Why It Matters, by Russell Roering

Small businesses are fiercely competitive, especially now. As such, social media becomes a natural choice as part of the small business marketing mix. It’s free.  That’s why it’s understandable that a restaurant, bar or sports venue would rapid-fire across social networks with feel-good messages and upcoming promotions.

But what about laundromats? What should they say on Twitter? Do they even need Twitter? In the gilded age of shiny social toys, businesses continue to exist that aren’t “social” by design. If you’re a scrap metal dealer or a local hardware store owner who feels run over by the social media truck, here are five tips to help you determine if your business  is social enough for social media and, if so, how to get started:

1. Do your competitors use it? How?

Make a list of your five biggest competitors, and then research each one online to determine their “social footprint.” Are they on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn? If so, how often do they post and what are they posting? This can help form the framework of where your involvement in these areas should be. But remember, just because your competitors aren’t using it, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t – it could be what sets you apart.

2. Do your customers use it? How?

You should always know your biggest customers, no matter what your business. Determine which social sites your customers use and how they use it. Also, read through their posts and find out what else interests them. You may find patterns or a common interest, allowing you a great place to engage.

3. Ego-search

It’s time to dive deeper into search. Perform searches for your company on the social sites you plan to embrace to gain an understanding of what your current reputation is among the public. Using search tools like Google and search.twitter.com serve a dual purpose: They will let you know where conversations are already happening about your business, as well as the best way to begin to amplify the good and assist with the not-so-good.

4. Start slow

Fight the urge to set up a Facebook page, Pinterest board and Twitter handle in one afternoon. The reason for this is to avoid overwhelming yourself or the member of your team who’s going to maintain it. Remember, social embassies are like puppies: For every one you bring home, you have to feed it, maintain it and train it to behave.

5. Plan three months of content

Whichever social sites you decide to embrace, build out a content calendar (it could be as simple as notes on an actual calendar) for three months of content. Decide how often you intend to post, what type of content you’ll post and what success will look like. Leave placeholders for cool stuff you’ll want to post or for content from your customers (user-generated content). Stay consistent and positive; focus on what your customers want to read and how they respond to different kinds of content. Finally, record the initial numbers of Twitter followers, Facebook fans, unique visits to your site from social sites and any other metrics to establish a benchmark. Revisit the same numbers once per month to measure what works.

The final important thing to remember is that not every business that is social needs social media. And not every non-social business should avoid it. The rules of business haven’t changed, but the options for social business certainly have.  What lessons can brands take from small-business social practices?

Business owner photo courtesy of Bigstock.

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