Small Business and Social Media

Before the 1990’s, a business owner  placed a sandwich board on the street, or ran an ad in the classifieds or hired an agency to prepare their print, radio or television ads.  Now technology has allowed us to DIY everything, but just because we can DIY media, doesn’t mean we should.

Just because I love gardening, doesn’t mean I’m good at it.  I’ve accepted that sometimes I can buy and plant, sometimes I hire a gardener and sometimes I just admire other peoples gardens.

There are a couple of things I’ve learned in the three years since I entered the social media world with my online FeeFiFoFun Costume Concierge business and with my blogs In Disguise, Black Oaks and Off the Porch.   First is is that as a small business owner, you are thinking you don’t have the time, money or skill to do social media at all.

Yet I found out that you MUST  be prepared to give Time,  to invest Money in others and  to Practice your own skills in social media.

To more effectively manage your time start with a rudimentary understanding about what social media “platforms” have to offer.  Learn who is hanging in those platforms and how, or if, it might be helpful to you.   I began with a social media workshop by Jennifer Powell and Susie Parker where I learned that different platforms  attract different audiences.

I also realize that my “audience” in social media is not just about customers.  There are other people that can help build my career or my sales and understanding where they are helps me decide at any given moment where to put my time.

Twitter is where I network with other small business owners of products and services and with authors and bloggers.  It’s also where I meet people from all around the world who inspire me in arts, science, benevolent works, food, travel, parenting, film and philosophy.  LinkedIn is where I find connections with larger businesses and forums for professionals, particularly in costuming and manufacturing.  Facebook is where I found my female adult customers, but the future customer is actually found on Tumblr.   I’m still building an audience with Instagram, mostly using it as a visual tool that I link to Facebook.  I’ve dabbled but not meaningfully, yet, on Pinterest etc.

I’ve learned to see social media time in another way, in the way of building relationships not just sales.   It’s taken me three years to build 1,000 followers on Twitter and 600 on Facebook and I am just now starting to see meaningful engagement with these “Followers” and “Fans” that can translate into sales.   I’ve seen businesses buy friends, followers and fans, but those are not real customers because they were not motivated by your philosophy, product or service.  Bought customers are fussy and fickle.

The second thing I embraced is that social media is not a panacea for any business, large or small.   I learned from people like Jennifer Frezza Beauregard how to use the platforms I had chosen.  For example, Jen keeps reminding me not just to talk about the interesting products I have on  twitter and facebook, but to link them to my web store.  Doh!  Like Hart and Galla, Sparker Strategy Group and the Social Fairy Godmother, there are many excellent resource people out there and I highly recommend you invest the money because it will save you time and money and frustration.

If you interested in the DIY, every platform uses a different set of skills.  For example, I  love taking photographs and fell in love with Instagram.  I learned how to rock Instagram, by stalking people like Katja Wulfers, but if you suck at technology you’ll save time by paying somebody else to  link that Instagram feed to your Facebook business account and Twitter.

Since I like technology and learning, I’ve opted for the DIY approach.  The third thing I recommend instead of committing to a specific social media plan or ad campaign immediately with customers, practice on family, friends and peers.  I became members of groups like Melissa Shannon’s Toronto Mompreneurs on Facebook and Twitter to learn the ropes with friendlies.  I also hooked up with local Tweeps IRL at a MississaugaTweetUp.  There we pulled out our phones and laptops to engage on cyber platforms while also being physically located next to each other … and yes, coffee, lunch or drinks were usually involved.

I’m not sure if this is an urban myth, but I  heard that a major executive, who had no intention of actually running the company’s social media campaigns, spent a month using it himself before he let the arrow fly.   Like traditional 1980’s advertising, Social Media takes time and money and provides the opportunity for good and bad customer engagement.    The only difference is today’s entrepreneur can chose do all or none of the actual work, but he or she should at least know of it.  That’s just good business.

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