Small business & social media: Do not be shy. Come on in; the water is fine!

When I meet small business owners who are not using social media to promote their businesses, high on the list of reasons they give for ignoring this powerful and virtually free marketing tool is the time commitment required. But further probing often reveals a deeper reason for their reluctance: They’re intimidated by social media and are afraid of making a mistake.

Most of this angst comes people over 40. They’ve had little exposure to social media, don’t understand how it works and are loathe to add yet one more chore to their workday. My response, as someone who is way over 40, is twofold:

• Social media has become such a powerful marketing tool that we have reached a point where you simply can’t afford to ignore its potential. This is especially true if you have a business-to-consumer (B2C) business. The power of mediums such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter to raise your company’s visibility and build business is astonishing. Check out this post I wrote for my MassLive.com blog, “Facebook business pages aren’t just for the big guys,” for four examples of small businesses in my area that are accessing the power of Facebook to draw in customers.

To that list of businesses that I wrote about last spring, I can now add my client, Three Sisters Sanctuary and its related business, the Good Time Stove Company. In talking with proprietor Richard Richardson earlier this week he told me that Facebook is doing a great job of attracting visitors to his beautiful, art-filled, inspiring sanctuary in Goshen, MA. And the thing is that Richard is not particularly tech savvy but he’s doing a great job with his Facebook pages. There’s not reason you can’t as well.

• It’s not rocket science. Sure, there are a few things you need to learn, but a lot of it is stuff you can pick up by just jumping in and observing. At least that’s the way I’ve done it. Yes, I do see some people making mistakes, such as only talking about themselves and their projects on Twitter. If you only talk about yourself 100% of the time and don’t have anything of value or interest to offer others, you’ll have a hard time gaining traction. Just like you would not (I hope!) walk up to someone at a networking event and monopolize the conversation by talking only about yourself and your work, neither should you do that on any social media platform.

That’s not to say you can’t talk about your business, especially if you are offering a discount, having a special event or something else that customers (and potential customers) will want to take advantage of. It’s just that if you have a B2B company and all you talk about is the project you’re working on right now, you’re at great risk of boring everyone to death.

All social media is a two-way conversation. Having something of value to share is the key, whether that’s your own informative blog, news and information you’ve gathered elsewhere on the Web, or well-informed comments you can add to the conversation about a hot topic You have to have some conversational skills, but those are easy enough to gain. Trust your instincts; they’ll take you a long way.

I’ve had two friends ask me to walk them through various social media platforms. Again, they seemed intimidated and worried that if they jumped in they somehow would not “do things right.” Both of these individuals are very analytical and were concerned about understanding everything about how Facebook and Twitter work. But I think you actually learn more and learn it faster by actually using the platforms yourself and testing things out instead of having someone else explain them to you. When it comes to social media, in other words, I’m big on learning by doing.

If you feel the need to do some reading before joining in the social media fray, I’d recommend Inbound Marketing: Get Found Using Google, Social Media & Blogs by Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah of HubSpot.com. For an easy-to-read primer on Twitter, check out Twitterville by Shel Israel.

Don’t be intimidated by social media. And most of all, don’t miss the power they have to help you build your small business.

1 comment

  1. Anora McGaha says:

    Nice post Jeanne. I stumbled it. http://www.stumbleupon.com/su/3mWJIZ/www.succeedi

    I like your two clear points: you can't afford to ignore its potential and it's not rocket science. Yet as you know by the friends who asked you to walk them through it, there's nothing like having a one on one tour of a new town, and FB and Twitter both do have some quite unintuitive parts!

    Thanks for suggesting a couple of books. I hadn't seen those two yet. May I also add to your list of books to read before joining the social media fray? My co-author and I just published "Social Media for Business" for small and micro business owners, written by small and micro business owners.

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