interesting opportunities for promotion. For example, offering customers a discount on your services if they Like your Facebook page can mean that hundreds or thousands of people end up seeing your promotion.
- Twitter: Twitter only allows very short posts, called tweets, so it is less useful than Facebook for running promotions. It is, however, very useful for engaging directly with individual customers. You can use Twitter to monitor what people are saying to each other about your business, and then speak directly to the people who are talking about you. Many business owners use this to reach out to happy customers to thank them for their business, but it can be even more valuable to use Twitter to contact unsatisfied customers. Imagine a customer who is complaining to their friends about the service they received from your business – if you could reach out to them, correct the situation, and make that customer happy, all while their friends and family are watching, it would make a huge difference in how those people perceive your business. Successful businesses are doing this every day on Twitter. Additionally, with the recent deal between Google and Twitter, tweets will now show up in Google's search results! This makes Twitter an excellent tool for promoting your business online.
- Google Plus: Google Plus basically functions like a cross between Facebook and Twitter. It has fewer users than the other sites, but it does have one big advantage the others don’t have – it’s run by Google, the world’s biggest search engine. Google will use your Google Plus page in search results, so it will get lots of promotion when people search for your business. It pays to keep your Google Plus profile up to date and to post the same content there that you post on Twitter and Facebook.
But how do I actually use these sites?
The end goal of your social media accounts should be to have lots of followers so you can promote your business to them, but getting those followers can be tricky. However, by investing a few hours per week, you can build up your brand and attract followers.
- Start with content. If you’re going to be posting to social media, you need something to post. If you can start blogging about your business and your industry, that would be ideal – you can share links to your blog posts through your social media accounts. Even if you don’t have a blog, you can make small posts that offer interesting information or tips about your industry.
- Start finding followers. Once you have some content to start with, you can start looking for people who will want to follow you. Twitter and Google Plus make this easier – you may have earned some followers already just from posting content they were interested in. You can find more Twitter followers by searching for subjects related to your industry, finding people who are talking about those subjects, and reaching out to them. Finding Facebook followers is a bit more difficult, but you can start by asking your friends and family to like your Facebook page. You can also provide your customers with incentives, like discounts or special promotions, for clicking Like on your page.
- Keep engaging with your followers. Your priority should be to build a relationship with your followers on social media rather than pitching them your business. You can do this by continuing to post interesting content, and also by directly engaging with them. If someone follows your business account on Twitter or tweets at you, respond to them and follow them in return. If someone comments on something you post on Facebook, thank them for their comment. Make your customers feel like they know you and your brand, and they will reward you with their loyalty.
Of course, there is a lot more that you can do with social media, and this post is only scratching the surface. We haven’t even touched on other services like YouTube, LinkedIn, Pinterest, or Instagram which can all be used to interact with your customers in unique and interesting ways. The main thing to remember is just that the purpose of social media is to form relationships with your customers – keep this in mind and you’ll be well on your way to creating online buzz for your business.