Social what?…” Yes, this was the answer I received upon asking a small business owner about social media. Sometimes, sitting in front of computers and being intensively involved with social media may make us out of touch with reality. No doubt social media use has become pervasive, but are some being left out?

In my opinion, most small business may fall in the following three categories:

  1. Those who do not know what social media entails and how it could help them.
  2. Those who know about social media but have little know-how into implementing a social media strategy.
  3. Those who have a social media strategy in place, but due to lack of full understanding of its potential, have not efficiently optimized social media’s implementation.

Why small businesses must embrace social media

In these tough economic times, businesses have to try extra hard to stay afloat. Small businesses in particular face greater challenges from large competitors and possibly a shrinking customer base as the economy passes through a recessionary phase. Social media provides a platform to reach diverse audiences at little or no cost. It indeed provides an ideal mechanism especially for small businesses to reach out to their customers and even expand their market share.

An effective social media strategy is all about being active and alive in the minds of current and potential consumers. If they hear about it, they may even buy. Marketers realize the importance of constantly reminding their customer base about the company’s product offerings. Where best to reach customers with a powerful marketing campaign, little capital investment and instant feedback? Social media provides the answer. If so many are spending their time on social media, it naturally makes sense to reach them where they are – on sites like FacebookTwitter and YouTube.

Today, its not a choice not to embrace social media. Many large firms already have a strong social media presence. We hear about popular brands on sites like Facebook. It is also common to observe friends in a social circle to “like” the page of a popular brand, personality or organization. Businesses can boast the number of fans the they have on such pages. Such visible popularity further adds to company’s image. There is a dominant element of interactivity where firms reach out to their customers and get a first-hand account of the latest suggestions, concerns etc. A business which is abreast with the latest buzz and keeps a check on the pulse of its fan base is more likely to adapt when needed and better serve its customers. To sum up why social media must be embraced by small firms the following points need consideration by small businesses:

  • The need to get noticed and be alive in the minds of the customers
  • Hearing from the customers through interactivity afforded by social media
  • Saving costs
  • Expanding the marketing campaign to a wider base

Integrated Social Media Strategy

As stated earlier, the benefits are immense and need to be realized through an effective social media strategy. So how does a business create an effective social media strategy? It may seem simple but may prove more daunting than commonly understood. Such a strategy is not only about creating a page and having a profile on such sites. Rather, it is a concerted effort that is integrated and builds upon the unique strengths of different mediums. If Facebook can be used to create the organization’s page to update update customers or fans of the latest products, deals and news; a LinkedIn profile can be beneficial in reaching out business partners and professionals. Twitter with its unique micro-blogging potential can reach a different audience in a somewhat unique manner. Similarly, a lot can be done through effective use of video sites such as YouTube. Company events, product launches and marketing campaigns can be best done through a video. The key here is integration. Social media has to be utilized in an integrated way while capitalizing on the unique benefits of each medium.

A critical element of a successful social media strategy is being current and active. A business must never simply create a page and have presence on social media sites. There is a need to constantly update the fan base with the latest. This does not mean that customers be inundated with updates that may seem annoying. A balance must be maintained in which marketing messages may be sent out in a subtle and elegant way.

With power comes responsibility

Social media is no doubt a powerful medium. This power has to be harnessed and used effectively to one’s advantage. The ease with which such messages can be sent to thousands of people in an instant brings with a great deal of responsibility. Any miscalculated move can cost the precious image of a business. Example which explicates this point are herehere, and here. Thus, the intricacies of social media should first be understood and only then should a small business embark on such a route.