The most prominent reasons small business should be using social media are responding to customer questions, networking and education... but there's more. To date, most small businesses have not been looking to help build the sales funnel through these channels. This is interesting considering some of the success that can be found with a small business that gets it. And for those who do, and execute effectively, the opportunity to directly facilitate and create sales are out there and have the potential to be huge since the volume of additional sales that can make a difference are fractional compared to what it takes for a large organization.
So what does it take to get the small business involved? Well, extra time (possibly the biggest barrier), money (but really not much) and people. With social media being so time intensive, and best results coming from directly being involved, the barriers to entry get higher as a business gets smaller, but not insurmountable for those willing to put in the time, especially since it can be done at all hours, and some of the most effective times to connect via social media are very early in the morning and very late at night.
Social is not that complicated. Contrary to popular belief, people don't suddenly sprout two heads when they sit in front of a computer monitor or pull out their mobile phone to look something up. In fact, just look at history. They didn't sprout two heads when radio came along--or television--or cell phones--or any other communication medium for that matter. We didn't re-invent our species; we just learned to communicate using different channels. We're still motivated by the same buying emotions.
Here are Three Key Marketing 101 Lessons that never go out of style and all Small Business Owners need to remember:
You are NOT Your Customer--Do Your Research: One of the most important lessons every marketer should remember is to market to your target audience--not yourself. Yet how many times does your inner voice tell you "They'll never buy that...?" Don't spout information YOU THINK your market wants to hear. Listen to your prospects first--and social is just about the greatest listening tool ever invented. It's focus groups on steroids! Use social media to listen to who your ideal customer is and what she wants before you start messaging.
Frequency Isn't a Bad Thing: Social reach and frequency are tangential to good marketing, as long as your content is relevant to your market. How many times does a potential customer or partner need to see your message before they convert? You might as well ask how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop (remember that old TV commercial?). Some will bite after a dozen licks; for others, it's three--depends on where your audience is in a given moment when they see your message. And remember, you're not just talking to one person here--you're getting in front of your audience's friends and their friends as well. The more the merrier. So do not forget about good ole "reach and frequency."
Story is Important: Remember the power of storytelling, and use it in your communications. People can't resist a good story. It's an emotional connection bridge that is built into our human DNA. Social enhances it by allowing more consumers to share more stories about more of the products they see, buy and use. Another thing to remember about stories is that people are already having conversation about your brand, and you can't necessarily control that. Companies who try to stem the tide of a bad story by trying to control the message find this out the hard way. However, you can INFLUENCE the kind of stories that are told about you by being involved in the conversation, transparent in your use of social media, and responsive to the needs of your customers, both online and offline.
With social media the bang for the buck can be enormous, but the results are hardly immediate and a long-term outlook is necessary. My vote is study up on the cause and effect, tools, and concepts. Develop a basic strategy of what utility or value you want to offer. Get started on your own and build a thorough understanding of how to interact, engage, and connect. Then hire a smart young intern (many available at a mere $10/hr, and some simply to fulfill college internship requirements) to help execute a lot of the basic time consuming functions... with your hands-on guidance. And you, the owner or manager, always being the voice.
In the future it is going to be critical for small businesses to decide where they want to put their scarce resources so they can maximize their ROI. Businesses that use social successfully will reap the rewards of customer satisfaction, deeper employee loyalty, more effective knowledge sharing, improved brand reputation, lowered costs, and importantly, increased revenues.