Without a doubt, social media marketing has been one of the trendiest topics of conversation among small business owners over the past several years. While many business owners were hesitant to embrace the platform initially, they have begun to take the plunge, and in large numbers.
In fact, a 2011 report compiled by HubSpot notes that "more than half of small businesses agree that Facebook is beneficial to their business." The same study reports that "the number of marketers who say Facebook is critical or important to their business has increased 83% in two years."
The data is clear—business owners are embracing social media marketing in a big way. Unfortunately, they don’t always have realistic expectations. Many marketers have pitched social media as a "can’t miss" scheme that will dramatically increase the sales of any business that creates a Facebook page or a Twitter profile.
But the get-rich-quick approach to social media won’t work.
To see why, it’s important to understand why the average consumer uses social media to begin with.
Hint: It’s NOT because they’re looking for products or services to purchase.
Consumers use social media platforms to stay in touch with friends. They use these platforms to share their lives, interests, opinions, and pictures with friends and family.
They are not looking for a sales pitch. And if that is the approach your business takes, you will simply be ignored.
The key to a successful social media presence for your business is to find ways to join the conversations and interactions that are already occurring—and to add value to these conversations. For instance:
1) Share breaking news. When developments in your industry occur, share them with your audience. Not only are you providing your followers with information that is likely of interest to them, you are establishing yourself as very much "in the loop" with regard to your industry.
2) Look for opportunities to answer questions for your audience. Twitter, in particular, is often used as a source of communal wisdom. Keep an eye on your feed—and when you see a follower looking for answers in your area of expertise, chime in. It’s a great way to build a relationship with that individual, and it also establishes your brand as an industry expert.
3) Always add value. Before you begin marketing your business via social media, ask yourself this question: Why should your audience care about what you have to say? Whether it is offering exclusive sales for social media fans or providing useful information (as a dentist, for instance, you could share "five tips for a brighter smile"), give your audience a reason to pay attention.
4) Target high-income social media users to generate real business. According to a recent Quantcast survey, more than 60% of LinkedIn members make above $60,000 annually. Use LinkedIn as a platform to showcase your expertise, and if a great deal of your business comes from referrals, be sure to maximize the potential of LinkedIn recommendations.
Don’t measure your social media success by your immediate sales numbers. Invest into creating relationships with your audience and into adding value to their social media experience. Over time, this approach will do more to increase your sales numbers than a get-rich-quick scheme ever could.
[Image: Flickr user Katie Harris]