By Lisa Wirthman
While more small businesses are using social media, not all of them are using it wisely. Social-media use by small businesses with fewer than 100 employees surged from 44% to 53% this year, according to the SMB Group’s 2012 Small and Medium Social Business Study.
Businesses need to take a strategic approach to avoid common pitfalls and maximize their social media investments. Let’s look at a few do’s and don’ts that apply to everyday social media practices for small businesses.
One of the most common pitfalls for small businesses is a lack of resources – primarily time and budget – for social media activities, said the study.
Don’t try to be everywhere. Choosing too many social networking platforms can make matters worse for time-strapped companies.
Do research and target one or two platforms that will create the best connections to your customers. Companies selling directly to other businesses may want to target the professional audience of LinkedIn, for example, while businesses selling directly to consumers may prefer Facebook or Pinterest. Find out where people are already talking about you by running a search for your product or business name on various social media sites.
Beyond the platforms they choose, the ways in which businesses communicate with customers are also critical to social media success.
Don’t indulge in too much self-promotion. No more than 10% of your content should be about your business. Build relationships with customers by engaging them in conversation, rather than simply broadcasting information about yourself.
Do spark discussion by asking open-ended questions, seeking opinions, sharing interesting information and helping customers solve problems. A pet-sitting service can post expert advice about caring for animals; a bike store can ask customers to share favorite local trails. Contests are another way of encouraging customer interaction.
Do respond quickly to criticism: Negative comments spread far and fast among social media users. Nip problems in the bud by publicly telling customers how you will make things right.
Security risks are another pitfall for social media users. Hackers’ newest targets are company employees who post information about themselves and their jobs online, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Don’t share company user names or passwords in e-mails – even if they seem to be from someone you know. And never open attachments or click on links in unsolicited messages.
Do remind employees of best practices, and set clear policies for what kinds of company information can be shared on social media sites.
Have a Plan
Although many companies feel pressure to use social media, small businesses need to be strategic in how they use the medium.
Don’t jump into social media without clear goals for what you hope to achieve. Create a social media plan linked to goals for growing revenue.
Do write down desired results for social media use, whether that’s selling products or building relationships with customers, advises PC Magazine. Clearly answer all questions in social media profiles to reinforce your brand.
Remember that social media users have their own identities. Finding out what’s important to your community of users is a great way to make a connection – and a profit, too.