SMRoulette_Body.jpgby Erin McDermott.


You’ve got important information that you’re ready to start sharing with your customers and prospective clients on social media. But how do you decide what’s the best way to announce it?


Each platform has its own language, technology protocols, and unspoken etiquette, which can be daunting. Is this message crucial to your operations? Are you chiming in about developments in your industry, or spreading something more emotional or inspiring? Are you looking to engage your customers and drive more traffic in person and online?


Bottom line: What is your goal?


“With clients, my goal is often to help them use social media to get traffic back to their websites,” says Jennifer Shaheen, social-media consultant and president of Technology Therapy, in White Plains, N.Y. “You need to balance that presence with the fact that you’re trying to get people to a tool that you have more control over.”


It’s also about finding your social-media personality and expressing it in the right way, to the right audience that’s hopefully ready to receive it and react. Here is a look at a few major social media sites and why you might consider using each to communicate about your business.



There are a billion reasons why your company ought to be on it. But which messages are smart for your business to share here? Facebook is the place for getting personal—without getting too personal.


What’s right? Sharing a news or blog link that’s informative for your customers. (For a coffee shop: A new study on the health benefits of a daily shot of espresso. For an exercise studio: A feature on Zumba instructors who build a following because they’re also great DJs.) Think emotions: Pictures of employees getting noteworthy awards (and tag them, too) or at community-service activities. Snapshots after a severe weather event, striking photographs of the view from the office, or a nostalgic shot of your business’s hometown from the 1980s. Enticing menus or comfort foods in advance of holidays or significant events, all of these are engaging for Facebook browsers, giving them not only information but also a conversational starting point, helping to humanize your enterprise for clients new to your world.


Ruth Wiesner, founder and CEO of RAW Marketing, a social-media management and online marketing consultancy near Chicago, likes Facebook for service-oriented companies because it draws instant feedback. “You really have to listen to where your clients are and where you’re finding the best conversation is happening, and then focus in on that,” she says. “For some people, it’s one location, for others it’s three locations. It depends on where they’re getting the most response.”


What’s not OK? Stay away from anything political, partisan, or insensitive, or anything that can come across as just plain bad taste.  



Two words changed many peoples’ perceptions about the importance of Twitter: Hurricane Sandy. While traditional media swooned and people went powerless for weeks in the storm’s aftermath, Twitter not only stayed up and running, it thrived, becoming the go-to, real-time communications tool. Information about outages, closures, rescue and recovery efforts—social media became the backup for numerous companies forced offline.


“Social media should be part of your disaster-recovery plan,” Shaheen says. “But one of the big mistakes companies make is they only use these tools for important information and haven’t built the audience there that could use it.” And it’s not just natural disasters, she says. Think about those unexpected emergencies. Shaheen points to the Web-hosting and domain-registration company Go Daddy, which suffered a major outage in September 2012 that threw millions of small companies’ sites offline.


Yet a recent Wall Street Journal article and survey showed that, for all the buzz, the platform carries surprisingly little weight among small business owners, with a mere three percent saying it held the most potential to help their companies. Yes, it’s intimidating—witness the stream of newsmaking tweets about users’ off-color posts, advertising is relatively sparse, and pictures are limited. But the potential is immense: 500-million registered users, sending 340-million messages a day, by some estimates.


For small businesses, it’s a savvy spot for staying abreast of industry discussions and news—and getting your own business on the radar for that conversation. If you’re already observing the flow and feel and are set to enter the fray, keep your own 140 characters-or-less message succinct and on-point, and link to your own site or work. It may be a bit time-consuming, but regular worthy appearances will earn you followers organically, creating a built-in audience of your own and an aura of an industry expert.



The other news in that Wall Street Journal article: the popularity of LinkedIn, which 41 percent of survey participants cited as potentially beneficial to their small businesses. The career-networking social-media site is intuitive for anyone who’s ever written a resume or networked and it’s a low-effort way to stay in touch with contacts. And if you’re keeping an eye on the competition (or maybe hiring away a knowledgeable hand), it’s a subtle way of keeping tabs on another staff’s comings and goings. When you’re not playing social-media James Bond, LinkedIn is an excellent place to post articles you’ve written or been mentioned in, a keen way to show off your insights, and possibly keep your talents fresh in the mind of a future client.


“Especially for B2B, I think, done correctly, LinkedIn is a fantastic tool,” Wiesner says. “The downside is that it wasn’t really built as a B2C social network.”



If what you do has a nice visual element to it, here are the spots for you. While Pinterest gets most of the attention because of its popularity among its largely female user base, it’s the higher-brow Instagram that’s been generating buzz (particularly after Facebook shelled out $1 billion for it in 2012) and clicking with talented mobile-camera photographers. If you’re a florist, designer, chef, baker, or anything remotely visual, these two platforms are a no-brainer, but they also require a higher skill set that includes artistic abilities. “I believe clients with a highly visual product really benefit from these,” Wiesner says. “Restaurants, bakeries, food trucks—customers of these are the kind of audience that love to scroll through to look at the pictures and get ideas. Instagram is the Pinterest for the mobile. You can lose hours going through pictures and following different people.”



Yes, yet another platform to have to think about—and here’s why. If your business uses YouTube—to edit how-tos, demonstrations, or other video content—the search giant now requires you to link to your Google+ page and not an outside website, Shaheen says. A dark horse in social media, Google+ has more than 100-million users worldwide—still a fraction of Facebook’s masses—but the service has its fans, with many citing tighter, focused groups and better privacy.