Why your small business SHOULD care about social media

This post originally ran on Vistaprint’s Small Business Blog

We’ve talked a lot about engagement on Facebook with best practices for using Facebook for your small business. While we think there was some great content in there (hopefully, you agree), we have gotten some feedback asking if investing time on social media sites (including Facebook) is worth it for micro and small business owners.

This is a very valid question, so we wanted to answer it with this post.

Here are some industry statistics that might ease some of your concerns:

While these numbers show the potential audience, they don’t do a good job representing these three important areas that social media will offer your business:

Relationships – People matter. They are the drivers that keep you in business. By investing some of your time into social media and building up a presence on a social network, you can build a place to create continual conversations with your customers. This will have your business at the top of mind when your customers are looking to purchase a product or service that you offer. When going this route it is important to set a schedule that accommodates your business and to stick to it. This will keep you from devoting too much time to social and not enough to running your business.

Pro Tip: To keep your audience engaged, look to share things related to your industry and tips for your customers as opposed to things solely about your company.

Real-Time Scorecard – It is always good to know what you are doing well, but it is even more important to know which customer expectations you are not living up to. Most times, you only get the negative when a customer ends their relationship with your business. The advantage of social media is that you can see what your customers have to say in real time about your business. This allows you to not only thank folks with positive experiences, but also to correct a bad experience with some unhappy customers.  Because you are willing to fix flaws, these interactions can not only save a customer but will also earn you respect among your customers.

Pro Tip: When dealing with customer issues, you should take the conversation offline if possible. A phone call or face-to-face conversation is also more beneficial to relationship building than online alone.

User Demographics – You probably have an idea of who your customers are. Joe comes in each Friday for pork chops, Cindy comes in on Tuesdays for rib eye and Lani comes in on Sundays for fried chicken; but collectively how much do you really know? How many men shop at your store? Or how old are your female customers? These are all good questions that would regularly require an extensive – and possibly intrusive – survey to gain insight about. But, if your business has a fan page on Facebook you can get a good picture of who “likes” you on the social network. Also, if you have a storefront, location-based services  like foursquare will allow you to see demographics about who has checked into your store.

Pro Tip: One thing to consider with Facebook fans is that they all might not be your customers. Adding a question to your website or a questionnaire to your existing customers asking if they are a fan on Facebook will offer you better insight into this question.

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