For a small business owner, jumping into the social media arena can seem like a daunting task. It's easy to become overwhelmed by the number of social networks out there today, but they provide a huge opportunity for small businesses to create online chatter.
Based on the statistics, it appears many small businesses will be entering unchartered territories this year. A recent study released by Aberdeen Group (published by eMarketer), states that 63% of companies plan to increase their social media marketing budgets in 2009. And more than 600,000 small businesses will integrate social network services in the next year, according to the latest study by New York-based Access Markets International (AMI) Partners, Inc.
As many know, social media can help companies manage their reputation, get brand or product feedback, provide an opportunity to interact directly with customers and gather business intelligence.
Let's just call social media the "buzz builder". But, small businesses don't have to engage in every new social media tool. By choosing a few, businesses can interact and engage potential customers about their product or service in the early-to-middle stages of their buying cycle. This is an opportunity to provide information that the buyer is searching for that will ultimately be used in their buying decision.
Before starting a social media campaign, though, know it's a commitment of time, money and effort. It takes time for companies to build their online brand and to attract and engage an audience. Give yourself a media budget to include social networking. Traditionally, business owners have looked at set categories for allocating marketing dollars. With Americans spending more time online then in front of the tv, social media deserves its own category in the budget. Before jumping into a campaign, a business needs to select the right social media activities that best align with their goals. Businesses need to ask how much time can be invested, what channels should be used, who will conduct the campaign and what are the goals.
Keep in mind, the campaign shouldn't take away from the way a business is run and take away from real goals at hand. Social media is simply a tool to enhance business, not the only tool.
Now it's time to do your research. Identify where your audience is online. See what your competitors are doing. Social media listening is imperative. Don't try the newest media tool online if your audience isn't there. See what tools your competitors use and measure the effectiveness of those tools. Do your competitors Twitter, are they active on LinkedIn or do they have a blog? Seeing what your competitors are doing gives you a good launch pad to learn what is working and what isn't.
If you create a Twitter page and aren't steadily increasing the number of engaged, active followers within a month, that's a good indication this might not be your right target. If you have the time and resource to build a blog with good content consistently and it's proven that your audience likes this platform, you should invest in a blog.
And don't be afraid to venture out into the Internet "wild" as well to set your business apart. Consider multimedia content using video. Online video advertising is emerging and is proven to be highly effective tool for online marketing. Posting videos in several places will also boost SEO and help customers find your company.
Once you have clearly defined your social media objectives and identified the right communications tools, be consistent with your message on all social media channels. Contribute regularly to content. Just because you are out there, if you aren't engaging, you've wasted your time. Don't be afraid to outsource for help in social media initiatives from strategic planning to content production.
And remember, social media has leveled the playing field for all businesses. You have direct contact with the customer. Go get those new customers!
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Breanna Bouchard is a social media specialist for Adwido.com, a commercial internet and video marketing company dedicated to small-and medium-sized businesses . Breanna previously worked in Marketing at GodTube.com and managed all social media account. She was also a social media consultant for Real Options for Women, a crisis pregnancy center.
If you would like to learn more, go to Adwido.com to learn more about how you can unleash the power of video marketing on the internet.
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