Marketing is essential for every business – big or small, and the many platforms on social media allow small businesses to inexpensively just do that. But more times than usual I see people making a Facebook page or creating a Twitter account because everyone is doing it, and not putting in any actual effort to keep it alive. In the beginning it might feel like it is a lot of work to draw in a customer’s attention, but once you get the ball rolling it is totally worth it.

First of all you need to establish if social media is the right marketing tool for your business. The following guidelines will break it down for you:

Know why: just because major social media platforms are free doesn’t mean your work and time can be compromised. Know why you are using social media, why you are buying ads, what/who is your customer base and what is your ultimate goal? If social media speeds up your marketing process then go ahead.

Let them do the talking: the ‘social’ in social media is important. People like to relate to one another on this platform and don’t take very keenly to hard sellers. Let people talk about your product and services without you spoon feeding it to them. Just like no one would like a person selling their items at a party, no one likes to be bombarded with information on social media too.

Be patient: it takes time and effort to get your audience engaged on social media. First you need to understand what your target audience is like and what sort of language and posts will appeal to them. Sell your product once you have sparked a little interest in your brand.

Participate: to be able to engage your audience on social media, you need to be engaged in social media yourself. Give different platforms a try, follow the more successful businesses and see what they are doing differently. Most importantly, be regular.

Align your image: don’t contradict your online and offline image. If you are a traditional, conservative business offline then be so online as well. Don’t send your customers mixed signals.

Keep yourself updated: new sites are emerging all the time. Photo sharing, video sharing, gaming sites etc… are all expanding their focus to build better communities. These might hold opportunities for potential customers.

Ask for help: if you feel you don’t understand social media or are not able to give it proper time, I suggest you hire a professional who is an expert in social media and can do a better job representing your business.

Have guidelines: this is in line with the first point because your guidelines are driven by your purpose. If different people are managing or contributing to the marketing of the business, set ground rules for them. It’s important to know what you can and cannot say, what sensitivities you have to be careful about etc… Also be clear about the kind of things employees can post on their own personal sites as well.

Listen well: monitor what people are saying about you on social media and then improvise accordingly. This can also help you pick out things you are doing well and you need to keep doing and the things you need to stop doing.

Keep your cool: There will be moments when you see something undesirable being posted about your company. This is normal and you have the opportunity to improve the situation by stating facts and having a desire to improve the customer experience. A positive attitude can go a long way. Over reacting and being emotional at this point can make matters worse.

Have fun: this is a new way to engage customers and people of all ages are active on social media for all kinds of activities. See this as an outlet to grow and improve your customer experience and contribute to active discussions online. Once your business is part of the discussion, you will see people go the extra mile to support you.

Online marketing is a tool: you need to understand that having an online presence does not mean you abandon the other methods of marketing. Make sure your print media content is now available online and understand the importance of meet and greet, direct mail and print advertising. Online marketing is highly cost effective and a great resource, but it must be a part of the larger marketing strategy.

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