Social Media 101: 5 Reasons Why Your Small Business Must Use It!

“How can you squander even one more day not taking advantage of the greatest shifts of our generation? How dare you settle for less when the world has made it so easy for you to be remarkable!”  Seth Godin, Guerrilla Marketing for Home-Based Businesses

social media iconsIf you’re a small business owner who hasn’t embraced social media as a tool in your brand-building toolbox, you are not alone, but you are in the minority. Over 80% of small businesses are using social media to connect with their consumers, and of those who do 3 out of 5 say it has helped them gain new customers. With 74% of online adults using social media and 80% of those preferring to connect to brands using Facebook, you have a golden opportunity to engage your people, build your brand and, as Seth Godin says, “be remarkable”.

But why, you say?

Here are five fantastic reasons why every small business must understand (and use!) social media:

1. Everyone is doing it.

Well almost – 2.2 billion people use social media worldwide, up 8.7% over last year ( with a 23.3% increase in mobile social media users). Every ad, newscast, magazine, article and website has a link or button referring people to their social pages. In the developed world, it is everywhere. How about that for peer pressure?

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2. It’s here to stay.

Ten years ago social media was in its infancy and people thought (or maybe hoped) it was a passing fad. No more. Today Facebook has 1.44 billion active users! There are hundreds of other social networks and more being developed each day. Millennials are driving the use and growth of social media, and Generation Z is growing up with it. It’s not going away.

3. Your consumers are already there and they talk to each other.

People of all ages are engaging, chatting, researching, and buying products and services online. To the under-35 set, if you’re not on social media, you don’t exist. Baby Boomers are getting more savvy, using social tools to converse with friends about products and services. For the first time in history, over half of internet users over the age of 65 are using Facebook. Heck, even my Greatest Generation 85- and 89-year-old parents use Facebook these days! Before social media, people shared their opinions about products and services with their small circle of local friends and family members. They still do – but now they have hundreds or thousands of friends online – and they share their opinions with just a few clicks.

4. Social media can help you do all sorts of useful things with relative ease.

– Build your brand and manage its reputation. Did you know that 50 percent of small businesses have seen listings for their business that are not accurate? Do you know if your customers are talking about you online to their friends? (They are.) What are they saying? Is it helping your brand and building your business? What is your message? What do you want your customers to say?

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When I worked for a small nonprofit we discovered that people had created multiple Facebook pages for our organization and none of them had correct information. Using social media, you can help shape the conversation around your message, your products, services, your brand. But it’s not just about you. It’s about your audience, your consumers. Your message (like your product) must have value for them. Seth Godin, marketing guru and author, says marketers must show respect for the consumer and create buzz by being remarkable. He adds, “Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make, but about the stories you tell.” Your stories should include your customers who will help crystallize your message and build your brand.

– Connect with your audience/customers. “Social media was made for people, not brands”, says Neil Schaffer, Founder and Editor-In-Chief of Maximize Social Business. Remember that social networks are social. People want to feel valued and be heard. Being social means getting to know your customers, just like you would if they walked into your business one day, looked you in the eye and said hello. Social media analyst, Marsha Collier, claims “The most successful marketer becomes part of the lives of their followers. They follow back. They wish happy birthday. They handle problems their customers have with products or service. They grow their businesses and brands by involving themselves in their own communities.” Be genuine, authentic. People are pretty good at figuring out if you really care. Show your human side. Accept theirs. Play nice.

– Increase your reach and your ability to get “found” online. Your fans and followers will talk about you and your products and share your posts, photos, and videos to their hundreds or thousands of friends. Their posts will get shared, their tweets re-teweeted, and your circle of followers will expand. Your social presence and content, done right, will improve your chances of winding up on a Google search (there’s truth to all that SEO stuff!). Social media also offers some very inexpensive advertising through sponsored posts or targeted ads. These ads are usually cheap and can broaden your reach to a much wider geographical and demographic area.

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– Improve customer support. More and more, people are turning to social networks for customer service. It’s so easy to pop onto Facebook or Twitter and send a quick question (or rant). If someone asks a question, you will need to respond quickly. I once had an issue with my Comcast service and couldn’t get it resolved over the phone. I sent out an angry tweet to their customer service Twitter account and within 15 minutes had a call from the vice president of the company who got my issue resolved within 24 hours. Afterwards I blogged and tweeted about the positive response I’d gotten. That’s the power of social media. Your customers can become your best advertising.

– Enhance your professional connections. Social networks can improve your B2B connections and hook you up with other thought leaders in your profession. LinkedIn is a great place to have a free business page, connect to other people in your field, potential business and community partners, and engage in professional development. Twitter is another good  professional development network. When I first began using social media, I learned more by connecting to people in my field via Twitter than I was ever able to do at my place of work. It allowed me to get diverse perspectives from people all over the world, and they sent me links to professional resources that I would never have found otherwise. Twitter became the core of my professional learning network.

5. It’s cheap (but time-consuming).

There’s little cost to using social media. Startup access to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram are free. The trade-off is it takes time to manage and monitor. Social media should be part of your overall business strategy, not an end to itself. So planning, creating and publishing posts, tweets and updates and engaging with followers will require some effort and expertise. You’ll need to schedule time to work on it each day. If you don’t have the time to plan how to use it, then you don’t have time to do it at all. So, be sure about your commitment and strategy and make the time.

Convinced? Fantastic! Now…where do you begin? Easy. Start small – using one social network that fits your target demographic – then expand.

In my next two posts,  I’ll lay out some facts about three of the major social media platforms and give you some quick tips on how to use them to build your brand.

“A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is – it is what consumers tell each other it is.” – Scott Cook, Founder of Intuit

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