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Social Media: Valuable Marketing Tools or Time Waster?

social mediaIt seems like almost everyday a new social media site joins the throng vying for our attention and time. We hear that Web 2.0 – the interactive way to reach your customers – is the best vehicle for building your brand.

But the time involved to research and understand and experiment can take our eyes of the focus of our business. So is Social Media the new “must have” for small business owners or is it a big time-suck?

I have been blogging for a couple years and enjoy the opportunity to share my thoughts, ask questions and point out new tools and resources. I have jumped on board with LinkedIn and Facebook but I hesitate to participate in any other venues simply because time is valuable and rather than be minimally involved in ten different social media options, I would rather focus my efforts. But have I selected the best vehicles for my business? And how do I use them?

Anita recently conducted an informal survey of 17 tech-savvy individuals, asking what social media venue they’d recommend [1]. Many recommended Facebook as their social media of choice. It was interesting that although some mentioned Twitter, StumbleUpon and blogs in general, no one mentioned LinkedIn. Is it just too limiting?

In an effort to save you time, I’ve done a little research on some of the social media solutions and gathered a few resources in one location for your review. Let’s start with Facebook:

Shara Karasic reviews the steps of Creating a Facebook Fan Page for Your Business. Once your page is set up, Shara talks about the importance of providing value on your page to create a need in the fans to return, noting “Keep your fans happy by offering them useful and relevant info, a place where they can connect with other fans, applications they can use, and special updates just for them. Facebook recommends messaging fans no more than twice per month. Remember, the more users interact with your page, the more News Feed stories for users’ friends are created, magnifying awareness of your page.”

Shara also has written a similar guide for those interested in checking out Twitter, the quick way to connect with readers based on the question “what are you doing right now?” But how can Twitter help your business? In Shara’s article she talks about the growing number of people looking to Twitter first for the latest information, noting “Reporters these days are searching Twitter as a starting point, and many people are ignoring their feed readers in favor of getting the most important links of the day at Twitter.”

So what about LinkedIn? I have used it as an effective way to reconnect with prior colleagues. I’ve seen many use it successfully after being downsized to make career connections. In his Guide to Getting The Most Out of LinkedIn. Greg Brown reminds readers how important it is to take advantage of the ‘recommendation’ feature of your LinkedIn profile, when he writes “One of the most-ignored features of the system is recommendations, where you either write a pithy comment on someone’s work with you, or have one written about you (you must request it). I have seen recruiters only ask about connections with recommendations. It’s that strong an indicator of trust.”

Have you heard of a Squidoo Lens? It’s a separate web page you can create to turn the spotlight on a single aspect of your business. Seth Godin shares a few thoughts on Squidoo and also links to an example so you can see this social media vehicle in action. Seth talks about the value of a Squidoo Lens for raising charity funds. “Squidoo has been around since early 2006 … it’s the fastest-growing philanthropy co-op in the online world. Even more important to you, it’s an easy way to build a directory of your blog or your corporate website.” Having set up a Squidoo Lens myself, I can tell you the process is simple and self-explanatory. Worth checking out as yet one more way to spread the word about your business.

Then of course there is blogging. I would be remiss if I didn’t provide an interesting article on: How to Market Your Business With a Blog. Brian Brown offers a convincing article for those that have resisted the urge to start a blog. The first step? Pick a niche. Brian says, “Write articles on what you know in your field. You can write them from what you know off the top of your head, or find items other people have written and respond and/or build on their thoughts.”

Jon Rognerud offers a composite article about a variety of social media resources with a little comment about each in his Guide to Social Search and Search Engine Optimization for the Internet. If social networking is still too intimidating, take comfort in Jon’s article. He explains that social networking is really just a conversation with your neighbor over the back fence with a technological twist, which allows your backyard to become global. “It turns out we humans still rely on other humans and technology simply allows us to expand the boundaries of our social networks. Studies have proven what we already knew intuitively, we pay attention to recommendations from real people.”

What social media solutions have you used for your business? Have you decided to select just one vehicle or are you dabbling in a variety? How’s that working for you? Do you find you spend more time keeping up or is it time well spent because of the relationships you are developing? Weigh in here with your thoughts on social media.