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30 Valuable Lessons Learned Using Social Media for Small Business

In this post Mark Hayward shares some great tips on social media for small business.

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Image by jn is not here

Do you own a small business? How long have you been using social media as a marketing tool and what have you learned?

In a little over a months time I will have owned my business for just about three years. When I began using social media some thirty six months ago, I had no real marketing background experience, and I certainly had never written a blog post, interacted in a forum, or sent a Tweet.

My social media evolution began with a simple foray into blogging as a way to try and rank well for some keywords related to my business. From there I expanded to niche forums, review sites, FLICKR, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter.

Man! Just trying to keep up can be intimidating and overwhelming.

However, my number one goal has always been to create a distributed social media footprint with all of my online marketing activities pointing back towards my small business website.

After almost three years of working hard, learning continuously, making lots of mistakes, and monitoring successes, below are thirty valuable social media marketing lessons that I have learned through my experience. I hope they help you:

1. Location is dead. We have now fully entered into the Interaction Economy.

2. It does not pay to engage in ‘pissing contests’ on business review sites or in forums.

3. When used properly, a small video camera like a Flip and a standard digital camera (or just an iPhone), can be like having your own marketing department.

4. Instead of trying to be everywhere in the social media space, determine what online activities work best for your business and focus your attention there.

5. Search Engine Optimization(SEO) is important but it needs to be combined with a well distributed plan for Search Engine Visibility (SEV).

6. Conceptualizing and then defining your social media goals can help to keep you on track.

7. Social networking sites can be a tremendous time suck. Use a site like Egg Timer to help limit the time you spend interacting online.

8. Get to know the online influencers in your small business niche, as well as, the social media pros.

9. There is gold to be mined with Twitter Search if you are willing to use it to listen, engage, and provide value.

10. Uploading well titled and tagged videos to YouTube and photos to FLICKR can drastically improve your Search Engine Visibility.

11. Consistent small business blogging pays the greatest returns.

12. Technology changes daily. Read often.

13. You should not fear customer review social sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor. Rather, you should embrace them.

14. Helping people online when they least expect it can bring you great rewards.

15. Even on your worst day, you have to remember that every interaction counts.

16. Spamming and jamming your business down the throats of potential customers only drives business away.

17. Not everyone is going to like you, so be prepared to get flamed and read negative reviews.

18. Turn negative reviews into a positive by using them to help better define who your ideal customer is.

19. Your backstory matters and weaving it into your online business persona is important.

20. Social media is a lot like exercise. Doing a little bit consistently everyday will produce better results than one eight hour marathon session per month.

21. The people who criticize you the most for using social media to promote your small business are the one’s who are most afraid of embracing change.

22. One of the easiest ways for small business owners to measure social media ROI is to ask every customer how they heard about your business.

23. When starting your social media marketing efforts for your small business you will get frustrated. Try to keep a long term outlook like six months to a year.

24. Don’t discount the power of niche forums that are related to your small business.

25. Use Google Alerts to see who’s talking specifically about your business and anything related to your business.

26. If you are using social media as a customer service tool, when something goes wrong (and it always does!), being sincere, humble, and apologetic will be greatly appreciated by your future potential customers.

27. Utilizing free email lists like Help A Reporter Out (HARO) can help you find valuable public relations and news opportunities for your business.

28. Social media in the short term does not work. You must be in it for the long term and be persistent, consistent, and committed.

29. Anyone who owns a small business can ‘do’ social media, but NOT everyone ‘does’ it. (And that is your true competitive advantage.)

30. If you have a spare hour or two everyday to aimlessly surf the net, or sit and watch T.V., then you have more than enough time to commit to using social media for your small business.

How long have you been using social media for your small business? What have you found works best?

Mark Hayward hates the snow and cold! Luckily, he owns a small business in the Caribbean. Mark is passionate about helping other small business owners avoid the online mistakes he has made. You can follow Mark on Twitter @mark_hayward and you can subscribe to his RSS Feed for weekly small business social media marketing tips.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Donna J says:

    Oh, and to answer your questions:

    How long have you been using social media for your small business? – Since about 2008

    What have you found works best?
    –Getting rid of perfectionistic tendencies; typos ARE forgiveable; staying focused on giving accurate facts/info with relevant and accurate resources and links is more important and most helpful to and useful for my readers
    -Being bold and courageous to just be myself online (authentic) and not try to please other people by fitting into their pre-formed boxes
    -limiting my social media time. (I’m a homeschooling mom, so I kind of don’t have a choice on this one, unless I want to be a total failure at home.)
    -Most Important: Staying plugged into Problogger! What I’ve been learning here has been the most valuable for me since 2008, more than any other SM info site (even more than Mashable … LOL!) because of the community of serious bloggers that gather and share here consistently and daily

    So, thank you to all of you commenters, in addition to Mark Hayward! I love you guys!! (Seriously, not just being mushy, though friends tell me that’s a tendency for me. LOL!)

  2. Great list. I own a small, blue collar business and just by blogging twice a week over the past year we are now branded on a national level. No doubt, proper blogging can and will make you the ‘industry voice’.

  3. Having read this article, I’m am definitely fortified to carry on…
    Looking forward to receiving the Pro Blogger newsletter. Best and thanks to you.

  4. Aglolink says:

    ‘Technology changes daily’. I agree with this opinion, which forced us to keep learning and to recognize some of our existing technology.

  5. Brandi Grays says:

    This post is awesome. Some of the things I knew already but I needed to hear again so that I would actually get them done. There were also some gems in here that I hadnt even thought of. Thanks so much for the great post.

  6. Hi, really a nice post. The facebook and twitter can not only be used to stay in touch with friends but it can help you to earn few extra bucks by growing your business.
    This is going to be next buzz.

    Nice post

  7. As a small business owner, tips and info like this is incredibly useful. Perhaps the two lessons that i can relate to the most are

    28. Social media in the short term does not work. You must be in it for the long term and be persistent, consistent, and committed.

    17. Not everyone is going to like you, so be prepared to get flamed and read negative reviews.

    These two things can discourage a lot of individuals, but you must remain positive and persistent.

  8. Great Post Darren. The items you listed are great lessons and tips for using social media, some of which I will put into practice

  9. Loyan says:

    This was one of my favorite reads all month. My favorites were:

    14. Helping people online when they least expect it can bring you great rewards.

    21. The people who criticize you the most for using social media to promote your small business are the one’s who are most afraid of embracing change.

    29. Anyone who owns a small business can ‘do’ social media, but NOT everyone ‘does’ it. (And that is your true competitive advantage.)

    Thank you for sharing this (candid) list.

  10. SkiWithMarty says:

    Forget the flip camera as th kodak 1028 is far better for its settings and also for the fact it has a mic jack and available accessories to buy like a recording start and stop remote

  11. Great post, very helpful for someone like myself just getting into social media to help Non Profits.
    Thanks

  12. Great Post Daren. I finally see where the bridge between social media and small businesses fits.

  13. Hi guys,

    I have tried to use the social media for my business. But I really didn’t get the results that I was looking for. So now I’m going to try again by using some of your solutions.

    Kind regards,

    Sam
    X

  14. Sparrow says:

    Hello Darren,
    For 2.5 years I only managed to get 3,700 results for my main site on a Google search.

    Five months ago I started using social media. Today a Google search on the same site returns 517,000 results and increasing at about 50,000 per month.

    This certainly proves many of your points especially a) small efforts daily and b) long term strategy give excellent results.

    Sparrow

  15. Great post.

    Not sure I really agree with number one. Local is bigger than ever. Its not that being international and globalized killed it, its just the focus is different.

    Now that Google has made a major shift towards local search, it is more important than ever to be over your local area.

    Ramsay

  16. Hi Mark –

    This post has it all!

    You’ve managed to discuss the positives, the drawbacks, the challenges and the rewards of social media — and offer concrete advice for dealing with each.

    A lot of takeaway tips in this piece!

    Geri

  17. Consistency is the key!

  18. congratulations, really interesting, social media is go into business,

    all the best

    Nicolás Suárez

  19. Jason says:

    I like the egg timer idea! We have some nice video tutorials on Social media here: http://www.netsalestrainer.com/generating-traffic/module-9-social-media/

  20. Deborah says:

    Jason,

    I clicked on to your link but there is a problem with the sound. There’s music drowning out what the speaker is saying.

    I tried it twice and thought you’d want to know.

    Deborah

  21. I like your thought on #20 – doing a little every day. I think sometimes the thought of maintaining an online presence on SM sites can be overwhelming. SM moves at a breakneck pace, and a business owner like me doesn’t have the time to devote tons of hours weekly to maintaining these things.

  22. Kellie says:

    Hi Mark, I started blogging about 6 months before starting my business. I spent that time taking various classes & learning some of the things you have mentioned. I love seeing this information reiterated because it lets me know that I am starting off on the right track. Now if I could only figure out the whole Keyword, SEO & SEV I might be an even better blogger/facebooker/twitterer. I, like Heather Allard, dumped my LinkedIn but I’ve kept my facebook. I will visit your tips often to make sure I am staying the course. Thanks so much for these great tips, now I’m off to check out a few of the sites you mentioned. i.e. eggtimer & HARO

  23. Lewis Loud says:

    “30. If you have a spare hour or two everyday to aimlessly surf the net, or sit and watch T.V., then you have more than enough time to commit to using social media for your small business.”

    Do you realize how much of a time commitment that is? I for one, do not have an hour or two to spare everyday. I wonder how many small business owners do. I think with a well thought out marketing approach, you can reduce that time down significantly. Instead of taking the time to blog about your business to increase your SEO/SEV why not target a community list of tweeters and facebook users with awareness campaigns and discounts.

  24. Karl says:

    I just started to approach small business owners locally with the social media advantage. Most feel they have no time so I setup and teach them to use it efficiently…brings in a few extra $$ for me, but benefits them longterm. Thanks for the additional points.
    Karl

  25. rososusilo says:

    I judge it, like a traditional market, (not modern market), a business that developed with the priority value of friendship and using good communication with others.

  26. Dave Beck says:

    I like the approach of getting involved with social media like twitter,facebook,myspace,etc.

    I just like communicating and I feel that when you really get trusted by people then you will have a good amount of people wanting to check you out.

    Thanks,
    Dave Beck

    http://www.MaverickMoneyMakersGenie.com

  27. Joseph says:

    Great Post, Great Tips. These are my favourite and i will be working more on them.

    4. Instead of trying to be everywhere in the social media space, determine what online activities work best for your business and focus your attention there.

    12. Technology changes daily. Read often.

  28. Tina Louise says:

    Excellent read.

    Honesty for me is they key ingredient to all social media activity – it is astounding (and thrilling) to see how quickly lies or over-sell are exposed when lit up by social media.

    Reading voices I have grown to trust for a host of impossible to define reasons – brings such a broad and better informed view.

    Namaste,
    Tina Louise

  29. Gin says:

    I think promotion and engagement with others in social media is my favorite part. It is does seem challenging when initially starting but the end result is even greater. Great tips!

  30. Omar Paulo says:

    thanks for these valuable insights Mark. doing a little everyday is a good approach. it’s getting it into a habit that will ensure consistency.

    it’s interesting you’re placing a 6 month to 1 year timeline, i guess when people are expecting results in a much shorter time period, they get frustrated right away and ditch social media marketing altogether. your article is really an eye opener, i will forward this to my friends.

    Omar

  31. Some great tips here Mark. I had been using blogging as my ‘exclusive’ method of social media promotion until about a year ago when I started using Twitter.

    I since realised the error of my ways and have created a Youtube Channel. Fickr, Tumblr, Squiddo lens and a Facebook Fan Page. Still early days really, but so far having some succeses.

  32. Mark, great post.

    I have been using social media to market my business and the business of others for three years. My pitches have changed from selling “why” social media works to “how” social media works.

    The thing that makes using social media for marketing so great is that it is a way for businesses to not just communicate with their customers, but a way for them to actually build relationships, sincere and personal relationships.

    Social media will “work” for every business, but you’re right, it takes time, patience and persistence. Results almost never come after a few months, I usually look 6 months or even a year down the road. But, when you start seeing results, what you’ll have are relationships you would have never before had. Those relationships are not only your friends, they’ll be your greatest customers, your advocates, the people that will tell everyone they know about you just because they love you.

    Again, great post Mark!

  33. Great post, very helpful for someone like myself just getting into social media to help online companies. using social media’s also promote their domains and websites
    Thanks

  34. Mike Smith says:

    Great Post Mark

    I work with accountants in the UK some of whom can be quite sceptical about Social Media.

    Those that embrace the concept do very well but you’re spot on consistency is the key.

    No too sure about ‘Location being Dead’ but take your point. Google Local Search and local SEM is very important to my clients

    Regards

    Mike

    http://www.mikesmithconsulting.co.uk

  35. Monica says:

    Dear Mark,

    Can you give us an example of your business being somehow disadvantaged by social media? or do you think if you don’t know to much about social media tools, certain comments could damage your business?

    Thank you,

    Monica

  36. Mark_Hayward says:

    @monica – certainly a valid question. If someone wishes to damage your business reputation via social media, then I think that they certainly could do it. However, the value that can be gained by embracing the technology, as opposed to avoiding it, by far outweighs the negative. (Just my opinion. :-))

  37. I completely agree with you on consistent small business blogging pays the greatest returns. Social media is great but it has to be a complement to consistent small biz blogging.

    I’m also a huge fan of Google alerts. I keep up on my company name and my name.

  38. ChrisMefford says:

    The key is to start. I think social media allows one to develop a personal brand. But when it comes to a use for advertising it really is an incredible way you engage your customers and seem approachable.

    chrismefford.wordpress.com

  39. Julie says:

    I have been thinking about small biz blogging for 6 mths. It was all a bit scarey but this gives me an idea of how to start and a bit of confidence. Thanks

  40. kate says:

    Great list. I am just starting out using twitter/facebook/blogging for my business, and this was a great reminder that it’s not a race, it’s a marathon. I like the tip that said your efforts may not be measurable for 6 months to a year. thanks for posting this!

  41. That’s a great list with some really good tips. I have to disagree with your statement “Location is Dead”. Location is HUGE for many businesses – just look at the growing number of LBS (location based services) like @Whrrl @4sq @GoWalla

  42. Paul Andrew says:

    Thanks Mark – it’s a great article. I’ve been at it for about 18months now in terms of a real social media focus with big results for my business & blog.

  43. Isao says:

    Came from Ryan Rancatores’ shout. Great tips: this is my favorite.
    21. The people who criticize you the most for using social media to promote your small business are the one’s who are most afraid of embracing change.

    So true! Realizing it is one thing and dealing with those people is another (especially because many people who give me “advice” are my family)

  44. Faiz Suberi says:

    True. I should keep that in mind. I think the main idea is consistency and time management. The rest is being a little more human in social media, and determine which is best.
    Thank you for sharing us your expert opinion Darren. Two thumbs up! :-)

  45. Have you ever well thought-outadding more videos to your blog posts to keep the readers more entertained? I mean I just read through the entire article of yours and it was quite good but since I’m more of a visual learner,I found that to be more helpful well let me know how it turns out

  46. Scarlet says:

    Tips 28 and 29 are why my business works! I totally agree!

  47. pretty good article, thanks for sharing your priceless experience with others. Some years ago I also started a small business and it was really difficult without any help. In spite of the fact I have some marketing background experience now, I`ve read your advices not without interest :)

  48. Benjamin says:

    Great article. I love learning how other businesses have grown by using social media as a means to grow their customer base. I created a facebook application called Storefront Social (http://storefrontsocial.com) to enable retailers and small businesses owners to turn their facebook fan pages into a showcase for their products! Check it out and watch your fan base, and traffic to your online store grow with this complementary tool for your social media marketing efforts!