Social media playing increasing role for small businesses

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Those who frequent social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Google+ know these sites are far different than they were even a couple of years ago in terms of how businesses use them.

Big businesses have hopped on the social media bandwagon — ads are imbedded in Facebook news feeds, there’s sponsored content and if something is “trending,” chances are advertisements are bordering the sides of articles people are reading about the popular topic.

Some people might think that larger businesses and corporations are the only entities that have the time and resources available to create effective social media presences, but small business owners can benefit from spending some time interacting with customers on social media, North Branch Area Chamber of Commerce Communications Coordinator Kris Green said.

At the Chamber luncheon three weeks ago, Greene talked to chamber members about how to effectively create and manage social media accounts, which is an area of marketing many small business owners still have yet to utilize to full potential.

According to a Forbes Magazine article published earlier this month, 50 percent of businesses that took part in a survey by an online company called Manta said they had increased their time on social media, with another 55 percent actively using social media for lead generation and customer engagement.

But despite those efforts, 60 percent of those businesses reported no return in investment.

Greene said there are some pitfalls small to medium-sized businesses should avoid when investing time in social media.

First, she noted that business owners should “be themselves” on social media accounts. People feel more comfortable with a business if they’re actually interacting with person, Greene noted.

That personal connection led Greene into her second point, which was to engage the audience.

“I read somewhere that the average response time in which people are expecting businesses to reply is within an hour,” she said.

Greene said if a business has a social media presence and its owners or employees don’t readily monitor the account or accounts, customers generally don’t feel a connection with the business.

Monitoring accounts, Greene said, is important for another reason: Business owners should be aware of what customers are saying about their businesses.

“If somebody puts something bad on one of your comments and you don’t take care of it, that could be a bad thing,” she said.

In addition to the points to remember when managing social media accounts for small or medium-sized businesses, Greene noted another important aspect of having a presence on the sites: Keep it simple.

In her experience, she said small business owners either aren’t really interested in being on social media, or they go overboard on too many sites and then find they don’t have the time to balance running their business, home life and keeping up to date with their Web presence.

“My suggestion to everybody is to figure out your strategy, pick one network to start with, and start building your community,” she said. “And quality is much better than quantity. You want to really build your brand, even with just 50 followers.

It’s better if those 50 followers become loyal than if you have 300 followers and they don’t really care.”

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