Not tweeting yet? If your small business doesn't have a social media presence, you may be missing out on building brand loyalty with your customers or attracting new ones.
"Social media is where the eyeballs are and that's where you want to be," says Steve Strauss, a small business author. "You can build your brand and establish it."
So which social media site should you use? It depends on the type of business you own, says Shama Kabani, the founder of Web marketing company The Marketing Zen Group. You should be wherever your customers are. A restaurant, for example, needs to closely monitor online review site Yelp.
The downside of social media is that it needs to be monitored all day. If someone asks what time the store closes, you'll want to respond before it closes, or you'll miss a potential customer, says Kabani. If you don't have time to monitor many accounts, just choose one and focus on it, and maybe experiment with the others later. You can also hire a social media marketer to manage the accounts, or hand them over to an intern.
Here are tips on how small businesses can use social media:
With 1.1 billion users, it's hard to ignore Facebook. There's a greater chance that your customers are on it, says Amanda Schuster, a writer and social media marketer. "Even the senior set is using it," she says.
To get your business in front of Facebook users, you'll need to create a page for your business, and get people to like it. (Always keep your business page and personal Facebook profile separate. Your customers don't need to see your latest vacation pictures or your kid's graduations.) To attract more likes, you will likely need to buy a Facebook advertisement, says Schuster. You can customize the ad and choose the audience you want to reach, based on their location, age, gender or interests. An ad can cost as little as $10 a day, says Schuster.
Facebook offers its own tips on how businesses can use the social media network online at Facebook.com/business.
This location-based social network is best for businesses that are on the move, such as a food truck or if you're selling a product in different locations. A brand of alcohol, for example, can check in at a restaurant or bar that serves its products, says Schuster. Foursquare helps your customers keep track of where your product is being sold and what events you're planning. Foursquare's guide on how to businesses can use it is at http://business.foursquare.com/.
The photo-sharing service works best with businesses that have a visual element. A clothing store can post pictures of its latest styles, for example. Photos can be easily shared from Instagram to other social media networks, such as Twitter and Facebook (which owns Instagram).
Instagram has a help center for businesses at http://bit.ly/12TjLZ8. It also publishes a blog, business.instagram.com/blog, that highlights how other businesses are using Instagram
LinkedIn isn't just for jobseekers. Small business owners should create a company page on the online professional networking service, says LinkedIn career expert Nicole Williams. You can add contact info, products and other information about your business to the company page. LinkedIn has videos and guides on how to set up a company page at http://linkd.in/12Vun9E.
With over 200 million users, this social network also has a big following. Christina Kennedy, a social media marketer, recommends that businesses follow people or companies that you think will be interested your business. They'll be more likely to check your page out to see who is following them, getting you on their radar.
Businesses can also use the site to deal with customer complaints, or to thank people who say good things. Download Twitter's guide for small businesses.
The pinboard-style photo-sharing website is popular with businesses that have a visual element. The key here is to be authentic and share photos that users want to see, rather than just an advertisement for your business. A restaurant can offer a photo and recipe for a new dish, for example. Pinterest offers more tips for businesses at http://business.pinterest.com.
If you own a restaurant, bar, clothing store or many other kinds of businesses, users of the online review site users have likely created a page for it already.
A negative review on Yelp can hurt a business, says Shama Kabani, the founder of Web marketing company The Marketing Zen Group. Other customers may see it and stay away. Business owners need to monitor their Yelp pages and respond if an upset customer writes something on it. "How you respond says a lot more about you than the complaint," says Kabani. Remember to be nice, and never accuse the customer of lying. Try to be helpful.
Don't be afraid to ask for positive Yelp reviews offline. Train restaurant servers to ask customers to review the place on Yelp, if they enjoyed themselves, says Kabani. Add a line on your receipts asking for Yelp reviews. "Be proactive," says Kabani.