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Small Business Nation. A Project of The U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Social Media

While it has become all the rage among online marketers, we urge you to think of social media as one more tool in your marketing toolkit—and not as your only tool.

In the pre-Internet world, we had another name for social media. We called it “having a conversation.” While this used to happen face-to-face, over the phone, or by letter, now it happens in the virtual world, allowing the conversation to take many forms and involve many more people. Done well, social media will draw potential customers into your orbit, allowing you to form alliances over time and it can cement pre-existing relationships. Done poorly, social media can be disastrous.

Check out our 10 top recommendations for using Social Media for your small business.

Platforms Galore
Chances are that you’re familiar with the various social media applications. Recent statistics indicate that nearly half of all Americans (142.1 million in December 2009) use it frequently. In fact, the average American Web user spends slightly more than six hours per month on social media websites.

Among the biggest players are:

  • Facebook, with 157 million unique U.S. visitors per month.
  • YouTube with 142 million U.S. visitors per month.
  • Twitter with 35 million U.S. visitors per month.
  • MySpace with 25 million U.S. visitors per month.
  • Linked-In with 24 million U.S. visitors per month.
  • Flickr with20 million U.S. visitors per month.

(source: compete.com)

We encourage you to spend some time on each of these websites, getting familiar with their strengths and matching them with the needs of your business.

Social Media Done Right
If you’re a relentless networker “in real life,” then social media is likely going to work for your business—provided you can translate your passion for interaction into the online world. Social media marketing requires the same sort of drive: a genuine enthusiasm to meet that next person and get to know him. If that’s you, you’re in the right place.

Social media is simply an online conversation. And, like most interesting conversations, it requires the ability to listen and participate in the dialogue. Publish content regularly, but don’t stop there. It is also important to make time to read the posts’ of others and to comment on them. Pose engaging questions to your audience base. The more you get involved in the online networks you choose, the more return you’ll see on your investment.

Just as tone is important in an in-person conversation, it is essential to keep in mind while communicating on a social media platform. The best social media participants engage users with genuine interest and civility. While you’ll see some anger on social media sites, it’s a good idea to keep your business tweets and posts far away from those “third rails.” And when you’re treated to a dose of anger from a customer or client, respond with courtesy and an interest in fixing their problem. Satisfied online customers become brand loyalists, and brand loyalists refer new customers.

The Media and Social Media
In the 21st century world of journalism—an industry with limited resources and fewer and fewer people to tell compelling stories—social media has become an easy portal to speak to reporters, editors, assignment desks, and broadcast personalities. While you don’t want to harangue anyone with relentless story pitches, a well-placed, relevant post or tweet can generate more earned media than an entire ad campaign. The key? It’s about compelling content and relevance. Give the media what it needs when it needs it and you’ll make friends with lots of people holding the cameras and microphones.

On the flip side, social media can also be a helpful tool if you find yourself in the midst of a crisis. Since you control the message and you can speak directly to your audience, think about using social media to get out your side of the story. Keep in mind that the online world can be a tough crowd. Don’t tell untruths, don’t spin, and don’t forget the two most powerful words any business should use liberally in a crisis —“I’m sorry.”

Social Media Examples
The next time you’re on Facebook, stop by www.facebook.com/uschamber and check out what the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is doing to market via social media. If you’re a Twitter user, the U.S. Chamber has a number of “must follows” you should check out every day: @USChamberAction; @ChamberPost; @USChamber; and @FreeEnterprise.

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