Though the buzz is strong, a study released last month from Citibank and Gfk Roper found that 76 percent of small business owners don’t find social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn helpful in generating leads and business. In fact, 86 percent said they don’t use social media sites to get advice or information. Instead, they’re relying on search engines.
According to the results released last month [emphasis mine]:
“Our survey suggests that small business owners are still feeling their way into social media, particularly when it comes to using these tools to grow their businesses,” said Maria Veltre, EVP of Citi’s Small Business Segment. “While social media can provide additional channels to network and help grow a business, many small businesses may not have the manpower or the time required take advantage of them.”
And I think that’s how the recent survey results should be taken — small business owners are still feeling their way in. It’s not that social media isn’t helpful. It’s simply a learning curve.
In truth, I actually think small business owners are among those doing social media the best. SMB owners simply know how to talk and engage their customers in ways that big businesses have forgotten. They know how to be human and relatable better than anyone. Where their struggle comes from is in the time investment involved in that initial learning curve.
How do you manage the time element?
Know Why You’re There
Social media becomes a time suck when you don’t have a purpose for what you’re doing. When you haven’t created a social media plan and you’re simply clicking around and engaging in every conversation you can get your hands on. Ideally, you want to list out what you’re trying to accomplish with social media and then identify the actions that will help you achieve those goals. You want to be able to measure social media success so that you can keep tabs on what you’re doing and determine what is or is not successful.
Determine Where, How To Engage
You can’t be everywhere. It’s just not realistic. Instead, figure out where it makes sense for you to engage. Maybe that’s Twitter. Or LinkedIn. Or a Delicious. Or a site that’s only big in your community. Either way, focusing only on certain sites helps you to focus your efforts and get the most out of them. It’s always better to pick two or three sites that you’ll want to put a lot of energy into than diluting that among 15.
Once you know where your community is and where you’ll be spending your time, create rules for how you’ll be engaging. What tone will you take? What will you say? How far can you go to fix someone’s problem? What types of conversations will you have? Outlining this beforehand will help you maximize your time when you do engage.
Use Tools To Help Overload
Social media tools help make it appear like you’re always there and engaging even when you’re really not. The trick is to find the tools that work for what you’re doing. For example, to manage your blogging, use a feed reader like Google Reader to help you keep track of the conversation and prioritize blogs into different topics and importance levels. If you’re using WordPress, schedule posts in advance and use plugins to make your blog more social media-friendly. If you’re using Twitter, use tools like Tweetdeck, HootSuite or Seesmic to help you manage conversation and schedule tweets ahead of time. Use Google Alerts via either email or RSS to keep track of social media mentions. Spend some time building a strong listening station now and you’ll put yourself in a better position to manage everything.
Create a Schedule, Set Limits
In my experience, the companies that have a hard time with social media are the ones who try to sit on the fence. They know they should engage, so they do.halfway. They’re dipping their toes in without making it part of their day-to-day routine. You need to schedule social media time the same way you schedule in all your other commitments. It has to be given the same attention and priority. By setting aside time to talk to people, to tweet fun things, to connect with your audience on Facebook, LinkedIn, etc, you help establish your presence and make it a real part of your organization. It’s important that you develop a consistence schedule so that users trust your presence.
Those are some ways I think small business owners could do a better job leveraging social media to see ROI. What are your thoughts?