I was able to attend Search Engine Strategies New York last week and one of the big topics of conversation (not surprisingly) was small business owners and social media. There were panels dedicated to why social media was vital for small business owners, how to listen better and how they could use social media to reach business goals. And it all sounds good on the outside. But from the inside social media can be scary to those wary of dedicating time and resources to an area where they’re unsure. If you’re a small business owner that wants to get involved, where should you start? How does one become fluent in this whole “social media” thing?
Well, here’s a guide to use.
Create a Plan
You wouldn’t launch any other kind of marketing effort without taking time to understand what you’re doing and what you want to get from it, so social media shouldn’t be any different. While the thought of social media can be exciting, don’t jump in without a net. Take some time to figure out why you’re there and what you’re really looking to get out of it. What are the actions that will help your business to grow? Once you know what your goal is, it will help you figure out how to best measure it. If you don’t have a way to measure your goals, then you’re not investing in social media. You’re just playing with it.
Some things to look at may be:
- Brand sentiment
- Press mentions
- Page views
- Blog subscribers
- Blog comments
- Social engagement
- Conversions (!)
Own Your Name
Before you start any social effort, you want to make sure you own your name on all the social media outlets. I know you probably hear it a lot, but it’s super important that you’re able to keep a consistent brand identity among all of the channels that you use. You don’t want to be AmysFlowers on Twitter and Facebook only to be FlowersByAmy on YouTube because your “real” name was already taken. Knowem.com is a great service that will check (for free) where your name is or is not available on a large number of social media sites. There are also paid services available that will actually go out and register these accounts for you. Even if you don’t opt for a paid subscription, just the ability to search for available social media names is priceless. [And it actually is priceless, since it’s free.]
Set Up Your Microhouses
Once you have all your social media accounts locked up, you want to decide which ones you’re going to be active on. I recommend choosing two or three to get started with. I’d start with a small number because it will be impossible to create thriving on communities on more than that and, also, because you’re invariably going to hit a learning curve (or two) when first getting started. You don’t want to repeat the same mistakes on all of your accounts. Choose a few to get your feet wet and once you learn what you’re doing and what works for your brand, add more as they make sense. Truthfully, it’s far better to pick a small number of sites to build out real presences on than to form a shallow presence on a multitude of sites. It’s quality not quantity.
If you’re not sure which sites are best for your brand, do a bit of research to find out. Ask your customers which sites they most commonly use, look at your site logs to see where you get traffic from, and identify the sites that are most popular in your industry.
Enable Social Sharing
Outside of creating your own personal social media presence, you want to make it easy for people to incorporate your brand into their own. That means using plugins that encourage people to share your content on places like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and beyond. Making it easy for people to share and promote your content, increases the chances that they will and it gets your name and face in front of a much larger audience.
Some plugins you may want to check out include:
- Share This
- Social Bookmarks
- Tell A Friend
Create Rules For Engagement
Once you get your brand social media-ready it’s time to start thinking about how you’re going to engage with your audience. What are you going to do when someone calls you a moron? Who will be responsible for creating your public voice? What role will social media have in the company? Who on your team will be responsible for creating and managing your presence? Will you engage as the brand or as a person from the brand?
These are all things you want to have worked out before you enter your voice into social media. The more cohesive brand strategy you can create, the better you’ll be able to handle whatever social media throws at you. It’s far preferred to know how you’ll handle a brand attack before one actually develops. If you wait for the situation to arise before outlining a solution, you’re going to find yourself making frazzled and emotional decisions. Create your social media policy BEFORE you actually need one.
Once the groundwork has been laid, it’s time to get in the conversation and start interacting with folks. By this point you’re probably champing at the bit to go out and talk to people, so get to it! Find the folks talking about your brand and start having real conversations with them. Use Twitter tools to locate the folks in your immediate neighborhood and hear what’s important to them. Take the opportunity that social media gives you to become a real person and use it to humanize who you are, get out your core beliefs and attract the people looking for someone like you. Engagement is the “fun part” of social media.
Set up a Process To Watch The Action
Once you’re settled into social media, you’ll want to set up some tools to help you monitor the activity so you know and when to hop in. Last week I mentioned a few great Twitter sentiment tools, but there are others you should be aware of. I wrote a post not so long ago about how to find conversations by tracking brand mentions that outlines a number of great tools and how to use them. It may be worth a read, as the post outlines tools like Google Alerts, Twitter Search, Social Mention and many others.
Hopefully the above will help SMB owners outline their first steps into social media. Is there anything I’ve missed or that you think should be done differently?