Over 800 million people in the world are on Facebook, including over 180 million Americans, or one in two adults. Twitter just topped 300 million accounts. Small business owners in droves are trying to capitalize on the trends, but few are reeaping the benefits. For most local business owners, the temptation is to use social networks to promote their businesses and to broadcast their messages.But if you take off your marketing cap and put on your customer cap, you'll realize that consumers are already pummeled by marketing and advertising messages all day long. The secret to social media for small business owners is being human – being the sort of person at a cocktail party who listens attentively, tells great stories, shows interest in others and is authentic and honest. In other words, the secret is to simply be likeable – and that means creating value for others.
Here are 5 specific tips for small business owners to enjoy more success at social media:
1. Listen before you talk. Before your first tweet, search Twitter for people talking about your business, and for people talking about your competitors. Search using words that your prospective customers would say. For example, if you're an accountant, use Twitter to search for people tweeting the words "need an accountant" in your town. You'll be surprised how many people are already looking for you.
2. Don't tell your customers to like you and follow you; tell them why and how. Everywhere you turn, you see "Like us on Facebook" and "Follow us on Twitter." Huh? Why? How? Give your customers a reason to connect with you on social networks (what's in it for them?) and then make it easy. Note the difference between these two calls to action: "Like my book's page on Facebook" and "Get answers to all your social media questions at http://Facebook.com/LikeableBook."
3. Ask questions. Wondering why nobody's responding to your posts on Facebook? It's probably because you're not asking questions. Social media is about engagement and having a conversation, not about promoting. If a pizza place posts on Facebook, ""Come on by, 2 pizzas for just $12," nobody will comment, and nobody will show up. If that pizza place posts, "What's your favorite topping?" people will comment online — and then be more likely to show up.
4. Share pictures and videos. People love photos. The biggest reason Facebook has gone from zero to 800 million users in seven years is photos. Photos and videos tell stories about you in ways that text alone cannot. You don't need a production budget, either. Use your smartphone to take pictures and short videos of customers, staff, and cool things at your business, and then upload them directly to Facebook and Twitter. A picture really is worth a thousand words.
5. Spend at least 30 minutes a day on social media. If you bought a newspaper ad or radio ad, you wouldn't spend five minutes on it or relegate it to interns. Plus, there's a lot to learn, and every week, new tools and opportunities across social networks emerge. Spend real time each day reading and learning, listening and responding, and truly joining the conversation. The more time you put in to social media, the more benefits your business will receive.Above all else, keep that customer cap on, and follow the golden rule: Would you yourself click the "Like" button, the Follow button, or retweet button if you saw your own business on Facebook and Twitter? Would YOU want to be friends with your business at a cocktail party?
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. The YEC recently published #FixYoungAmerica: How to Rebuild Our Economy and Put Young Americans Back to Work (for Good), a book of 30+ proven solutions to help end youth unemployment.
Special to The Globe and Mail
Join The Globe's Small Business LinkedIn group to network with other entrepreneurs and to discuss topical issues: http://linkd.in/jWWdzT
Our free weekly small-business newsletter is now available. Every Friday a team of editors selects the top picks from our blog posts, features, multimedia and columnists, and delivers them to your inbox. If you have registered for The Globe's website, you can sign up here. Click on the Small Business Briefing checkbox and hit 'save changes.' If you need to register for the site, click here.