The realm of social media — dominated by the likes of Facebook and Twitter — is currently going through a metamorphosis. Once thought to be the wild wild west of cellphone slinging teenagers, social media is maturing into a viable venue for small businesses to reach out to their customers. Social media web sites can be a conduit for small businesses to communicate with existing customers, earn the business of new customers, and to further establish their reputation as experts in their field. So how does a small business go about getting started with the overwhelming task of tackling social media?
I recently had the privilege to see Jacques Habra of Noospheric give a talk on the roles small businesses can play in online social media. During his talk he gave three steps for using social media to give your small business a greater online presence.
- Become a Resource
The first step to increasing your presence is simply to offer something of value to your audience. Being a resource means aggregating content and links that you find useful and disseminating them through various online channels. For example, I follow a friend on Twitter who works in IT and is constantly providing useful links to the most current highlights related to computers, mobile devices and related electronics. Thanks to Chris’ tweets I know things like when to update my iPhone and what HDTV is the best to buy. And guess what? If I have any IT issues I need help with, Chris is going to be one of the first people I contact. Being a resource not only provides your audience with useful information, it keeps you in their periphery and makes them far more likely to give you their business.
- Become an Expert
The process of distributing content through online social media channels will inevitably lead to you becoming an expert in your field. Having read all of those articles and engaged in conversations with your audience you will begin to form opinion and insight. Now it’s time to take it a step further and let your audience know what you think. Don’t hold back. The stronger your opinions the better. We all have our favorite blogs we like to read. Those writers draw us in because we view them as experts in their field. To become an expert in your field, do likewise. Start writing original content and publish it on your blog. Then post links back to your blog on various social media web sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Becoming an expert is not an overnight transformation. It will take time, perhaps a year, to generate a volume of written material and an appreciative audience. Be patient and persistent and it will pay off in dividends. Not only will you have an audience willing to help disseminate your content, Google and other search engines will reward you with higher search results due to the volume of indexable content.
- Build a Community
Perhaps the most difficult step to pull off is to create a community around your small business and its area of expertise. Building community means providing a platform for conversation and knowledge sharing. The medium — Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn — becomes secondary to the message, a conversation which you’ve begun but your community is building upon. It’s not an easy thing to do, but building community provides your small business with a platform you control. This control gives you the ability to moderate conversations when the trolls invade and gives you a venue for the subtle and effective advertising of your expertise. But most importantly, building a community makes your small business a contributor, an altruistic patron of the Internet. You’ll be giving your time and bandwidth to a community larger than you and that community will reward you with its loyalty and word-of-mouth referrals.
How exactly do you build community? There are several ways. The easiest, perhaps, is to start a fan page on Facebook and encourage friends and acquaintances to join. Use this fan page to start conversations with your audience. From there it will grow to your fans friends and acquaintances. Another method of building community is to start a group on LinkedIn. Akin to a bulletin board, members can start and contribute to conversations.
There are plenty of other niched web sites that provide a platform for building community. Once you’ve gone through the stages of becoming a resource and an expert you will be more familiar with what social media web sites to target.
Getting started using social media to market your business can be overwhelming at first. And, yes, there are far more ways to use social media than what I’ve outlined above. However, very few businesses are currently taking advantage of social media web sites. And even if you only make it through step one you will be far ahead of your competition and well on your way to engaging your audience online. The most important thing is to get started and take it one step at a time. It will only get easier as you become more familiar with the conventions and uses of online social media.