Social media for small businesses: 5 important questions

Published: Tuesday, April 30 2013 9:25 a.m. MDT

Social media is a great way for small businesses to promote their brand, but there are some important questions a business owner should ask before jumping in with both feet.

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Social media has the potential to be a boon for small businesses that are regularly trying to reach out to their customers and potential customers. However, if your social media efforts don’t go any further than setting up a Facebook and Twitter account, you’ll never reap the social rewards.

I’m a big fan of social media generally, but I’m not a fan of being social for social’s sake. What’s more, if most of your audience hangs out on Instagram, it doesn’t make much sense to spend a lot of time (especially at first) on Linkedin. There might not be a charge for setting up a Facebook account, but it definitely isn’t free. Ask anyone who has made the social media investment and is seeing success.

Here are five questions to ask before you start your social media efforts:

1) Do you really want to do this?

Before you spend time on strategy, before you set up any social media accounts, ask yourself, “Am I willing to invest the man hours that will be required to make the effort a success?” Most small businesses won’t require a full-time social media person, but they will require someone’s time. For example, if you plan on posting a blog every week, plan on three or four hours to research and write. Once you get in a groove, you might be able to cut that down a bit, but if all you’re doing is once a week, you won’t see much time savings. What’s more, it takes about 50 posts before Google starts paying any attention to you, so you’ll want to commit to a year’s worth of writing before you’ll see much search traffic.

If you’re going to have a Facebook or Twitter account, you’ll want to make daily updates — which don’t add much time to the day but can add up to an hour or more if you’re updating Twitter, Facebook and any other social media — to build a following. Best practice suggests a couple of posts in the morning and a couple of posts at the end of the day. That doesn’t mean you can ignore that media the rest of the day. You’ll want to make sure someone is regularly (every hour or two) monitoring your accounts in the event a customer or prospective customer tries to interact with a question or concern. This person might be you, but doesn’t have to be. Just remember, whoever interacts with the world on social media becomes a spokesman for you and your company. Choose wisely. However, if nobody’s there, you lose the interaction and the value of the social medium. Do you really want to do this?

2) What do you want to accomplish?

As I said before, being social just to be social is time that could be better spent someplace else. Do you want to establish yourself as a thought leader? Do you want to keep your customers up-to-date on what’s happening in your company? Do you want to keep customers and potential customers educated on industry best practice? Do you want to leverage social media as a customer service tool? You’ll need to build a strategy around those objectives and execute accordingly. Some media do a better job at some objectives than others.

3) Are you prepared to air your dirty laundry in public?

None of us like to deal with public complaints, but maybe this question is put the wrong way. A better question might be, “Are you willing to watch your dirty laundry aired in public?” Whether you’re part of the social conversation or not, people are talking about you and your business online — the good, the bad and the ugly. If your business is like most, you’re going to be exposed to some pretty intense negative feedback from time to time.

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