7 Tips for Small Business Owners Looking to Jump Into Social Media

Because of my background working on social media marketing campaigns for numerous large businesses, small and independent business owners often ask me how they should dive into the social media world. Many of them have little or no experience with social media and some of them may use it but without purpose. Here are 7 general tips I give to them before they take the plunge into social media marketing.

1. Develop a social media marketing plan. Start with your objectives and map out a plan-of-action to meet these objectives. What are you planning to get out of social media marketing? Who and how will you reach your target audience? These are just some of the things you'll want to address in your plan. By organizing your thoughts and ideas, you'll have a roadmap and something to refer back to should you lose focus.

2. Start from the inside out. I always stress to clients that before you pull the trigger on social media you need to be sure that you are ready for it internally. Are you and your staff ready to handle any questions that come through the door? Do you have a crisis communication plan in place should something arise via social media? Do you have the bandwidth to actively keep up with this audience? Who will take ownership of retrieving and posting content?

3. All or nothing. Like a marriage or any relationship that you want to work, social media marketing is most effective when you're committed to it. You either give it your all or don't bother turning the switch on. You'll do more harm than good if you go into it half-heartedly.

4. Build your community. This is one of the more challenging areas for larger companies and I don't see it getting any easier for smaller ones. Promoting the fact that you're on the social networks can help. Be sure to start showing your presence on your website, and consider things offline like your business cards, brochures and any other printed collateral you may have. They can also be used as a platform to advertise your social media presence by adding your social media information to them. It can be as simple as including a Facebook and Twitter icon to the pieces. Also, create an email database of loyal followers so that you can extend conversations and create referral programs to aid in growing your community.

5. Develop a process. One of the biggest complaints I receive from business owners is that they just don't have the time for social media marketing. If you create a process for yourself and follow this process you can adjust your thinking and make it a routine. For example, if you allow yourself to take 30 minutes out of your day to push content in the morning, afternoon and evening, then you should have the time for it within your schedule. With today's technology, you also can also enlist time-saving tools such as Hootsuite, FutureTweet or Vocus.

6. Have a content strategy in mind. Aside from the time it takes to keep up with social media, I've always said the hardest thing is finding relevant content to keep yourself active with your community. If you post only product and sales messages, you'll eventually lose your followers since there is no other added value for them. Try to mix it up with a variety of things that may be indirectly related to your company. I always go by the rule of 1.) product/service 2.) industry 3.) topical 4.) lifestyle. Try to be keyword specific within the posts as well to aid in search engine optimization.

7. Don't cut your advertising. If you've been running traditional advertising campaigns, then you should continue to. Social media marketing shouldn't be looked at as a means of replacing your advertising, rather, enhancing it. It is most effective when working hand-in-hand with traditional off and online advertising. Remember that social media isn't for everyone and you still need a way of reaching out to this group.