Social media is a potentially great source of new customers with deep interest and engagement in your business. The problem many small businesses are encountering, however, is that the reality doesn't quite live up to expectations. This is a result of a conflict between unrealistic expectations and poor social media management. What are the risks of social media usage for businesses, and what can you do to avoid them?
Risk: Small Audience
Small businesses have small communities, but this doesn't need to be so. You will start out with a small audience, mostly composed of members of your e-mail lists and website regulars. It's your job -- and a time-consuming job it is -- to grow that audience.
This means talking with your fans, engaging them, giving them reasons to follow you on social media and making it worth their time. If your social media posts are no different from classified ads, you're doing something wrong. Social media is all about engagement and interaction, which necessarily means a large time investment.
Risk: Lack of Content
Coming up with something to post on your social profiles can be a challenge. Here are some ideas:
Low-key advertisements for sales and other events taking place on your website and in your store. These are good in moderation, but you should never let them take over your page.
Commentary on recent industry news or local happenings that are of interest to your customers. Local businesses can comment on city happenings, while businesses with a larger focus can comment on general industry news and encourage conversations.
Provide links to quality content on your blog and other locations. This content can be anything from general product buying guides to industry news, depending on your niche.
The key is to keep your users engaged with content, without burying them in posts. Engaging customers is how companies like TicketBis go from small start-ups to massive multinational companies (started in Spain, they now operate in over 15 countries), assisting customers in swapping tickets on the secondary market.
Risk: Spending Too Much Time
Social media marketing takes a significant amount of time, but it can take too much time out of your day. Finding that balance is difficult, which is why many businesses opt to outsource their social media management, or hire an in-house social media manager. It's not necessary to respond to every single comment someone posts -- in fact, it can look desperate. Instead, respond to the important questions and incorporate user feedback in future posts.
Risk: Missing Valuable Leads
One great benefit of social media is the fact that people love to complain. If someone is unhappy with their service from one of your competitors, that's an opportunity for you to step in and offer your services. You shouldn't be too intrusive with it, though. Visiting a personal Facebook page to post and direct them to your site is a bit much. Twitter is the ideal platform for this sort of lead generation. Viral exchanges between consumers and companies have shown that a short, humorous snipe at a competitor is generally rewarding, as long as it's not your entire business plan.
Risk: Paying Too Much
If you're contracting someone to manage your social media, you need to avoid paying too much. On the other hand, you need to avoid paying too little, as well. The only way to make sure you're not overpaying is to research the market in your area for social media gurus. The high end probably costs more than you need to pay for the minimal initial returns. Conversely, the low end has a higher chance of mismanaging your brand and causing damage that is very expensive to fix.
Risk: Backing Out
Don't get discouraged and discontinue using your social media profiles. If you suddenly disappear, all the users you did attract will just as suddenly have a reason to distrust you. Social media is all about trust and communication. If you're not communicating, you're not trustworthy. For this reason alone, it's incredibly important to avoid jumping in to more than two or three social networks at once. Stick with Facebook and Twitter to start. Expand into Google+ if you need the benefit of SEO, or to LinkedIn for a corporate atmosphere. Consider localised social networks for international business only if you have a local agent to help with cultural translations.
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