It's hard to go anywhere these days and not be bombarded with social media. That's because Facebook has 900 million active users, there are more than 200 million Twitter users, and then there's Pinterest, the latest darling.
Given this reality, it's impossible for small business owners not to feel a sense of urgency to master the social media landscape. But in the rush to join the social media party some small businesses are making critical mistakes. Here are five common errors that small businesses make when it comes to social media and how to avoid them.
1. Social Isn't the Place for the Hard Sell
This might be the most difficult lesson for the small business owner. After all, we don't have large marketing budgets to waste. Every dollar must count and we've been trained to close every potential sale. However, the social universe requires a subtler approach. This means no BUY ME buttons or blatant promotional copy.
In fact, if your social media strategy is just about marketing or sales, then you're not approaching it right. Yes, you can use social media for marketing and you can increase your sales figures from it, but it can't be your focus 100% of the time. As a general rule of thumb, only 5% to 10% of your social media activity (i.e. status updates or tweets) should be self-promotional.
Social media is all about building relationships and growing trust. This means answering questions, providing helpful information, and serving as a trusted resource. These activities should grow your bottom line, but it can be a slower, more nuanced, and potentially more fruitful journey than you'be come to expect. For this reason, it's important to realize that social media shouldn't replace all your other traditional marketing practices. It's okay to ask for the sale, just not in social channels.
2. Social Isn't About Self-Promotion
You know how painful it is to be stuck at a cocktail party, talking to that self-absorbed person who only talks about him or herself. Small businesses need to treat social media like a cocktail party among friends. To be liked, you've got to be gracious, genuinely interested in others, and not dominate the conversation.
What does this mean? Make it easy for people to leave comments on your blog. Engage with everyone who posts on your wall (within reason). Share great content from others in the industry. Ask questions and encourage participation. And most importantly, recognize that sometimes it's better to talk less and listen more.
3. You Don't Have to be Everywhere
There are two facts to keep in mind when it comes to social media and small business. First, there will always be a new network to get involved with. Secondly, a small business owner has a limited amount of time and money to devote to social media.
Fortunately, doing social media well doesn't mean you need to be anywhere and everywhere. Instead, it's about choosing one or two of the most relevant and effective channels for reaching your customers and focusing on them.
Remember that a neglected social media presence will reflect poorly on your business. It's actually better to not have an account if you don't have the time and resources to actively manage it and participate.
4. You Don't Have to Keep up With the Big Brands
If you're running a small business, you know there's a big difference between your budget and that of Virgin America or Starbucks. That's OK. Your small business doesn't need to try to keep up with these big brands — particularly when it comes to contests and campaigns.
Creating giveaways and contests is one of the most effective ways to generate new likes and improve overall engagement. But small businesses often feel the pressure to offer flashy prizes that are well beyond their budget.
For example, for your small business, don't give away a bunch of iPads if that's not what you can afford. Instead, consider giving away one of your company's services. It's definitely not the sexiest prize and won't generate widespread interest, but it's more budget friendly and everyone who participates is sure to be interested in what your company does.
5. Social Media isn't “Free”
Sure, you don't have to spend a dime to join Facebook, create a Twitter account, or start a blog. That's great news for the small business. However, social media is far from free once you factor in the blood, sweat, and tears it demands. Social media requires constant commitment, from keeping fresh content on your accounts to engaging your community.
Unless you consider your time (or the time of your employees) worthless, then there's a significant cost involved with social media. For example, if it takes one employee approximately ten hours a week to manage social media accounts, you can assign a hard cost to the effort. The key takeaway is any small business owner needs to understand the numbers behind every campaign, and that means factoring in everyone's time and effort.
Do any of these pitfalls look familiar to you? Have you struggled with or seen other social media challenges?
Image courtesy of iStockphoto, logorillaNellie Akalp