Social Media Marketing for Small Business

When you mention social media to small business owners, there is a strong misconception that it is some sort of get rich quick scheme, an instant method of getting you in contact with a whole bunch of potential clients who will all be clamouring to buy your product/service.

That’s the point at which I have to start explaining the basics about personal communication and connection, the sharing of free information and giving value, building trust before anyone will even think of going to your website to check out the products or services that you, as a small business, can offer.

Here’s a great article that explains the four types of social media tools and the best ways to use them if you want to succeed in marketing your small business through social media.

Social Media and Small Business

Unless you’ve been hunkered under a rock or in the back of a cave, you’ve at least heard the term “social media.” Depending on your perspective, social media either represents the fall of western civilization or the perfect marriage of people and technology.

The term “social media” actually refers to 4 specific types of tools.

The first type, “social connection sites” like Facebook and Linked In, allow users to make, share, build, and interact with social contacts online.

The second type, “social stream of consciousness” sites like Twitter, allow users to share their thoughts quickly and easily (regardless if anyone actually cares).

The third type of tool, “social bookmarking” sites such as Digg.com and Delicious.com, let users share and rate individual sites and other media.

The fourth type of social media tool involves sites like Kongregate.com or games such as Farmville which contain “social features” to link users together.

In theory, users of social media link up, interact, and use the sites and tools as their creators intended. And, if your intentions are strictly about keeping up with friends or professional contacts you actually know in the real world, you can easily use social media to do just that. However, once you try to go beyond just networking with people you know (and the people they actually know), the world of social media gets murky fast. Though powerful and effective when used correctly, social media quickly becomes a never-ending rabbit hole of time, energy, and effort, especially for small business owners.

If you want to use social media to build your small business, keep the following in mind at all times.

Create Dialogue

Most businesses mistakenly use social media as a one-way communication tool. In fact, this represents the core mistake anyone makes with social media. You must use Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to create a real dialogue – a real exchange of communication. To do that, you can’t follow 20,000 people or have 50,000 friends. Bottom line, if the communication isn’t authentic, you’re fooling yourself that it’s actually worth doing in the first place.

Gather Intelligence

Members of your target audience hold the key to your success, not the other way around. Use social media communication to get direct input from people on your products and services. Get them to tell you their hopes, fears and problems and, more importantly, how you can help them. While building your following, you can use social media search tools (like twitter.com/search) to spot trends and problems you can solve.

Watch Your Time

Most of what you need to accomplish with Facebook and Twitter can happen in less than 15-20 minutes per day. Any more time than that is a waste of precious time. Until and unless you can track business directly to your social media activities, keep a tight rein on you time.

Share Value & Fun

The number one reason anyone sends their friends or comes back to you themselves is because of value. Always remember: nobody really cares about you and your business, they only care about what your business can do for them. Share information and news others can use and you’ll build a list of meaningful contacts. Put out a stream of useless drivel or “quotes of the day” and you might as well not even sign up for a Twitter account.

Bottom line: social media tools are just that, tools. You will not get rich overnight just because you signed up for a Twitter account, nor will you get inundated with business because you hang out a shingle on LinkedIn. You can, however, experience real results if you use these sites as originally intended: to create meaningful connections with real people.

About the Author
Jim Edwards http://www.smallbusinessmarketingweekly.com

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Google Reviews

My clients will tell you that I am always encouraging them to ask satisfied customers to post an online review.

With Google Places now publishing these reviews as part of your listing, it’s imperative to get some good feedback registered against your name.

But what if you get bad feedback? Well, you should certainly address any problems with your product or customer service straightaway but, if you look on Amazon, you will often see bad reviews along with good ones for even the best products. This shows that the reviews are not being fixed so that only positive comments appear. You’re not going to please all the people all of the time and getting a bad review now and then can make you seem more “real” than other companies – the odd bad review is not going to harm you.

Here’s a great article that explains the concept in a very easy to understand way.

Online Reviews for Local Businesses Becoming More Visible
A SPN Exclusive Article By Coleen Bennett (c) 2010

It’s no secret that satisfied customers bring you more sales, while unhappy customers can prevent sales. People who feel strongly about a service they receíved or a product they purchased are likely to tell others about their experience.

Before the internet, this effect was limited to word of mouth. A customer could tell his family, friends and co-workers about his great or terrible experience with your company. It took some effort on the customer’s part to get the word out, though, and many of them wouldn’t take the time. Very few of them took the time to write a letter to the business or even tell friends about it more than a few days after their interaction with a business. Only if they were extremely pleased or displeased would the word get out.

The growth of the internet has made it much easier to praise or complain about a company in a public place. There are many online directories that allow anyone to post a comment about a business. Not only does this allow a customer to make their opinion of your products and services known to many more people, it also opens the door to abuse. Business owners pretending to be customers can post positive reviews. Disgruntled employees can post negative reviews. There is no verification that the information posted is true.

All of those reviews are about to become ten times more visible to potential customers who are looking for a local business. Google Places, formerly Google Local Business Listings, has displayed reviews entered by users on their site and a number of other directories. Now Google is integrating information from the Google Places listing into the organic search. That’s right. You’ve worked hard to make sure that you are one of the first few listings that shows up when customers are looking for the services you provide in your area. Now, right next to the organic listing is a link to customer reviews. Immediately below your URL is your address and phone number from your Google Places listing. Often a snippet of a review is there too. If this happens to be a negative review, the potential customer will almost certainly click on a different listing. It’s the online equivalent of someone standing in front of your business with a sign telling people not to shop there.

What can you do about it? Google won’t remóve a negative review just because you ask them to. And they won’t take the time to find out whether the information is accurate. You must encourage positive reviews and address negative ones – with the customer and/or online.

Encourage Good Reviews

If there are more positive reviews than negative, there’s a better chance that a review that shows within the body of your listing will be good. Also, if a customer takes the time to look at several reviews, they may be swayed by the happy customers. You could encourage all of your customers to write an online review, but that will result in more negative reviews as well as positive. How can you approach only the satisfied customers with a request for an online review? Here are a few ideas.

Many businesses already have a system in place to solicit customer feedback, often in the form of a telephone follow-up or written questionnaire. You could sort out those who have responded favorably and send them a request for an online review. If your request is in the form of an email, you could provide links to your business’s listings on various sites that accept user reviews. You could provide something to your customer in return for taking the time to post a review. A free ice cream, 10% off their next purchase from you, or some other prize could entice them to make the effort and make them feel good about your business at the same time.

Address Damaging Reviews

If you can contact the unhappy customer and solve whatever problem he had, he may be willing to remove the negative review. Whether or not you think his complaint is valid, it’s in your best interest to fix it. This may cost you money, but not doing so could cost you even more. Think about how much you spend to bring in new customers. Don’t let a relatively small amount of money get in your way, even if the customer is wrong and you’re right.

Sometimes it will be impossible to get the customer to rescind his post. You can still mitigate the damage by responding to the complaint online. Post yóur own comment explaining the situation or apologizing to the reviewer and stating your offer to fix the problem. If a potential customer takes the time to read the whole story, they’ll see that you are trying to make your customers happy.

Occasionally, a review will violate the terms established by the review site, for example using foul language. If this is the case, you can flag the review and it may be removed.

Other Tips

Don’t enter multiple positive reviews yourself. Online directories try to prevent fraudulent reviews because they make their site less useful to their visitors.

Google Places displays reviews from sites such as Insider Pages and Yelp, as well as reviews posted directly to Google. If you ask your customers for positive reviews, give them links to a variety of review sites. It will look more natural if reviews come from more than one site.

It has always been important for a business to cultivate a good reputation, but not ever before has a dissatisfied customer been able to reach the public right alongside your advertisement. More and more consumers are bypassing the yellow pages and turning to their favorite search engine to find a business instead. You can no longer afford not to know what reviews are out there or to ignore dissatisfied customers. They have more power than ever before.

About The Author
10th Degree is a full service online advertising agency offering search engine optimization, media buying, ad planning and pay per click services. Visit us at www.10thdegree.com.

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Setting Up A Limited Company

I first got involved with limited companies last year with one that was set up for me and a friend by a third party. It cost about £250 but everything was done for us and we received beautifully bound copies of our documents by post.

When I decided to set up on my own, I talked to my accountant and we agreed that a limited company was preferable to being a sole trader and he offered me the same service but told me that I could actually do it myself for about a third of the price. Not being in a position to give away money, I took the phone number for Formations Direct, used my credit card for £70 and two days later, had my documents. It took a little longer to register myself as a director because there were some problems with the Companies House website.

When I made the announcement on Facebook, one of my friends asked about my Company Secretary and there was a general feeling that this was a requirement, although I had not been told that. Fortunately, Wayne came to the rescue with this from the Companies House itself:

“Private companies: The Companies Act 2006 requires a private company to have at least one director. A company’s articles of association may impose a higher minimum requirement for the number of directors. At least one director must be an individual. A private company does not need to have a secretary unless the company’s articles of association require it.”.

Backtracking a little, I made the decision to go limited because of the protection it gives over any liability for the company’s debts. Even though the internet is famous for being ‘the cheapest place to fail’ as a new business, I didn’t want to risk losing my house or any other assets to any potential creditors if it all went horribly wrong.

Other advantages are:

* There are no higher rate tax bands.
* You can give a share of the business to others, eg family or friends
* It may be easier to attract people to invest money in your business.
* In the event of a partner leaving or somebody dying it is easier to continue the business.
* It may be easier to sell the business.
* It can assist in the protection of a name.
* Suppliers and customers have more confidence in your business as they can check up on your limited company on the public records at Companies House.

The downside is that the preparation of the annual accounts is likely to cost more than it would for a sole trader and the public can check up on certain aspects of your business.

Not having an office as such, my accountant agreed to act as my Registered address for official purposes and I have a correspondence address for any necessary snail mail, although most things can be sent on line.

When it came to setting up banking, there were lots of institutions eager to have my business and offering all sorts of freebies although, contrary to popular belief, Santander (formerly Abbey National) no longer offer free business banking and even new businesses get charged £5 per month if they dont have at least £1000 going into the account.

Because I have been with them for almost three decades and so they know me, I set up my business banking account with my personal branch of LloydsTSB – can I just big up Sue and Barbara at the London Road, Leigh-on-Sea branch for their efficiency. I still showed them a copy of my passport but, they have my banking history and it just made things a lot easier. My whole business is based around social networking, it’s how I get most of my referrals and it seemed wrong to move away from that ethos when it came to my bank.

I get free banking for 18 months, after which I have to pay £5 per month. However, if you select the Electronic Business Tariff, from what I can see, all online transactions are free. It’s only when you are dealing with cheques that additional costs start to be incurred.

They also provide you with a free dvd containing Sage Planning for Business software and a 90 day free trial of Sage Start-Up, an easy-to-use day-to-day accounts package specifically designed for new businesses.

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Starting Your Own Small Business – Lollipop Local Ltd

Phew! Sorry for the hiatus in posting. Things all got a bit frantic but I now have a limited company – Lollipop Local – and, since there seemed to be a lot of confusion on my personal Facebook page over the requirements, I will produce a post on how to set one up shortly.

I am also working on a website that will reflect a company which provides virtual assistants for busy professionals, affordable small business website design and advice on local search engine optimisation, small business customer relationship management and social media marketing for business.

In the meantime, I have to make a decision as to whether to leave the blog part of my site here and just link to it or just close this down and ship everything over to the main Lollipop Local site.

Decisions, decisions!

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