There's no doubt that social media marketing is a proven and established platform for connecting with customers, building a community and generating business. Yet, despite the evidence of its effectiveness as a marketing tool, surveys and studies say few small businesses are making active use of social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn to promote products and services.
A report by eMarketer found that just 24 percent of small businesses have integrated social media in a structured way in their businesses. The report also references findings from Constant Contact that only 49 percent of small businesses consider social media marketing effective.
Why the skepticism? Here are a few reasons and excuses I've heard:
Knowing where to start is perhaps the number one obstacle holding many small business owners back. Knowing what to do when you get there is next. For example, should you use social media to generate leads? For branding? Customer service? Marketing?
There are numerous blogs on the SBA.gov Community offering tips for getting started in social media marketing. One consistent piece of advice runs through them all: find out where your customers are, start small, and, as you learn, grow out from there.
Last year, I wrote a blog where I summarized some of the great recommendations from a social media panel at the 2012 National Small Business Week Conference in Washington, D.C. The panel featured experts from Twitter, Constant Contact, Yelp, Google and others. Here's a summary of their recommendations, a great baseline for getting started:
Email is still the preferred method of communication among consumers, and Constant Contact predicts that in 2013 it will remain their preferred marketing channel as well. Email is also a key element in driving social media success, "…using both together to support one another can boost a campaign and bring greater collective benefits, as opposed to using just one or the other", advises Constant Contact.
There are myriad webinars, ebooks, blogs and other tools that can help you learn the tricks of the trade. Small business organizations like SCORE, Small Business Development Centers, and others also offer advice and seminars on this topic (use this site to find resources in your area).