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LEAD Your Small Business to Social Media Success Without Spending A Lot of Time or Money

October 5, 2010

I often get asked by small business owners (and when I say small business, I mean those with a handful of employees or sole proprietorships) how they can maximize the benefits of social media for their businesses without spending a lot their valuable time or money, so I thought I’d share a few thoughts on helping small business owners get started and perhaps more importantly, sustain their social media efforts over time.

Four Easy Steps: LEAD

As a small business owner or someone who works for a small business, time is the most important resource.  Social media can’t consume a large part of your time or money or you simply won’t do it.   The good news is that it doesn’t have to.   I’ve broken it down into four easy steps, where you can LEAD (Listen, Engage, Amplify and Determine) your small business to social media success by standing out from the competition and attracting the right customers.  I’ve tried to  include details of what you need to do to get going– all of which will  take a bit of time upfront to get going (just like any other new initiative you undertake), little to no money, and very little time to sustain.   The four steps are:

1. Listen: Identify Where Your Target Audience is Online

2. Engage: Choose the Platforms That Work for You and Your Customers

3. Amplify: Distribute Compelling Content

4. Determine: Measure & Optimize Your Efforts

I’ll be covering each of these in a series of posts, starting with the first one in this post.  Along the way, I’ll outline some tools and tips that will make it actionable, while relating my experience of what worked with my own small business, Ascend Sports Conditioning (ASC).  ASC is not my full time job, but a passion of mine that I pursue on a part-time basis.  I’m the only person behind the business and I use social media as an essential part of my marketing, so I understand first hand the need to use social media effectively with little time on your hands.

First, Keep Social Media in Perspective

Social media does not require re-inventing your business or  how you market your business. Rather, it should be integrated as part of your other marketing efforts.   Similarly, you should have very specific social media goals that are tied to your overall marketing goals.  Once you have your goals established, you are ready to LEAD.

1) Listen: Identify Where Your Target Audience is Online

Figuring out where your target audience spend their time online is critical since you want to listen in order to understand what they are saying about your company and brand as well as understand where and how to engage with them.   Your target audience are primarily your prospects and existing customers, but also “influencers” or key people who help influence a potential customer’s decision to buy your product or service.  These could include analysts, bloggers, partners, and even competition.   Here’s an approach that has worked for me in identifying where my target audience is online and listening:

  • Pick the terms that your prospects and customers use to think about your business. What are the key terms or keywords that someone will use when they think of your business or sit down at their computer to do a Google search?   Understanding what these terms are will help you locate where your target audience is and what they are saying.  A good place to start is to come up with a short list based on how your customers think.  You could do this on your own or by asking some of your customers directly.  There are also many tools out there that can assist you in identifying what search terms are used to find your website or your competitor’s sites, which you can use down the road to refine your terms.  (In fact, refining them down the road is a good idea since these are the same keywords that will be important for SEO purposes).  For now, it’s important to identify that initial list by thinking how your customers think.  For my business, Ascend Sports Conditioning, my prospective clients and customers think about triathlon and coaching for the most part, so terms such as triathlon, cycling, running, rock climbing, coaching, and other related terms are the keywords I started off with.  I also have my name, my business name, and my company’s URL as additional keywords.
  • Monitor the terms and conversation. Now that the keywords are identified, you can start monitoring them to listen to what’s being said. There are lots of tools out there you can use, some of which cost money and some of which are free. A good strategy is to start off using the free tools and if you decide you want more sophistication as your needs get more sophisticated, you can upgrade. I’d suggest using a combination of Google Alerts with Google Reader to get going. Basically, you can set up a Google Alert for each of your terms and have the RSS feed for each of those alerts be fed into Google Reader, where you can monitor each term. Setting up feeds from Twitter on key terms using Twitter Search is also a good idea. You’d do it by searching for your keywords in Twitter Search, then adding those feeds to Google Reader. There are also many other free tools out there that monitor blog comments (i.e. Google Blog Search), discussion boards (i.e., BoardTracker), news (i.e., Google News),etc., but starting off with a combination of Google Alerts and Twitter Search is a good place to start. Initially, you will receive a lot of “noise” on the search terms, which you can turn down by greater refinement of the terms.
  • Identify key sites, online communities, and influencers. There are probably lots of different websites and online communities out there where your prospects and customers spend their time, as well as key people who are experts in your field. You will want to know which sites and people are the most important of these (in fact, you probably already do). You could spend a lot of time identifying a long list of websites and people and rank them based on different criteria, but just start out with the top 3 or 4 sites based on a Google search against the keywords you’ve identified, as well as looking at the websites and people appearing in the keywords you are monitoring.    You can then refine the list over time. For Ascend Sports Conditioning, I know that my clients visit the United States Triathlon (USAT) site, USA Cycling, as well other selected sites, so I focus on making sure I participate on those sites, from making sure that my business is listed in any directories they may offer to engaging in discussions on community discussion boards.  I also know who the key people are (coaches, athletes, etc.) and subscribe to their blogs.

Minimizing the Time and Money Committment

It will take some time up front to identify your keywords and refine them, but once you have it set up, you will need little time to continually monitor.   For instance, with ASC, it took me a couple of hours to identify the keywords and set them up initially for monitoring.  I refined the terms to a point where I only spend about 15 minutes a day monitoring them.  And the only cost is the the cost of my time.

So, You’ve Identified Where Your Target Audience is Online, Now What?

Now that you’ve idenitified where your target audience spends time online and are listening to what’s being said, it’s time to do something with that information!  I’ll address this in my next post, Engage: Choose the Platforms That Work for You and Your Customers.  In the meantime, please share your thoughts!

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