social-media marketing for small businessIf you’re in business for yourself, then you’re likely painfully aware of the importance of social media in your marketing strategy.

“You need a Twitter account!”

“Are you on Facebook?”

“Connect with me on LinkedIn!”

Makes you wanna reach for the earplugs sometimes, doesn’t it? If you’re like most small business owners, you eat, sleep, and breathe your company 24/7. Who has time to spend hours on social networks?

To further compound the problem, there are quite a few social networks from which to choose today. The biggies that most business owners see as viable candidates include Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn. If you want to know which platform is the best for your business, here’s the short answer: it depends on what you want to achieve.

Defining Your Goals

Yes, it’s important to have a presence on most of the big social networks. In theory, you should set up accounts on each. Staying vigilant on the accounts and maintaining a unified online presence is a full-time job – and you have a business to run.

Instead, try picking one social network to serve as your main point of contact. Defining your goals is imperative to choosing the right one for your business. It helps to ask yourself a few key questions before you decide:

1. Do you want to get your business on a social network to attract new customers?

2. Are you looking for a way to increase the number of professional contacts for your business?

3. Do you want to build a relationship with your existing customers?

4. Do you want a way to announce breaking news and updates about your company and your industry?

5. Are you looking for a way to collaborate more easily with your staff and streamline other internal functions?

Once you have the answer to these questions pinned down, you’ll begin to understand which social network will best serve your small business.

The Perks of Google+

Google+ was once balked at for being the black sheep of the social networking scene, but lately it seems that Big G’s added an onslaught of new features that are simply too good to keep ignoring. The plus of G+ (forgive the pun) is the mindboggling collaborative capability the platform can offer you and your team – for free.

According to Google, the tools are great to use, and “whether you’re across the street or across the world, you can hold face-to-face meetings, share updates with colleagues and friends and work on a presentation together in real-time.”

Google+ boasts private sharing for the members of your organization through a feature called Restricted Posts. You can also conduct unlimited hangouts and video meetings that are fully integrated with Google Calendar, Gmail, and Google Docs. In addition, there are promises of more great features to come.

Facebook for Business

Facebook, of course, is the biggie. If you want to build long-term relationships with your customers, convert one-time buyers into loyal fans, and attract new customers, Facebook is where you should spend the bulk of your time.

According to Facebook, more than 900 million people are active on the website – and users like and comment to the tune of 3.2 billion times every day. A strong presence on the platform will help ensure you get a piece of that action. How? When your biz has become part of the conversation on Facebook, you’re getting one of the most powerful kinds of advertising on the planet – viral word-of-mouth.

To get started, here’s the official word from one of Facebook’s business help pages:

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You can create traditional ads or advertise special offers that fans can claim to encourage participation on your page. Facebook tries to help your business gain as much exposure as possible by making friends eligible to view fans’ interaction with your page.

What’s really cool about Facebook is that the recent IPO has caused Zuckerberg and Co. to ramp up the tools, advertising options, and customer service offered to businesses. You get the sweet end of that deal, and you can expect more gadgets and goodies to come in the months going forward.

To Tweet or Not to Tweet

Twitter is a microblogging platform. By its very design, it’s meant to be a tool for breaking news. Look to Twitter as your platform of choice if you run the kind of company that works off of its reputation, its “coolness,” or its ability to break news in real-time. If any of these characteristics describe your business, you should jump on the T-train pronto.

When you join Twitter, begin by searching for and following people in your niche. Don’t forget to promote your presence on Twitter offline as well. Keep your profile active by snapping some behind-the-scenes shots of developing projects, news, and events and share them with your followers. Remember, when people follow your company, they want the inside scoop on your business – and you should think of every follower as a potential customer just waiting for you to sell them on your wares.

Twitter is also a spectacular way to coax honest feedback from your followers in real-time. All the biggest brands have turned to the platform to get the opinions of their customers, and many are reporting great results from doing the legwork to gauge the pulse of their client base. Ask questions about your existing and upcoming products and services, and be sure to reply to all of your followers’ questions and concerns in a timely manner. Twitter is also a great way to advertise time-sensitive specials and deals for your customers.

Should You Get LinkedIn?

LinkedIn is a professional social network designed to help you develop key partnerships with other businesses in your niche. It may sound counterintuitive, but forming alliances with your competition is actually vital for getting ahead. The more connections you make in your industry, the higher the potential to grow and expand your business.

For example, imagine you have a crackerjack idea for a partnership with a competing company. All you need to do is perform a “People Search” to quickly hunt down the right point of contact for the company you wish to proposition. You can contact the person right within the platform and take things from there. If you are seeking a professional network that can grow your biz through alliances and professional partnerships, LinkedIn is the platform for you.

Measuring Success and Hiring Help

Once you’ve selected your social network of choice, dedicate time to developing relationships with people on the platform you’ve chosen. Tend to your account regularly and be relentlessly responsive to your client base. If your social media presence begins to become a monster of a task that you can no longer handle, it’s probably time to hire on some help.

If you’re seeing significant ROI for the time you put into your social media account, consider hiring a social media manager to handle things. The money you spend on the new employee stands to pay dividends for your company’s bottom line.

By Nell Terry (c) 2012