Is Social Media Worth the Risk for Small Businesses?

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As a small business, you might have heard horror stories about social media. For every story about a waitress funding a wheelchair for her father after paying for a fire fighter's breakfast, there are many more stories about business owners behaving badly and their reputation being trashed online.

You might be concerned that social media contains more risks than it does benefits. You might believe only larger companies can attract interest and interaction online. Because of that, you may not take advantage of the many benefits that smart small business owners can find for their business on different social media platforms.

Social media contains many benefits for small businesses

The truth is that social media, used correctly, can add dimensions to your customer service and customer interactions that are difficult to achieve otherwise, especially for businesses that exist mostly in the online sphere.

Just a few of the benefits of to businesses of social media include:

Exposure

When you're starting from the ground up, the first 100 customers are the most difficult to get. Many business experts consider this a tipping point for success. If your business has 100 regular customers, you are much more likely to succeed over the long term. Social media can help you gain the exposure you need to reach those 100 customers.

Branding

Some businesses struggle to create recognizable brands in a busy marketplace. The kind of work you will do to successfully target your perfect customer on social media will help you determine the most effective brand for you to establish.

Thought leadership

A phrase that you will hear regularly in business spheres is thought leadership. This is the idea that your company can be seen as an expert in a particular field, and therefore people are more likely to come to you for business products. Seth Godin is a thought leader for marketing, and Brian Goulet of Goulet Pens is a thought leader in the world of fountain pens.

Social media can help a business position themselves positively in relation to their customers, which can help convince them to spread the word to their friends and drive a business's success.

Social media does contain drawbacks and pitfalls

It's not that the world of social media is entirely full of sweetness and light. Just like the real world, there are risks to putting your business on the map. With social media, there are some possibilities that you might need to face, including:

• Negative comments or feedback
• Negative publicity
• Wasted budget for mistargeted ads
• Bad word of mouth exposure
• Inadequate preparation to account for increased demand

As you can see, many of the risks of using social media for business are intangible and hard to quantify. There's an old adage in marketing: There is no such thing as bad publicity. In the age of the Internet, where information (true or false) can spread like wildfire, bad publicity may be more of a concern than it was in the age of print media.

Additionally, some businesses do not anticipate the demand that they end up generating with their campaigns. While this might sound like a nice "problem" to have, many companies have ended up losing painstakingly-built reputations because of long wait times or a decrease in content quality and engagement as they struggled to meet demand.

Once you know the risks of social media, however, you can work to mitigate those risks.

How to manage risk in the world of social media

Margarita Hakobyan, founder of MoversCorp, actively uses social media to engage and interact with customers and says "It's surprisingly easy to have great customer interactions on social media." She uses a wide range of social networks to stay connected. She follows a few simple rules (MAD) to help keep things polite and friendly between you and your customers on social media--whether it's Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, or Reddit.

To make sure you're always polite on social media, remember MAD:

(M)ost customers are not trying to take advantage of you. Sure, some customers are out to fleece every business that they possibly can, but the vast majority of them are just getting through their day, the same as you. Treat all customers as if they're on the up-and-up until it is absolutely proven beyond the shadow of a doubt that they are not. You'll gain more by working with the customers who are authentically seeking resolutions than you will lose by culling the few customers who are taking advantage of you.
(A)pologize for bad experiences, and do not blame the customer. No matter what you know about the customer's behavior, publicly saying that their bad experience was their fault will never reflect positively against you as a business. In fact, seeing you handle a situation well and defuse a customer's frustration may gain you more customers, when they trust that they will be handled with the same respect and courtesy.
(D)on't be a jerk. It is surprising that this needs to be said, but a shocking number of businesses seem to lose all sense of manners when they come across negative reviews or feedback on their business page.

Find success on social media to help you bring success to all facets of your business

As a business, one of the keys to success is using the best tools available to you to their greatest advantage. If you walked away from every risk because you had the potential to fail, you'd never have started your business, and you wouldn't have gotten this far. There is a place in the world of entrepreneurship for caution, but remember that caution isn't the same as refusal.

Use social media to promote and grow your business, but do it sincerely, professionally, and with the same care and attention to detail that you bring to other sectors of your business.

Do you have a suggestion for how businesses can successfully use social media to promote their businesses? Leave it in the comments!