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Social Media: 10 Tips on Jumping In Feet-First Without Drowning

August 11th, 2009 ::

This post comes from one of our Grow Smart Business Expert Network members Michelle Riggen Ransom. She is Communications Director of BatchBlue Software.

There are a lot of resources out there explaining how to use social media for small businesses. Heck, we’ve even published an in-depth paper about it! But sometimes it’s nice to hear directly from someone who’s out there trying all this stuff to see what’s really worked for them.

How we do it

BatchBlue Software is a small company that makes BatchBook, a social CRM software for small businesses. Because we’re a growing company, we don’t have much of an advertising or marketing budget. Social media’s appeal for us has been that it is inexpensive (usually free except for time) and allows you to grow your network quickly. And once you get the hang of it, it’s actually pretty fun.

We’ve been in business for about three years and have enjoyed some great press, made some amazing connections and grown our business primarily by using social media.

Here’s what’s worked for us in helping our business get started with social media:

  1. Start a Twitter account. You’ll hear this from anyone and everyone talking about social media. That’s because it really is the best tool of them all for connecting with people, finding new contacts, even providing customer service. There are many, many posts out there about how to get started with Twitter for business. Here are just a few.
  2. Listen. Familiarize yourself with the main social media channels out there such as Facebook and LinkedIn. Ask your customers which ones they are using on a regular basis. For more options, check out BatchBlue’s Blue Paper or Mashable, a blog focused on Web 2.0 and social media news. Create accounts in a couple of social networks and just observe how people are interacting. You’ll learn a lot this way.
  3. See what your competitors are doing. Go to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and have a look at your competitors are doing in these spaces. If they’re not there, think about if it makes sense for you to be there (is the network you want to reach in that particular space? Maybe not.) If they are not there yet, this could be a tremendous opportunity for you and your business to be the first ones in your industry using some of these tools.
  4. Be nice. The real fun begins once you start participating. Social media is very much about helping others succeed, not just going after your own personal success. Karma goes a very long way online – if you help someone in some way (by providing a resource, a link, an answer to a question), they’ll both remember you and view you as an asset to their network.
  5. Share. Whatever your industry, you have knowledge that other people don’t. Run a fireplace supply store? Blog about when people should get their chimneys swept. Own a pet grooming business? Tweet some quick tips about clipping kitty nails (hint: there’s a lot of pet lovers on Twitter!). Social media is about communication: the more you share what you know, the more you’ll get interest in your company and the product or service you are providing.
  6. ABC (Always Be Communicating) The sales industry has the term “Always Be Closing.” Well, you should be doing that, too, but with regard to social media, the more information you put out there, the better (as long as it is relevant, interesting and not spammy!) At BatchBlue, we use our blog to talk about what’s going on behind the scenes with BatchBook, we use our Twitter account to communicate if our site has any downtime and talk about upcoming events, we share photos of staff events and conferences using Flickr. People want to do business with companies they feel they know; it was true 100 years ago and it is true today even though the rules and the tools have changed. Be open and honest about who you are as a company and that will earn you customer loyalty that no advertising dollar will ever buy.
  7. Don’t be creepy. There are a lot of great ways to use social media, but there are a lot of inappropriate ways as well. We call these people “Sleestacks”; folks who use social media to spam people, spy on people or in other nefarious ways. I wrote a post about Sleestacks here; read it so you know what to watch out for and how not to become one.
  8. Try new things. Something that has been very successful for us is starting the SBBuzz Twitter chat, where we host a weekly, two-hour chat session on Twitter for small business folks looking to connect with others. Our company president Pamela O’Hara and I started this just about a year ago at the Small Business Technology Conference in New York City and we now have over 9,000 followers on the sbbuzz Twitter account. We had never done this before, and, in fact, we’re still learning the technology ourselves, but we saw a need for this type of discussion and we’re excited to jump in and try and fill it. If new for you is simply joining Twitter or opening a YouTube account and putting up some product demos, try that. As I always tell my mom (who’s a small business owner herself) “You can’t break the Internet just by trying something out!”
  9. Manage your time. This is one I’m, admittedly, still learning. Social media can be very addictive and thus very time-consuming. The always helpful Chris Brogan, president of New Marketing Labs and a prolific writer on the topic of social media, recently wrote a great piece as part of a recent newsletter about how he manages his daily workflow when much of it involves being active various social media channels. I’m working on adopting some of his strategies to make my work day more efficient and productive.
  10. Go to social media-related events. You’ll find that you start making real connections with certain people online due to shared interests, sense of humor, etc. If you have a chance to meet with folks “IRL” (in real life!) at conferences or meet-ups, definitely do so; it will strengthen these connections and turn virtual friends into real ones. Eventbrite is a good place to find events that you may be interested in attending. You can search by industry, topic or location or even create an event of your own.

I hope you find these tips helpful. BatchBlue will be blogging here on the topics of social media for small business and managing your contact network on a regular basis, so please let me know in the comments if there are specific things you’d like to read more about. Thanks for reading!

ABOUT THIS GROW SMART BUSINESS CONTRIBUTOR:

As overseer of all things editorial and champion of the overall user experience, Michelle works as Communications Director for BatchBlue Software and ensures that the products meet BatchBlue customers’ needs. Prior to joining BatchBlue Software, her work as a consultant for web communications helped clients connect to their employees and customers using innovative technologies such as virtual user groups, intranets, and rich media.

Michelle honed her on-line customer advocacy skills at Amazon.com, where she worked as a project manager in the Customer Service department. After four years at Amazon, she joined Washington Mutual’s Corporate Communications department developing and managing web-based communications projects.

Michelle holds a Master’s degree in creative writing from the University of Washington and a degree in communications from Boston University. Originally from Cape Cod, she enjoys exploring the beach with her four-year old son and collecting children’s book illustrations. Descended from a long line of birders, she’s destined to become a crazy bird lady. For now, she’s named her new daughter after a songbird that heralds the arrival of spring.