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The advent of social media has drastically altered the marketing landscape of the business world.  A paradigm shift from broadcast to social media has paved the way for greater business-customer communication and relationships making it an increasingly popular advertising choice for businesses both big and small.  Nonetheless, many small businesses remain overwhelmed by the myriad of social media platforms available and fail to properly capitalize on the potential that each social network has to offer.  Let’s navigate some of the major social networks and help identify the platforms that best fit your business needs.

Identify Your Goals

Before choosing a platform, it is important that you first identify what you want to accomplish with social media. Set a goal (or goals) for your business such as:

·      Increase brand/product awareness

·      Enhance PR and brand image

·      Effective customer service/relationships

·      Build a community around your brand

·      Help drive sales and leads

With a goal in mind, you can more effectively choose the social networks that will best suit your needs and tap into the nuanced strengths that each platform has to offer.

Facebook

Facebook is the largest and most popular social media platform; thus it’s fairly likely that current and potential customers are already active users.  Facebook provides an excellent suite of tools for businesses to promote their brand and reach their target audience. Pages provide a centralized place for your professional Facebook presence.  A business page showcases your brand’s logo, company information, and a short description of who you are and what you do.  Unlike a static website, a dynamic Facebook page allows for direct interaction and communication with your audience.  By sharing engaging content on your page, you encourage conversations with your customers and expand your brands reach with every “like,” comment, or share.  These interactions can be an effective form of customer service and a driving force in rallying a community around your brand, product or cause.  Get the conversation going!  You can measure your success with built in analytics to gauge your reach and impressions.  Tab applications can further customize and enhance your page’s user experience by integrating blogs, forms, catalogues, or dozens of other interactive elements directly into your business page.  Facebook also offers a paid feature of targeted advertising and sponsored stories to directly reach a target demographic.  Overall, Facebook’s easy to use and effective features make it an ideal candidate for most small businesses to take advantage of.

Twitter

Twitter is arguably the most powerful social media tool for direct communication with customers.  Active users typically expect real-time responses to their tweets, so by monitoring hashtags and keywords that relate to your brand or industry and actively listening to the “Twittersphere,” you can efficiently manage customer service in 140 characters or less!  In practice, you can answer customer questions, provide useful content, and engage with potential customers all while publicly driving exposure for your brand.  Twitter also has an unmatched ability to drive traffic directly to your company site by sharing articles, blogs, or helpful links.  

**Twitter is only recommended if you can afford the time and resources to respond to customers in real time!


LinkedIn

LinkedIn is a social media platform geared towards businesses.  Groups provide an opportunity to connect with like-minded professionals in your fields or reach potential customers, partners, employees or even employers.  Joining and interacting with such groups can help establish a network of professional contacts while providing your brand with a wide exposure to the business world.  Influencers in your field often provide helpful business tips and advice for growing your business, so take advantage and connect with them.  Recommendations and endorsements also help bolster your professional network and connect you with the right contacts and customers.  As a professional networking tool, LinkedIn is an invaluable asset to your social media arsenal.

Google+

Though Google+ definitely still lacks the reach that Facebook offers, Google+ offers some killer features that make it worth consideration.  Firstly, Hangouts offers a polished video conferencing experience that allows up to nine users to collaborate at once.  This is an excellent service for hosting webinars or offering face-to-face customer service.  Furthermore, the Hangouts on Air feature allows you to broadcast your Hangout live to a linked YouTube channel, perfect for showcasing live events, panels, or discussions with your customers all over the world.  The videos are then archived on your YouTube channel for future watching.  Another important feature of Google+ is verified websites.  By embedding a simple verification code from your Google+ business page into your website, it boosts SEO from Google searches.  Ever notice those business profiles on the top right side of a Google search?  Those are businesses with a Google+ business page that is linked to their company website!  For the SEO boost alone, Google+ is definitely worth taking seriously.

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Other Networks

There are dozens of other social media platforms out there.  Photo and video sharing networks such as YouTubeInstagram and Vine let you showcase your brands in a creative fashion.  Artistically centric brands might consider such platforms, drawing heavily on visual content to engage their audience.  Another popular choice is Pinterest, which allows users to “pin” photos and content to virtual “boards.”  Creative visual content typically resonates with followers and drives further reach.  For those looking for blogging networks, Tumblr and Wordpress are user friendly and effective channels. 

Stay Focused!

Don’t stretch yourself thin across all social media platforms!  Stay goal oriented and only join those networks that will help you accomplish what you originally intended.  Now go get social!

By: Gideon Glass