Social media: where to start for small business

amber.

Social media expert Amber MacArthur, speaking in Sydney last week.

Planing, listening and creating are the cornerstones to success in social media for small businesses. That's what Amber MacArthur, social media expert and author of Power Friending: Demystifying Social Media to Grow Your Business, said in Sydney last week.

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The broadcaster, podcaster, blogger and speaker was touted by Canadian Business last year as "Canada's top social-media expert on how to build a brand".

MacArthur, who was speaking at the PMP Schmart Marketing Conference, spoke to Enterprise about how small businesses can get the most out of social media.

"I have no idea where to start"

 While many small businesses have embraced social media, there isn't a day that goes by when a small business owner bemoans to me that they don't know where to start. If you're starting out in this online world, MacArthur suggests focusing on three steps.

1. Put a plan in place

MacArthur says: "Establish your goals, figure out what tools you’re going to use, and maybe choose two or three tools that you want to use. Then you can go forward from there. Have a plan to track your success along the way. It doesn’t have to be a 50-page document. It could be two or three pages."

When MacArthur refers to the "tools" you might use, this means determining which social media platforms you're going to engage in. While there are many to choose from, MacArthur suggests the following platforms for most people:

  • Your blog
  • Twitter
  • Facebook

2. Ensure you have a "listening strategy"

"Once you have your plan intact and you know which social media platforms you’re going to use, you need a listening strategy (to monitor what's being said online about you and your business)," says MacArthur.

"Decide how you’re going to monitor your reputation online, what people are saying about your brand or, if you’re a small business, maybe even you as an individual. Have a plan where you’re using some type of software to monitor all of that conversation. That could be a free tool like Google Alerts or one that you pay for like Radian 6."

3. Create compelling content

 MacArthur says: "This can be everything from Twitter tweets, to Facebook updates, to blog posts. For many of the people I work with, creating content sometimes means that the blog becomes a central area or destination. Then you’re tweeting outposts from the blog, and they also go to Facebook. There’s lots of cross posting."

What but the hell is "content" and what should you actually write about?

Let's say you're a chiropractor running your small practice. MacArthur says: "Maybe you want to ask questions to your community. Something really simple like: 'What exercises do you do to relieve back pain?' You find out what people are doing and then you might give them your recommendations or advice in terms of what you can do to help."

The top 3 behaviours to avoid

  • Don't "shout"

"Don't be that person at the cocktail party who always talks about themselves," she says. "It's the same thing in social media. You want to make sure it's a give and take relationship."

  • Don't be offensive

"Sometimes, I can't believe the stuff I read online where people are bashing companies or individuals that they might want to work with down the road. You have to be vey careful that you really don't offend anyone, especially if you're in the services industry."

  • Don't get too comfortable

MacArthur says that even though you might get into a workable routine with your social media, it's important to observe what's around the corner. After all, Twitter and Facebook might be the platforms du jour, but who knows what the Next Big Thing is going to be?

"Social media is changing so quickly," says MacArthur. "If you get too comfortable and love one tool and you're immersed in there, you don't know if there's going to be some new tool a week down the road and the other one becomes obsolete. Always try to evolve."

How can you grow your "community"?

It can seem fruitless to create compelling content if you're not sure if anyone is listening to you. So, when you are starting out in the social media world, you also need to focus on growing your community or the number of people who "follow" you.

"One of the best things you can do is to rely on your own personal network," says MacArthur. "In lots of ways, some of the best examples of social media have been individuals or organisations that have grown from the inside out. They use the strongest networks they have in place right now and they get those people to be part of the conversations they are starting to develop. Get those people involved and start to be seen as an expert in your community."

How can you cope with the volume of interactions?

Once your community does grow, the conversations an interactions on social media become more frequent. I often hear many business owners say they eschew social media because they can't keep up with all the "chatter". However, MacArthur points out that you simply need a system to manage these interactions.

"No matter who you are, you're going to have a problem on social media sites," she says. "If you don't have enough people, the problem is that you don't have enough of an audience to interact with. If you have too many people, you need help managing it all. You want to have the second problem.

"Even though [on Twitter and Facebook] I have a fairly large audience, it's not a lot of effort for me to go in a few times day just to check in and respond to as many people as possible. I didn't, all of a sudden, get on Twitter and have 50,000 followers. It's been a process. It's a grind. I'll be the first to tell you that, yes, sometimes I finish work at the end of the day and I don't really feel like checking in on Twitter. But I know it's going to haunt me if I don't do it at that point because I'll have to do it in the morning. It's a grind and you've just got to keep it up. It's like a marathon. You're always in training."

For a video with Amber MacArthur on her book Power Friending, click here.

Tom Retterbush

Posted By: Tom Retterbush

You can stay up to date on the latest Internet trends if you check out my AssEtEbooks.com Social Media Blog, where you'll find all the news, tips, tricks, articles and ebooks you'll need. And while you're at it, you'll want to check out the many FREE and cheap Ebooks I offer on just about any and every subject you can possibly think of, at AssEtEbooks.com.

Have questions about Twitter hashtags? Have a favorite hashtag you like to use? Let me know by leaving a comment below.

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