Investing in free social media tools is one of the most cost-effective things a small business owner can do to increase brand recognition and awareness, and yet fewer than 20% of SMBs currently have websites that link to popular social media networks like Facebook and Twitter. Why the disconnect? A 2011 survey by Hiscox, a small business insurance agency, found that 24% of SMB owners say they don’t have time to participate in social media marketing, while 14% say they don’t even know where to begin. Here are seven tips from experts in the social media marketing industry about how business owners can take advantage of the social media tools available today.1. Start measuring immediately. It’s important for small businesses to know how they’re doing when it comes to social media — including which tweets are getting the most re-tweets, which Facebook posts are getting the most ‘likes’, and which Tumblr posts are getting the most reblogs. By choosing some metrics that are important and keeping track of those measurements early on, businesses can generate benchmarks that they can look back at to see how they’re faring over time.
2. Timing is everything. When it comes to social media strategy, business owners should make sure they are tapping into the right channels during the optimal time of day. For example, restaurants may benefit from tweeting specials during lunchtime. The best days to send messages are on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, since Monday is a catch-up day and Friday is too close to the weekend. Also, businesses will get the most traffic by scheduling their messages according to Eastern Standard Time.
3. Use the right platforms. Each social media site has its own particular quirks, and the messages that work on one site won’t necessary work on another. Photos are great on Facebook, Tumblr, and Instagram, but they don’t have the same impact when posted on Twitter. Business owners should experiment to learn which types of content work best on which platforms, and then do more of whatever produces the greatest results.
4. Treat social media as a two-way street. Social media networks like Facebook and Twitter aren’t just a one-way street. Business owners should ideally be writing posts and responding to customers regularly, both as a way to keep customers engaged and to promote social sharing. Industry estimates show that most people have an average of 250 friends on Facebook. Businesses can tap into that network for free when they engage customers in conversations about their products online.
5. Offer exclusive deals and discounts. One of the main reasons why customers follow their favorite brands online is to get access to special deals and offers. Businesses that share special promotions, social-specific deals, and exclusive content on their social media pages are not only giving customers a reason to follow their companies, but also providing an avenue to generate sales via social media.
6. Get smart about check-in sites. Check-in sites like Foursquare provide an excellent opportunity for cross promotion. Businesses can tweet at customers checking-in to thank them for visiting, and then ask those customers to leave their feedback on sites like Google Places and Yelp. Foursquare is also a great place for customer acquisition, since businesses can actively reach out to people checking-in at competing establishments with special offers or deals meant to bring those people in.
7. Integrate social media into other business systems. Social media doesn’t exist in a vacuum. By integrating social channels with existing systems like Google Analytics and Omniture, and using a social media management system, companies can connect the dots and see the role social media is playing in their overall marketing efforts. Business owners should track the traffic that social media networks are driving to their websites and find out whether social media is converting certain activities into pre-defined goals, like sales or customer acquisition.