I talk to a lot of owners of small companies and I get asked all the time, “What should my company be doing in social media?” Most of these businesses are really small shops – solo practitioners, neighborhood retailers, nascent startups which may not even have a web presence.
As someone who is deeply entrenched in, and very much in love with, social media, it’s very hard to say “Don’t do social media.” But honestly – more and more, I find myself telling some of these entrepreneurs and business owners that social media may not be the most important thing for them to do (at the moment they’re asking me).
So how can a small business know when to not do social media, or which types of social media to use if they’re a very small or very new business?
For most, it comes down to a matter of time, money and priorities.
Do You Have a Website?
For most businesses, whether they’re neighborhood stores, bookkeepers or event planners, there’s no reason to do social media if there’s no online presence to back it up. Even if you only sell stuff at your store on 79th Street, there’s really little reason to have a Twitter account if you can’t have a link back to something to describe your business to someone who discovers you.
“Now now,” you say, “what if I have a Google page or a Facebook page or something else? Isn’t that enough?” I say no. Any business in 2013 should have at least a single-page website with some info about the business, contact information, and links to any other presences you have (including your Google page or social presences).
So the first thing you need to do is spend time (and some money) on building your website. I recently discovered Onepager, which looks like a great way to build a really simple, yet good-looking, website; if you’ve used it please tell us what you think in the comments!
And, it should probably go without saying, but I’ll say it just in case: Your website should reside on your own domain (URL) on the web. Not at mystore.wordpress.com or theaccountantsoffice.blogspot.com – it should live at mystore.net or theaccountantsoffice.com.
Are Other Key Marketing Pieces Covered?
Beyond your website, there are at least a few other marketing things you should do before you jump into social media.
- If you’re a local business, you need to cover off on everything Google. The world’s largest search engine is the front door to your business, and you must have a Local Google+ Page which includes a map, your contact info, and relevant links (like back to your website).
- Be sure you have decent business cards and other marketing materials. If you’re a small or new business, all the Twitter followers in the world won’t be of much use if you can’t hand someone you meet (particularly someone who doesn’t use Twitter) a nice-looking business card with the correct information. You may also need a simple brochure or postcard with a bit more information about your business, to use at events and while networking.
- Your personal LinkedIn profile is also very important and very valuable. I don’t really consider a personal profile “social media” – it’s more like an online resume, highly searchable and totally key to making connections and generating referrals. Most small business owners feel that LinkedIn is their most valuable platform – so optimize your profile, and then don’t let your profile get out of date!
How To Focus Your Social Media Time
Now we’re into the hard part. If you’ve got all of the above and you’re ready to think about social media, you need to determine what you have time for, or what you have resources for. In order of overall value and return on time, here’s where I think a small business owner should focus.
1. A business blog
Yeah, you wanted me to say Facebook. But I’m not gonna. There’s no question in my mind that a blog, on your own website (that’s at blog.yourwebsite.com or yourwebsite.com/blog – again, not at wordpress or blogspot), will deliver the greatest value to most small businesses. There are many reasons a blog is my #1 choice, including:
- The blog will bring search engine visibility to your website, making it easier for potential customers or clients to find you.
- The blog will provide personality to your business, making you stand out amongst all the other florists or accountants or babysitter matching services out there.
- The blog will make you stand out as a thought leader: someone who is an expert in your space and really understands the needs of your clients or customers.
- Once it’s setup (which does require a bit of time and money, unless you’re very tech savvy), your time in writing blog posts could be as little as an hour a week, or a couple of hours a week, and you don’t need to tend to it every day. You can schedule multiple posts in advance to send out over time, and you can get notifications by email if you receive any comments.
2. Facebook (but only if you’re a business-to-consumer (B2C) or local business)
If you are in the business of selling to consumers, a Facebook business Page may be valuable to you, and it doesn’t take that much time to setup and manage. Facebook’s instructions are quite simple; the only thing you may need help with is finding and sizing the necessary graphics for your cover image and logo image.
At its most basic, Facebook will take only a few minutes each day (or about an hour or 90 minutes per week), to create status updates (which you can preschedule through the Facebook Page interface). You can receive notifications of comments or interactions on your page via email, so you’ll log in as necessary to respond to people, thank people, and keep the conversation going.
3. Pinterest (if you’re in a product-driven or visual business)
If you’re a product-driven business, or if you are in a highly visual business (florist, event planner, etc.), you may see a lot of value in having a Pinterest presence. This “inspiration board”-like platform allows your small business to build a beautiful, visual social presence and generate traffic back to your website; I’ve spoken to a number of businesses who are finding that Pinterest is one of their top web traffic drivers, and often a significant sales driver as well.
Your time on Pinterest will mostly be in pinning a few things from your site now and then (especially product, blog posts, and other content, including video), plus Liking and Repinning others’ content from Pinterest to your boards. In total, this might be 2-3 hours a week….but be warned, it’s easy to get sucked in to Pinterest and spend much, much more time!
Also be sure that your website is optimized for Pinterest, to make it easy for other people to pin your stuff to their boards.
I am a huge Twitter fan, so it pains me to say this: Twitter is not great for most small businesses. Twitter takes a lot of time, sucks up a lot of content, and is far more real-time (meaning, you have to really stay on top of it) than any of the social platforms outlined above.
That said, there are a number of different small business categories for which Twitter is a great platform. Twitter can be great for restaurants, to promote specials or drive traffic at off-peak times; for anyone working in marketing or advertising, to keep abreast of news and developments and to prove your expertise in the socially-connected world; or for people who really like to network and develop new relationships.
However, to do Twitter well, you should plan on spending at least 30 minutes a day populating your Twitter stream with content, and reading and engaging with the people you’re following throughout the day. Sure, you can spend less time, but as with almost anything, you get out of it what you put into it, and with Twitter, time is what you need to put into it.
5. Everything else
Sure, there are lots of other social media platforms out there. You can have a Google+ Page, or a LinkedIn company page, or you can create video for YouTube. There are plenty of small businesses who see a natural fit in these or any number of other social networks. But the four platforms above are the most likely place for most businesses to start, and I recommend that you consider them in the order above. If you find any of these four not resonating with you, look for other outlets. But don’t bite off more than you can chew – as your mother once said, “do it right or don’t do it at all.”
Finish What You Start
There are few things that make a business look worse than finding a dormant social media presence, so try not to start things you can’t keep up. Small businesses or solo entrepreneurs should prioritize and not feel like they need to participate in every social media platform, especially to the detriment of their other website and marketing efforts.
Do you have a small business story which supports or debunks my advice? I’d really love to hear your thoughts in the comments!
Image source: Flickr (FD Richards)