Social media is one of the biggest buzz words in the business world, and it’s something that everyone says you need, but not everyone understands how to use.
We interviewed three experts in the field of social media about how small businesses can best utilize it for public relations and marketing purposes.
And while Facebook is still the most important social media site, there are others that you should be using to help improve your customer relations and get the word out about your operation, according to the experts.
Facebook may have lost some of its “cool factor” with the youth, but Blane Russell, president of Social Eyes Marketing, says it is still the most important social media website.
“Make sure you’re doing Facebook in a big way, because it’s the 800 pound gorilla,” he says.
J.R. Atkins is the author of the book “Social Media 2.0,” and also a speaker and consultant on social media.
He says, “Facebook is definitely the place to start, and then grow based upon your market and what you learn from Facebook.”
The experts have some tips on making Facebook a good use of your time.
Facebook isn’t just about selling to people; it’s also about entertaining them, according to Russell.
“Everyone’s natural nature is to try to sell all the time, but if you want to get liked, amuse them, and they’ll like your page” he says. “Ask open ended questions, and you’ll start a conversation rather than turn people off with a sales pitch.”
He also recommends that you post regularly, at least a couple times per week, and that you have some humor and personality in your posts, so that people appreciate them.
Social media is about building up loyalty and community, according to Atkins.
He said it’s important to respond back to people on Facebook that contact you, and create posts that are designed around the types of things that your customer base is interested in.
Facebook isn’t just about getting new customers, but keeping ones you have, according to Atkins.
While Facebook is still the most important social media website, there are many others that companies can benefit from using.
LinkedIn is a place that people go to discuss business, and because of that it has some advantages over other social media outlets.
Atkins said that it’s “where your professional credentials live online.”
He added that LinkedIn is important for business owners who are hands on, and looking to work with other established businesses.
Russell agreed with the other experts that the major advantage about communicating on LinkedIn is that “no one will get upset or offended if you’re direct with them” about wanting to talk business.
Setting up a profile, and learning how to use LinkedIn is very simple, so while you may not see a big initial return from creating an account, you will have a “virtual resume” and a place to connect with other businesses, according to the experts.
While Google+ has not taken off the way many predicted, it does have importance as a social media tool, even if it’s in a way that you might not think.
“If you own a business, you need to have a presence,” Russell says.
He also recommends using Google Local as the place all of your reviews are put through to improve your search rankings, and get the word out about the great work your operation does.
Google holds a lot of power as a search engine, and adding your business to Google+ gives your wash a better ability to be featured highly when a customer searches for it, according to Atkins.
When you use Google’s search engine for a business that has a Google+ account, you will see information for its Google+ on the search page.
It may not be the place an owner will go to communicate with your audience, but if you’re not on Google+ you’re missing out on improving your search engine optimization, which is one of the major ways people find out about a business.
The experts see Instagram as a supplemental tool, but an important one none the less.
And the best thing about it is how simple it is to use.
Grab your smartphone, take a picture, write a caption, add a few hashtags and you’re done.
“The beauty of Instagram is that people are going to promote you if they get excited about what you’re doing,” Russell says.
Instagram is particularly popular with young people, and learning how to use it now can keep you ahead of the pack.
Instagram is the perfect place to host pictures you’ve taken for a charity event or to showcase something unique or interesting that happened, according to Atkins.
Another great thing about it is that it can be integrated with other outlets like Facebook and Twitter.
For example, Atkins said you could “promote your event on Facebook, and then post pictures of the event on Instagram.”
The ability to place pictures across multiple platforms makes Instagram a tool that can help you increase your Facebook and Twitter as well.
Signing up for an account takes minutes, and you’ll be snapping pictures and posting them on Facebook and Twitter in no time.
Taking pictures is fun, and Instagram is so easy to use.
While Twitter is a platform that seems pervasive in our society, it is also the one that most people don’t understand how to use well, according to Atkins.
You might not use Twitter to cultivate a following, but it is a great place to get direct feedback from your customers, he adds.
Twitter is the place that you can “turn a raving lunatic into a raving fan,” according to Atkins.
The way you do that is by responding to people who tweet you.
For direct communication, Atkins sees Twitter as a better tool than Facebook, “it’s like texting,” he says.
If someone finds you on Twitter and asks you a question, it is easy to grab your smartphone or hop on your computer, and immediately respond back.
“It’s a conversation more so than other social media sites,” Sullivan says. “You need to expect to interact.”
Twitter, more than Facebook, is about a two way communication between you and your audience, according Russell.
Russell said one way to effectively use Twitter is to find the important people within your community, and tweet them.
Twitter is a conversation, so just like talking to people, there’s etiquette, and things you can do to make people follow and unfollow you.
Once you figure out how to have a conversation on Twitter it can be a great tool.
Even if you don’t want to utilize it for communicating to your audience, you should have an account so they can communicate to you.
Facebook is still the most important tool you have at your disposal, but there are many other sites that offer their niche that can help improve your profits.
If you need to connect with a local business, there’s LinkedIn.
If you want more people to find you on Internet searches, use Google+.
When you want to speak directly with your customers, tweet them on Twitter.
Need somewhere to showcase all those great pictures from the charity even you did?
Well, put them on Instagram.
Social media doesn’t have to be hard work; in fact our experts recommend that you make it fun.
Come up with a contest, and hype it up on Facebook, respond back to your customers on Twitter, and use Instagram to show pictures of the event.
There continues to be those who don’t think social media is a viable resource.
However, as Atkins joked, “If you can overturn the government of Egypt [with social media], I think we can increase sales 10 percent.”