How To Grow Your Small Business Using Social Media

Are you a small business owner looking for ways to grow your business? Are you looking to attract more leads to your business, or have heard about Social Media Marketing, and now want to try it?As a small business owner you face many challenges – limited capital, minimal support staff and having too much to do in what seems like very little time. So, how do you grow your small business without heavy investment in marketing and advertising? Answer – through the use of technology. Web 2.0 provides you with various tools and techniques that help you to generate leads and increase the exposure of your home-based business. Social media is one such tool. Here’s all you need to know as a small business owner to begin increasing revenues using social media.What is Social Media?
Social Media is a category of online media where people are talking, participating, sharing, networking, and bookmarking online. Examples include Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, GooglePlus, and MySpace.What is Social Media Marketing?
Social media marketing is using the above mentioned platforms to reach a new audience of consumers and create product brand awareness. By spreading word of a product from user to user, Social Media Marketing strives to gain greater legitimacy for a message because it is shared between trusted “friends.”Which Social Media Channels are most popular?
Studies show that Facebook & Twitter are most popular social media channels followed closely by YouTube and LinkedIn, GooglePlus.Why should Social Media Marketing Interest me?
If you think this kind of Marketing is not for you, think again. These platforms offer a large bundle of benefits to small business owners. Here are some reasons why you should consider using Social Media for your business.Exposure: As a small business owner you rely largely on network marketing to channel leads to your business – which, in turn relies on your interaction with people. This is the core notion of what Social Media is! But Social Media offers virtually unlimited opportunities to interact with people – millions of them! With this interesting form of marketing, your business is no longer limited to local leads; you will find leads coming in from a diversified geographic market!Zero-cost: While other marketing media would be expensive, this type of marketing is relatively free, or requires negligible monetary investment. It’s a great low-cost way to get your message across.Improved web presence: Being on popular social media platforms strengthens your web presence. The more people talk about you on Facebook or Twitter, the greater are the chances of your business being found on relevant web searches such as Google, Yahoo!, or Bing.Direct contact with prospects: These platforms put you in touch with your customers directly. You can have one-on-one contact with them, know what they really want.Go viral: Such marketing offers you the opportunity to go viral with your marketing. Think about this. You put up a video about your business on YouTube. 10 people like it, and five of them share it with their friends, who in-turn share it with 20 more people. This is known as “viral marketing,” and it can be a very effective method to increase your lead generation.What is a Social Media “game plan” and why should you have one?
A social media game plan is a process consisting of a few simple steps that can help you achieve your social media marketing objectives. The social media arena is large and you can get lost in it if you don’t play by the rules. There’s a lot of competition and you have to have a clear plan if you want to stand out of the crowd and get noticed.Your ideal Social Media game plan
A typical game plan for your business should consist of these four stepsBuild your network
Propagate your presence
Stay connected
MonitorStep 1 – build your network: The first step is to search for and add those users to your network whom you think fall into your target audience segment. When placing a request to add users to your network, it is always better to accompany such requests with a personalized message. You can also look for and join groups that pertain to your line of business. For example, if you are a business selling Health drinks and other health-related products, you could join groups where topics such as nutrition, diet or health are discussed. Such groups provide you audience for the products you have to offer. However, when in a group, do remember to ADD VALUE. Answer questions that you are equipped to answer, actively participate in discussions, be subtle and don’t aggressively “push” your products.Step 2-propagate: The next step is to announce your Social Media presence. You can do this by adding links to your social media pages on your website, e-mail signature line or newsletter, if you have one. You are out there with your business-announce it!Step 3-stay connected:The third step is to stay connected with your fans and group members. Social media marketing initiative is easy to start, but requires effort to maintain. And like many networking efforts, results are usually not immediate. Acquire permission from group members and others on your network to send e-mails. You can then e-mail relevant content to people on your network. The key here is to send RELEVANT, VALUE ADDING content-not an advertisement of your products/services. If you are a health-drink selling company who is also a part of the diet and nutrition group, you can send links such as ’10 Best Anti-Oxidant Rich Fruits’ and then perhaps add an image and some information about your product, encouraging people to get in touch with you if they’re interested. This approach will be better-received than just sending the prospects an e-mail flyer totally dedicated to your product.Dos and Don’ts
While social networking is all about human interaction and cannot be strait-jacketed, here are some tips that will come in handy.What you should do?
Add value to your contacts: Always add value to your contacts. Always! Provide them useful information, tips and other interesting facts that they can use. For example, Jane, a home-based business owner sells health drinks and weight loss products. So, it makes sense for her to provide her audience with interesting articles on the topic of weight loss.Be consistent in your online participation: It is not a one-time effort. It is about building a relationship… and relationships take time. Be consistent in your social media communication. Have an interesting tweet/post/update at least every day. In some few cases, multiple postings a day are even better-but don’t forget rule#1-add value. Your posts shouldn’t sound like pointless ramblings or advertisements of your product/service.Pay attention to what’s being discussed: If you have joined a forum or a group, actively participate in relevant discussions. Use your specific, professional knowledge to help others. Contribute to add depth and dimension to a discussion.Conversation is the key: As mentioned before, social media marketing thrives on relationships. To build a strong relationship with your prospects, you need to engage in a conversation with them. Maintain a 2-way communication between you and your audience. Take genuine interest in what they have to say and follow up on comments or observations that are made.Thoroughly know the subject you are talking about: Position yourself as an expert on these platforms. But be sure that you know what you’re talking about. Research if you aren’t sure of something. Mistakes on these platforms spread quickly and damage the reputation of your business.Personalize your interaction: It’s advisable to personalize your interaction with your audience. Inquire about an event or occasion posted on a Wall, such as a recent trip, or “like” their vacation pictures on Facebook.Portray your individuality: The biggest advantage small business owners have over large corporations is the fact that they are much smaller and haven’t lost that real-person feel. Let your audience know the person behind the business. Make sure your interactions include a personal side!Respond to your customers’ grievances ASAP: Did you know that 88% of customers say unanswered complaints on social media sites deter them from doing repeat business? And deleting customer complaints is even worse! So make sure you resolve your customer’s complaints on social media platforms immediately. Even if you can’t resolve them, at least respond so that they know they’re being heard. Acknowledge everything.Mention your Social Media presence: Advertise your profiles. Always provide links to your social media profile in your website, blog, e-mails and even print materials. For websites and blogs, it’s best to add Facebook and twitter widgets which provide a live feed of what’s happening on your Facebook/twitter page, right there on your website or blog. Provide incentives or value adding information such as whitepapers or articles in order to encourage people to follow you on social media sites!Monitor & moderate: Monitor your social media presence. Find out where your name’s coming up online and in what context it has been used. A Google alert is the simplest way to do this, though there are many free tools available online to monitor your web presence. Also stay in-control of your social media pages. Read what others are putting up on your page and respond promptly.Syndicate your Social Media content: Content creation takes time. So why not make the most of the content you have? Post your content on all popular social media sites and don’t hesitate to re-use them. Turn a blog post into a link and put it on Facebook. Convert it into a video and add to YouTube and Facebook or turn it into a presentation and put it up on SlideShare. The aim is to get maximum exposure for your content.What you should not do?DON’T overtly push your products/services: Social media is a platformwhere you build relationships, to create value. It’s NOT an advertising venue. Your audiencewill shun you if all you talk about is the stuff you sell. Think about it, would you talk to your familyand friends about the products you sell all the time? Of course not! Then don’t treat yoursocial media audience any differently.DON’T spam your contacts with pointless updates: OK, so now you added two new products to your line-up. While it’s great to share the news, don’t spam your contacts with ads. Put up a link to the new range of products; monitor who is interested and share information on a need-to-know basis.DON’T have grammar and spelling errors in your posts: You are a small business out to create an impression. Don’t spoil it through spelling and grammatical errors. Use spelling/grammar checking tools, but never rely solely on them. Proofread your posts before putting them up online. If spelling or grammar is not your strong suit, have someone else proofread your work before it goes outDON’T fail to respond to requests for help in your area of expertise: If you are a part of a group or forum, seize every opportunity to display your expertise. Don’t be a wallflower-actively participate in discussions.DON’T let your profile get stale: Make sure your profile is frequently updated and that you offer something new. One mistake many small business owners make is creating social media profiles and then forgetting about them. Your social media efforts have to be on-going to bear results.DON’T get distracted: There’s a lot of distraction available online-especially on social media channels that can make you lose track of your productive hours online. Games, quizzes, forums and live-chats-while these can be interesting tools to attract prospect interest, focus on your goals. Otherwise you’ll find yourself investing too much time and energy into activities that offer no returns to your business.

Small Business and Social Media – Made For Each Other

Small businesses are slowly discovering that there are cheap, efficient ways to advertise. While big companies pour zillions of dollars into television, newspapers and billboards, small businesses are turning to the social media to spread the word – and to spread the word cheaply.As just about everyone who will read this article on the internet knows, the so-called ‘social media’ are attracting more and more eyeballs, as people communicate easily and quickly using Facebook, Twitter and their cousins. Both on their cellphones and on their computers — both desktop and laptop — people are finding each other and chatting everywhere and often. Some people use these outlets to communicate with family and old friends. Others find new people all over the world to meet and greet. There are even some writers who are saying that the old standard – email – is fast disappearing as a part of social lives because of the success of the social media.As users of the new social media can testify, there are also other people who have discovered their new toy. There are many advertisers on these systems. When it comes to email, the word ‘spam’ has become popular to describe advertisers who do not seem to know when to quit. Well, just as advertisers learned to spam email, advertisers are also spamming the social media.One of the major differences between email spammers and social media spammers is that small business can afford social media spamming much more readily than email spamming. For that reason, small businesses are gradually learning how to maximize their presence in this new venue.No one needs to cite statistics to explain that traditional advertising is expensive. It costs a great deal to place an ad of any size in newspapers. It costs more to have a blurb on television. Billboards are up there near the top in costs. For this reason, these traditional outlets have been used mostly by large corporations and businesses.Spam email costs less than the traditional media cited above. But it costs quite a bit. To design and disburse a message over email requires a surprising amount of money. Maybe the costs of email are not at the top of the list. But it does costs. If you actually still use email, check your inbox. You will see that just about all the spammy stuff is sponsored by big companies. Mom and pop outfits cannot afford to be in this competition.But the costs of advertising over the new social media is quite small. There are many programs available for less than $100 which will send messages over the social media to hundreds and thousands of readers. Some of these low cost programs can even spread their messages over limited geographical areas. Let us say you want to send an advertising message only to twitterers in Chicago. Piece of cake. With an investment of less than a hundred dollars, just a few hours preparation time on the net and a few clicks, a smart advertisers can have all Twitterers in Chicago know where to find the best pizza in town.Small business owners do not usually have a lot of spare time or money to devote to internet and computer things. And very few of them are handy at the computer keyboard. But if they can crack the very simple mystery of working the social media they can bring their businesses into the twenty-first century and have lots of budget left over for another day.

Publicity: A Wild Card for Small Business

Publicity is the great wild card for small businesses. Certainly, advertising can be effective. However, a story in the media about you, your product, or your company generally carries far more weight and legitimacy than any paid for ads. Such a story is likely to reach both consumers and any intermediate customers, such as retailers. Because management generally has more time to read than buyers and other middle-level people, a news story or human-interest feature may have a disproportionate impact on decision makers. And finally, the cost to you can range from minimal (an investment of your time) to more substantial. However, it is usually lower than the cost of “equivalent” advertising.A story in the media generally carries far more weight and legitimacy than any paid for ads.How do you get started? If you have the money, hire a public relations firm. Try to retain a company that has prior experience with your kind of products or services and the kind of media you want to reach. If you are inclined to hire a large PR firm, ask to meet with the person who will be working directly on your account. In all cases, ask to see a proposed plan or approach to the job before you commit. I’d recommend interviewing more than one company, and I would definitely ask for and check references. This may surprise you, but I’d be suspicious of any PR people who “guarantee” results. Unlike advertising, there are no guarantees that something will appear in the media or that you’ll like what appears.You don’t have to make a long-term commitment; you can hire a PR firm on a trial basis-say, ninety days. Once the firm is retained, plan on being an active participant in their activities. In general, reporters like to meet with the person who started the company or who is running it today. If that’s you, be available and helpful. Make sure you understand and approve of the “angle” that your PR firm is pitching and to which media their angles are directed.If you can’t afford a PR firm, you can get the ball rolling yourself. One way is to go after your local newspaper. Think of that paper as a giant furnace that needs constant stoking and think of your story as tomorrow’s (or next Sunday’s) fuel. They may not know it, but they need you. Read the paper thoroughly and decide which department or columnist is the best fit with your product, service, or company. Make a phone call or write a letter to that department or individual, asking for an in-person meeting. This same approach can be employed with your local radio and TV stations.In this initial overture and also in the follow-up meeting, your job is to pique their interest. Give them the kind of material they need. What’s interesting about you? Is it the way you came up with the idea for the business? Is there something unusual in your background or the way the company is structured? Are you providing good jobs locally? Is your product indicative of a new trend?Of course, this is harder to pull off if your local newspaper is the New York Times or the Washington Post. However, these media giants, too, need stories every day. Think creatively about the different sections of your targeted newspaper, especially if it’s a major circulation daily, and determine which sections could possibly be interested in a story in addition to the business section?Another valuable but generally more difficult approach is to pitch the wire services (Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, etc.) directly. These companies are also in the “fuel-providing” business but on a large scale-a story from one of these services can appear in hundreds of newspapers, radio, and TV stations around the country. It is helpful to understand that the wire services and other media need you as much as you need them.Remember, too, that this pipeline goes both ways. Stories by individual newspapers can get picked up by a wire service and garner national attention.Don’t overlook the other media that are out there either. For example, many consumer magazines for example run “new product” sections and “gift guides” for certain holidays (Valentine’s, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Christmas, etc.). Someone in your company should regularly submit pictures and short descriptions of your new products to these kinds of outlets. You may be surprised at how many of these descriptions get picked up verbatim and how that translates into good orders. Similarly, most medium-sized and larger cities have at least one locally oriented magazine (Boston, Philadelphia, New York, Miami, and so on) that can be fertile ground for your story idea or new product description. Read the publication and write your ideas in the style the publication uses. The more work they have to do, the less your chances of inclusion. Note deadlines and publication lead times.Industry magazines, newsletters, and newspapers are almost always excellent prospects for free publicity. In many cases they will run your releases about new products. Most have reporters on staff who are on the lookout for good stories for the next issues. Get to know them. There’s a common misperception that you only get coverage in trade publications if you also buy advertising space, but in my experience that’s not true. If you want to buy advertising, fine. It can’t hurt your chances. But your immediate goal should be to sell them on your bright prospects. This is the news story they’re looking for. And incidentally, the brighter your prospects look, the more likely it is that these media will look at you as a potential advertiser.In many ways, TV is the most powerful medium of all. It’s visual, visceral, and far better at evoking and implying things. However, the economic stakes are much higher, which makes it much harder to get attention from TV programs. So send those story ideas and new product descriptions to your local TV stations and follow up-but don’t do so at the expense of other, more accessible media, including radio.Amy Love, an entrepreneur, was very effective in promoting her start-up by soliciting local TV stations to appear as a guest to discuss her venture. Her success was predicated on her willingness to do what most people would not… namely get up at 4-5 a.m. to go to the TV studio.PRESS RELEASES
The best way to initially approach the media is by sending one-page press releases to targeted media people. The release can be about you, your company, your product, your philosophy, the company’s or your accomplishment, or any interesting fact of the above. Including relevant humor is a plus. This release via email or snail mail is the least expensive initial approach. If you use email, work hard to make the subject line compelling. Never include attachments unless a reporter specifically requests it. Cut and paste the press release in the body of the email.If your target list is extensive, I would try sending a small amount initially (25). See how that works. If it doesn’t alter your message, you could initially test different approaches to determine the most effective. I would simultaneously test email and regular mail. Email, of course, is less expensive, especially if your list is a large one.After your initial foray, the key to the game is follow up. Your goal is to get a personal meeting or a phone interview.When you are successful in getting your story printed or broadcast, promote it. Send it to your sales force, employees, investors, buyers, other stakeholders, and other media. The other media can be in different cities, different media, or national media. Your first story will give you credibility with other media.Most of the time, I would not send unsolicited samples to the media. It is wasteful and more important will not be seen by your target. Also, in some peoples’ minds, it cheapens your product. I would do everything to encourage the media person you are contacting to ask for a free sample.EVENTS AND PROMOTIONS
Events and promotions are part of public relations. Done well, a promotional event can be an affordable and highly effective way of generating major sales of your product. I believe that money well spent in this arena gives you much more bang for your buck than traditional advertising. And because events call for more creativity than money, they are doubly suited for new and growing companies.Because events call for more creativity than money,they are doubly suited for new and growing companiesThe best events and promotions are those that are designed specifically for your product or service. The tie-ins between the event and your product’s benefits should be clear and memorable-not only to help sell the product but also to discourage competitors from trying similar stunts. If possible, hook up with an appropriate partner who can bring a major contribution to the table. (This could be money, a brand name, or marketing savvy.) If you use third-party individuals or organizations to help stage the event, you should make sure that everyone gets sufficient benefit from the event to give it their all.Let me give an example from my own experience. Our company, Reiss Games, developed and introduced a line of magic. We designed full-color packaging to contain a collection of tried-and-true magic tricks that could be learned in a very short time. Fifteen minutes was our targeted learning curve. We purposely stayed away from tricks that required sleight-of-hand dexterity and also from tricks that professional magicians use to make their living.To develop the line, I signed up for an evening course on magic that was taught by the celebrated magician, George Schindler. The course was geared to beginners like me, and it was a great deal of fun.Eventually, we signed Schindler to help us develop the line, and for a period of about two months, our office was a fun factory. George would come and demonstrate tricks that met our easy-to-learn requirement.We’d select a trick, cost out and fabricate its components, and develop a suitable line of patter that our customers could use. (Patter is a magician’s word to connote what you say as you perform a trick. It helps to fool your audience, and we referred to it as “slight of mouth.”) All told, we prepared a line of twenty-four kits and introduced them to the marketplace.One of our customers was J.C. Penney, which sold our line through their catalog and retail stores. It was very successful for us and for them. As a result, we sat down with Penney to figure out a strategy for increasing sales of the magic kits.Penney’s buyer for the magic line was very bright and ambitious. He came up with the idea that we demonstrate the magic in his retail stores which he projected would drive up sales dramatically. We suspected he was right, but demonstrations are personnel-intensive and, therefore, very expensive. We declined this opportunity to become poor.However, the Penney buyer loved our line, thought it had great upside potential, and kept after us. We knew we had to do something to satisfy this important customer, yet we couldn’t figure out what we could do that would be both effective and affordable. Then I remembered one of the many conversations I had had with George Schindler.Over lunch one day, Schindler had told me about the Society of American Magicians. This group had some 10,000 members at that time-mostly amateurs who had to demonstrate a certain skill level to gain acceptance into the society. Schindler had explained that one of the society’s missions was to perpetuate the art of magic. One way they did this was to declare a “National Magic Week” every October. The goal of National Magic Week was to commemorate the death of escape artist, Harry Houdini, and to perpetuate the art of magic. During National Magic Week, magicians around the country performed in hospitals, nursing homes, and a variety of other venues where they could get an audience.I remembered this conversation well. I also thought about the magicians I knew, including Schindler. They came from all different walks of life, but almost without exception, they loved magic. They loved performing a good trick well. They craved the spotlight and, in many cases, didn’t get enough of it.After thinking through the rough details of a plan, I asked Schindler to set up a meeting between the president of the Society of American Magicians and me. At that meeting I said that we could help the society in its goal of promoting magic and that we could put large numbers of magicians in front of appreciative crowds-in J.C. Penney stores. We couldn’t pay these performers, but we could probably persuade Penney to run local ads featuring the event and the magician, including a promotional picture of the performer. The president was intrigued and suggested that I broach the idea at the society’s upcoming national convention.I immediately accepted this invitation. I then called a quick meeting with my Penney buyer and laid out my scheme. “I’m pretty sure I can get top magicians to perform in your stores at no charge,” I told him, “if you can advertise the events and put the performer’s name and picture in each ad.” He said he was interested but would have to go up the ladder to find the necessary ad dollars. Together we went down the hall to Penney’s head of Public Relations who controlled a healthy discretionary budget. The PR head liked the idea-so much so that he suggested that he accompany me to the society’s convention. I assume that the fact that this meant three days in Miami Beach during the winter had some bearing on his decision.The day came, and I proposed my deal to the assembled magicians. I emphasized that there would be no pay involved-only good publicity and most likely a good crowd. I ended my pitch by saying that when the meeting was over, Penney’s PR director and I would be at a desk in the lobby, ready to sign up anybody who wanted to participate. We had no idea what kind of response we’d get. To our amazement, by the time we got to the lobby, we had scores of magicians standing in line, eager for the chance to sign up and perform.Penney delivered on its part of the bargain magnificently. They produced an ad with a banner headline reading: “J.C. Penny and the Society of American Magicians Celebrate National Magic Week.” Below the headline, the ad included the date and time of the demonstrations and a picture of the local performing magician. For our part, we hired (on a contract basis) a PR specialist who worked out of her house in California to coordinate the effort.In my view, this was a win-win-win: Penney got their demonstrations at no cost to them, sold tons of merchandise, and earned excellent publicity and goodwill through their affiliation with the magicians. The society got far more publicity than it had ever received. Individual magicians got their names and pictures in their hometown newspaper with the Penney “seal of approval” implicitly associated with them. We sold goods and greatly enhanced our relationship with a key customer-at hardly any cost to us.The lessons I took away from this and similar experiences include the following:Understand people’s emotional buttons
Everything is possible.
Understand people’s emotional buttons (e.g., many magicians crave recognition more than money).
Don’t be embarrassed to state your intentions clearly and bluntly. In this case we needed to get magicians to perform for us for no pay. Our frankness seemed to be appreciated.
Persistence can pay off in both directions. In this case, the persistence of the Penney buyer set the stage for a very successful promotion. In other cases, it’s been my persistence that made the difference.
Think outside the box. Yes, this is becoming a tiresome cliché, but it captures the essence of a great promotion: how can we do something so fresh and different that the customer and consumer will find us irresistible?