Whether we like it or not, whether we agree with it or not, the fact is that social media has become an unstoppable force in the world of small business. It is used by various businesses in many different ways: interacting with customers, prospecting for leads, responding to comments, or what have you.


That said, it’s not all good news; there are both pros and cons when it comes to this new platform:


  • On the positive side, social media can be an amazing tool for networking, connecting, engaging, broadcasting, and brand building
  • On the down side, it can prove to be overwhelming, time-consuming, frustrating, and even a waste of time



The secret is to harness the good and minimize the bad. How? Here are six steps that can help:


Step # 1. Decide on Your Purpose: Getting involved (or getting more involved) because you are supposed to or because everyone else is, will almost inevitably prove to be a losing scenario. Before you dive in any deeper, you need to really think through what you’re trying to accomplish with your social media efforts. It will take even longer and the learning curve will be steeper if you are unclear about your goals.


There are many things you can do with social media, but the basic options are that you can use it to:


  • Build your brand and/or become a thought leader
  • Prospect for business and meet new people
  • Engage with current customers
  • Promote products


So, Step #1, and it is #1 for a reason, is to know what you are doing and why.


Step #2. Pick Your Platform: Based upon your answer to the first rule, you need to think about which social media platform offers the best possibility for fulfilling your purpose. Is Facebook actually doing the job for you? Would Twitter be better?


I suggest you concentrate on, and master, just one or two. For posting coupons and specials, for instance, Facebook is tough to beat. If you want to show off the visual style of your furniture store, Pinterest or Instagram might make more sense.


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You only have so much time to engage in social media, so pick your platforms wisely.


Step #3. Have A Plan: Once you know your purpose and have chosen the platform most likely to accomplish it, then it is time to create a social media action plan. As with any marketing or other business plan, social media requires forethought and proper planning.


Plan out content for the month, taking into account both your purpose as well as the various specials, deals, holiday sales, etc. that your company will run. Even though you will more than likely wind up going a bit off script at times, the existence of a plan will mean that you will (almost) always know where you are headed. You will also know what you will be posting, why, how often, and therefore will be far less likely to get lost in the social media forest.


One book you might want to pick up is 30 Minute Social Media Marketing.


Step #4. Give More Than You Receive: The general idea is, to the extent possible, to post about others a good deal more than you post about yourself. Nobody wants to be friends with the person who’s always talking about him or her self.


A variation of the 80-20 Rule applies here – make 80% of your posts about them and only 20% about you and your business.


Step #5. Post Shareable Content: People love to share on social media, and when they share your content, that is the ultimate social media compliment. It is also mighty word-of-mouth advertising. You can foster that kind of sharing by:


  • Posting content that either helps your customer base in some way (saves them time or money, teaches them something, etc.) or elicits a strong emotion – people tend to share things that are funny, heartwarming, or upsetting
  • Including eye-catching graphics


Step #6. Interact With Your Followers: Social media is not a monologue; it is a conversation, so make sure that you are listening to what your followers are saying and responding when appropriate. Retweeting positive messages, responding to customer complaints, answering inquiries, and offering advice are all great ways to show your followers that you are listening and not just talking.


About Steve Strauss

Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest,The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss.

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