Reposted from my column in the Portland Business Tribune.
It’s an old but true cliché: Time is money.
As a business owner, you may find yourself sometimes coming up short on both of these resources, so it’s important to make the most of what you have.
One area where small businesses tend to skimp is marketing. Hiring someone to do it for you could get expensive, and doing it yourself may feel time consuming or overwhelming. But actively marketing your business is vital to its growth, and it should not be an afterthought.
An easy way to get started on marketing your business is to become involved in social media. According to a study by digital marketing agency ODM Group, 74 percent of consumers rely on social networks to guide their purchasing decisions. More than half of marketers who have been using social media for at least three years say it has helped them improve sales, according to a survey by Social Media Examiner.
Social media websites are relatively easy to use, even for the least tech-savvy person out there. But don’t make the mistake of just creating a page and stopping there. Take full advantage of what social media has to offer your business.
1. Choose networks and target demographics.
Begin by creating free business pages on a few of your favorite social media websites. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ are the most popular platforms among marketers.
Include in your profile some basics about your business, such as when it first opened, contact information, a list of products or services offered and hours of operation.
Consider your target audience. Who is your average customer? What type of customer do you want to attract? How can you ultimately drive these customers to purchase from you? Keep these questions in mind as your build up your page and develop ideas for content.
Invite your family, friends and customers to like your page. But don’t settle for just being liked.
“Statistics show that when someone likes your page on Facebook, about 80-90 percent of the time they never go back to your page,” says Vice President Jason Vanderpool of Direct Placement LLC, a Portland-based Internet marketing company.
2. Create a following.
In order for social media to fully benefit your business, you need users to comment on and share your content.
“When you get somebody engaged in a conversation or engaged in a post, they’re way more likely to come back to your site,” Vanderpool says. “Likes are important, but if 100,000 people like your page and no one buys from you, then it doesn’t matter.”
Make sure your customers come back to your page by posting and sharing information that will catch your audience’s attention. Keep it short and sweet, Vanderpool says, and include a call to action. Ask an insightful question, include engaging photos, encourage customers to develop their own creative content through a contest or utilize popular hashtags to attach yourself to trends.
Interact with your followers and have conversations with them. Always respond to comments and feedback, and thank customers when they share your content with others. Follow important people in your industry who influence you, and engage with them.
“Social media has such an impact on the relevance of your website for SEO (Search Engine Optimization) purposes — the more content you have on your social media pages, i.e. comments and likes and shares, the more relevant you are to the search engines,” he says.
Set aside a block of time every day dedicated to managing these accounts — perhaps starting with just 30 minutes to an hour.
3. Amplify your success.
Boost your presence by exploring the paid advertising options. Many social media sites have advertising programs that may help you gain exposure, target new customers and ultimately increase your sales.
“You can utilize Facebook advertising in a way that is completely different than any of the other paid ad venues, in that you can actually narrow down your search to exactly the type of people you feel want your products,” Vanderpool says.
Consider using a social media management tool that allows you to post to more than one network at a time, or schedule content so you don’t have to be there when it posts. These tools — such as HootSuite, SocialOomph and CrowdBooster — typically have some basic features for free. Paying for a monthly subscription will provide you with even more options, including valuable analytic data.
4. Reap the benefits.
According to Social Media Examiner, with as little as six hours per week, more than 95 percent of marketers indicated their social media efforts increased exposure for their businesses. At least 60 percent of those investing a minimum of six hours per week in social media marketing saw improvements in search engine rankings. Nearly half of those who spend at least six hours per week on social media efforts saw a benefit of reduced marketing expenses.