Does the thought of coming up with a 140-character snippet make your palms sweat? Does the idea of a Facebook page for your business have you crawling under your desk?
Whether you are Twitter-phobic or haunted by Pinterest, you are not alone. Fear of using social media is a common problem for many small business owners. Though daunting, these new online ways of connecting with—and attracting—customers are now mainstream marketing tools. Below, a step-by-step guide to conquering your social media fears.
Step 1: De-mystify it
When you don’t know a “like” from a “share” or a “board” from a “pin,” social media sites can seem like haunted houses, places you never dare to enter. But, remember, these platforms are just new ways to do an old thing. “Strip away the technology and the jargon. What you've got left is good old-fashioned, ‘tell your friends when you like something’ marketing,” says social media and SEO expert Suzi Istvan of Social Suzi. Switching up the way you think about them can make these social media sites less intimidating. Lori Riviere, marketing consultant and founder of Shortcuts to Fabulous, suggests, “Think of Twitter as your walkie-talkie and a conversation starter, Facebook as your diary or stream of consciousness for your new business, and Pinterest as your business's magazine.” Changing the way you view these tools can make them more inviting.
As G.I. Joe would say, “Knowing is half the battle.” Before you even sign up for a Twitter account, spend some time learning about it. Attending a local seminar at your library or reading articles galore on the Internet about how to maximize your Tweets is great, but sometimes you need someone sitting across from you to really become confident with social media. Sara Zamikoff, owner of the Coral Gables, Florida boutique Emporium, suggests finding a social media mentor. “Preferably one under the age of 25! It's a fact that the young people are dominating social media outlets,” says Zamikoff. Contact local universities or call your Facebook-obsessed, twenty-something niece and have her sit down with you over lunch and guide you through the basics.
Step 3: Study it
Tackle those fears by learning how social media works in action. “Set up a personal account first and learn the functions. Once you are comfortable navigating your own page, it gives you the confidence to start one for your business,” suggests Zamikoff, “[Also], follow similar businesses and see what they are doing.”
Erika Penzer Kerekes, senior product manager for social media solutions at Deluxe Corporation, agrees, “Identify a dozen businesses similar to yours and see what they're doing on social media. Read everything they've posted for the past few months. What kinds of themes are they talking about? Which posts get the most comments or ‘likes’?” There is no right or wrong about social media, but by observing what others in your field are doing, you can get a handle on how it works and what you feel comfortable doing.
Step 4: Think of it as an off-line conversation
The idea of having to come up with something to say on Twitter or Facebook that hundreds or thousands of people may see is scary. Deluxe’s Penzer Kerekes suggests using a party analogy as a helpful guide. “Social media is just that—social—and two-way dialogue is what makes it different from every other marketing medium. Think of social media like a cocktail party or professional networking event. If you walked up to a group of people and only talked about yourself, they'd find a way to get rid of you very quickly,” Penzer Kerekes says. “Make sure everything you say is helpful, funny, and something your audience is likely to want to hear.”
Step 5: Take baby steps
To avoid being overwhelmed, start off slowly. “You don't have to be everywhere,” reminds Istvan, “Pick one (or two) platforms to invest your time in rather than spreading yourself thin trying to be everywhere.” She suggests focusing where those possible consumers are and channeling your social media energy on those specific areas. “An interior designer with very visual content would be better served on Pinterest and Facebook, while an accountant sharing financial management tips could easily grab the attention of the fast-movers on Twitter,” Istvan explains.
Step 6: Make it part of your daily routine
As a business owner, one common fear about social media is that it will take up too much time. But, it doesn’t have to—if you incorporate it into your daily routine and learn a few tricks. “You can spend as little as 20 minutes a day building your social media presence. I encourage all of my clients to create a social media content calendar at the beginning of the month,” says Istvan, She also suggests a time-saving trick: develop themes for various days of the week. “One fitness-related retail store I worked with developed ‘Monday Morning Motivation’ [that they tweeted] every Monday morning.” Little organizational tricks combined with online tools such as TweetDeck, which allows you to pre-load and schedule tweets, can be a treat for you—as well as your followers.
Dan Farkas, an Instructor of Strategic Communication at Ohio University, encourages those wading into the social media pool to find a comfortable balance. “Social media is part of the [marketing] toolbox. It’s not the entire toolbox. You don’t have to publish something 10 times a day. Find a pace that works for you.”
Step 7: Take a deep breath and relax
Ease those fears of Facebook and terrors of Twitter by reminding yourself that lots of other people are just starting out too. “Relax! Everyone is new to social media, and everyone is still experimenting. There's really very little way to make a complete fool of yourself,” says Penzer Kerekes. Likewise, Istvan encourages her clients to have fun with social media. “Your social media sites are a chance to share the fun you and your customers are having in your real-world location to all those who can't be there in that moment. Think of [social media] as a window to your business—don't feel like to you have to invent content. Have fun.”