Social media is more than just a way for old and new friends to connect. It is an inexpensive form of advertising for small businesses to softly promote their products and services.
The first step in promoting a business through social media is to make time to do it, said Janet Wagner, associate professor of marketing and director of the Center for Excellence in Service at the University of Maryland in College Park.
“This is a big issue for owners of a small business,” Wagner said. “They are pressed for time, but if they are really interested in growing their business, then they need to set aside time for this, even if it is just an hour a day.”
Kathryn Lively, manager of social media for Spider Writers, a division of web-design firm Ciniva Systems in Virginia Beach, recommended six steps for small businesses that want to connect with the public through social media:
Set up a Facebook page, Twitter account and YouTube account.
“These are the top three,” Lively said. Within those websites, interlink the accounts for cross promotion.
Once the social-media accounts are established, they must be updated regularly. Keep things fresh by offering discounts and deals to Facebook fans, Twitter followers and YouTube visitors.
“People love free stuff,” said Stuart Chamberlain, web development specialist for Currituck County Visitors’ Bureau. The bureau’s Facebook page offers a monthly giveaway that spotlights businesses in the county. A local company recently donated two outdoor chairs to the giveaway program. The bureau presented the chairs to the first person who stopped in and mentioned that they saw the posting.
When promoting a giveaway, businesses should clearly explain that there is a limited quantity of the giveaway product, Chamberlain said.
Brag about your business. It’s important to post your company’s latest events and news, Lively said.
She suggested creating videos to showcase the business and its products or services.
“If it is a business such as a lawncare business or a building contractor, show before-and-after video of a project,” she said.
Chamberlain said he frequently uses YouTube to promote an upcoming event in the county.
Remember, your business needs to be prominent on Google and Yahoo. The more your site is linked, the higher you’ll appear on the results lists of those search engines.
To improve your odds, pepper the Internet with “link backs,” said Jeri Prophet, president of IntellecTechs, an IT company in Virginia Beach.
“Link backs are links to your website that make you seem more popular to Google,” she said. “If I go on Facebook and put a link to my website, or if I can get the people on Twitter to re-tweet my web address, that really helps.”
Write a blog and update daily, or at least several times a week. The blog does not need to be about the business, per se; it can be about the industry in general.
“For example, a contractor might want to write about what questions to ask of a prospective contractor and how to choose one,” Lively said.
Blogs frequently get top billing on Google’s results list for subjects searched, she said. That’s especially true if the blog was created with blogger.com, which is owned by Google. Other blog-making sites include wordpress.org, which is a personal publishing platform, and blogspot.com.
Once the blog is created on these websites, it can be promoted with Facebook and Twitter.
While creating new content regularly is good, Lively warned of putting out irrelevant information. “You don’t just want to shoot out information that is mundane, that will get you in trouble. People see that as spam and will avoid your business if you do so,” she said.
Be a fly on the wall.
Take time to comment on the Facebook walls of regular customers – without trying to make a sell.
Andrea Vela, marketing director for Abbitt Realty in Newport News, said many of its agents comment on clients’ walls just to keep the agency’s name fresh in their minds.
“In this area, with all the military and relocation, many people will use the same agent who sold them the house they now live in when they need to move. So many of our agents just keep in touch to keep their name out there for when the person is ready to move again,” Vela said.
“It is better than something like a postcard, which is easy to ignore and toss away,” she said.
Sell your products in a social-media marketplace.
Allow customers to buy your products on your Facebook page and the Internet.
“So many people buy online,” Lively said.
To encourage business, take advantage of buttons such as the “Like” button on Facebook.
“It is easy for people to just click the ‘Like’ button on their Facebook page and your business shows up on their page for their friends to see,” Lively said.
Social bookmarking is another good tool. Websites such as Digg.com and Stumbleupon.com both allow for businesses to be bookmarked. This will increase business because people will see it on their account, she said.
Choose quality over quantity. Don’t be concerned about how many people are listed on your site. For example, Lively said, it’s OK if you don’t have 1,000 Twitter followers or more; it’s more important to have meaningful content for followers who will patronize your business.
If you do receive unfavorable comments from a social-media user, Wagner suggests reacting in an unemotional and positive way.
“If someone posts they had a bad experience with your company, let them know you are really sorry and offer to fix it,” she said. “And be prepared that this could happen.” Online portal featuring additional small business news and information coming soon.>> All content produced under the direction of the news team of Inside Business.