“Demystifying social media for small business”

(This is Part 1 of a 3 part series on how small businesses can use social media to build communities to grow their business. In part 2, we will talk to several experts for advice on how to leverage social media.)

Successful small businesses have always focused on people – serving customers, making connections and going that extra mile. Today, to compete, small businesses must understand and utilize the right social media tools. Yet, many small businesses still don’t play in the social media space.

According to a recent study in eMarketer, small businesses “reliance on word-of-mouth along with the low cost in dollars of participating—has led small businesses to make social media their No. 2 online marketing effort, after company websites.” Meanwhile, the old favorites, Yellow Pages, newspapers and magazines continue to fade faster than a sunset. Erik Qualman, author of Socialnomics, says: “78% of people trust peer recommendations vs. only about 14% who trust ads.”

If word-of-mouth is an important part of how you win and retain customers, think about amplifying word-of-mouth into the social media world. There are several free social monitoring tools available to help your small business identify your audience, build connections and start to engage.

Don’t invest all your time trying to leverage Facebook if your customers aren’t there. According to “the American Express OPEN and Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization “Small Business Search Marketing Survey”, US small businesses recognize word-of-mouth as the top way their customers find them, followed by the internet and search engines”. According to eMarketer,

“44% of US Small businesses currently use Social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) and 29% plan to add in 2011.”

Rise of social media offers new ways to engage customers & grow exponentially.

The social web provides an opportunity to make connections, build relationships and reach an amazing number of people. If you’re new to social media, start with one of the big four: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or a blog. Start writing your blog on a topic of importance to your audience. Use Twitter to tweet a link to your blog post so visitors can share across other social networks. Now, post the blog link to Facebook, and share your post on Google+, the hottest social networking site. Meanwhile, your initial tweet gets retweeted, bringing considerable traffic to your blog. As your audience grows, other sites may start linking to your blog.

By the way, don’t forget to check out Google+ (Take the Google+ tour) which offers new features like Hangouts (video chats) find things to share, and more. The Circles feature lets you place people (perhaps customers and prospects) into circles you create to share specific content. Google+ just might surprise you.

With several social media channels to choose, find one or two you like and focus on building an audience. You won’t be able to build a community overnight, but if you don’t start now, your competitors won’t wait for you. Spend a couple hours a week learning how these tools work as you glean the business benefits. Remember, the tools are supposed to serve you, not the other way around. While you extend your social media reach, you increase the opportunity to generate conversations that influence purchases, generate referrals, improve customer service, and contribute to sales. For small business, social media is word-of-mouth struck by lightning.

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