Social Media 101

By Steve Strauss

You know the drill by now, you have heard the steady drumbeat:

  • “Social media has changed the game!”
  • “Social media is the future!”
  • “If you want to succeed in business today, you must fully engage in social media!”

But let’s say that you’re like most small business owners. In that case, you know from social media, personally but probably not professionally. You have a Facebook page, you watch videos on YouTube (did you know that YouTube is the second most popular social media site after Facebook?), and maybe you even check out Twitter now and then (even if it confuses you.)

But, if in fact you are like most small business owners, you likely don’t use social media for business. Most polls I have seen lately indicate that less than half of all small business owners engage in social media for their business.

It’s understandable, if regrettable.

Understandable, because most entrepreneurs are so busy running their businesses that they don’t have the time, patience, or inclination to learn something altogether new like social media. But it’s regrettable too because social media gets all of the buzz that it does for a reason – it truly is a game-changing, powerful tool. Social media allows you to, at no cost except for time

  • Build your brand
  • Find new customers
  • Engage with current customers
  • Share your message
  • Resolve issues
  • Market your business

That is not an insignificant list.

The problem, I bet, is not that you are unaware of these potential benefits, but rather, as indicated previously, that figuring out how to jump on the social media bandwagon might seem overwhelming. Maybe that ship has sailed (to mix metaphors.)

But maybe not. Actually, if you want to jump on the social media bandwagon, it’s definitely not too late.

Here’s how to get started in social media for your business, in four easy steps:

Step 1: Figure out your purpose: What is it exactly that you want your business or brand to gain by beginning to engage in social media? Wanting to get known as a thought leader is much different than wanting to get more customers. Take a look at the list of benefits above; there are many different potential benefits to becoming engaged in social media. Pick one or two.

Step 2. Decide which site fits that goal: You will notice I didn’t say choose the site that is the best/easiest/most fun for you. No, what you want is to choose the one site that will best help you accomplish your goals listed in Step 1.

Generally speaking (and this is really very general), the top social media sites offer different things:

Facebook: Because it is the most popular and the “friendliest,” Facebook lends itself well to businesses that run promotions, like to get clicks, and like to interact with their audience.

Twitter: Because Twitter limits what you can say to about three sentences (140 characters), it is better suited to short blasts of information. As such, it can be a great tool for professionals wanting to establish their credibility. Personally, I love to use Twitter to share small business info and tips.

LinkedIn: LinkedIn is the granddaddy of B2B social media sites. If networking is your game, then LinkedIn is the name.

YouTube: People love watching videos online. If your business is visual or otherwise lends itself to a video presence, creating a YouTube channel would probably behoove you.

Pinterest: Pinterest too is a visual medium, and one that is populated more by women than men. If that’s your audience, go for it.

Instagram: Favored by a younger demographic.

You get the idea. The different sites cater to different interests and demographics. Pick the one that fits your business goals best.

Step 3: Jump into the deep end of that one site: If you are just getting started in social media for your small business, pick that one site that fits best and learn it. Not two sites. Not three. One. Learn that one. Spend time there. Get to know it.

Then set up your business profile on that site and begin to share some content. Meet new people, people you would not otherwise normally meet. Share your expertise. Have a contest. Dig in.

Step 4: Notice your results: Getting results from social media is not a quick process. It takes months to build up a presence and get fans and followers. Give yourself the time necessary. Don’t expect miracles, but do expect results. After three months, take stock. Alter course if necessary.

Once you have that one site down and the goals you listed in Step 1 are within reach, only then should you venture into a second social media site. Repeat the process there.

Good luck!

Steve Strauss is a senior small business columnist at USA Today and author of 15 books, including The Small Business Bible.

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