Social media for your business: Getting started

Quick answer: Get started in social media for your business by having a plan, sticking to your strategy, engage honestly, and be vigilant.

If you’re ready to jump into the social media space, that’s great. Many American small businesses have found that social media produces significant new leads as well as helps to grow awareness of their brands (see sidebar). But creating and managing social media channels can take time — which is precious if you are running your own business. Here’s how to get started in social media in a doable, scalable way.

The steps

Instructions: Click each item to learn more.

Start by picking one channel

The social media world can seem overwhelming: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram — who can keep up? So do yourself and your customers a favor, and pick one channel to focus on, and give it at least six months.

Facebook, with a billion users worldwide, could be a good place to start. Though if your business is a boutique, art gallery, or other business where photographs really help “tell” the story, you might consider the more photo-friendly Instagram or Pinterest.

Jot down your goals

There’s no need to labor over a big business plan. But it’s a good idea to write down some goals for your new social media presence.

  • Do you want to find new customers?
  • Keep your customers abreast of trends in your industry?
  • Let your current customers know about your latest news and products?

You can do any or all of the above, but if you can focus on a few key goals, you’ll find it’s easier to find and post interesting, relevant material. As the number of your followers grows, you may find your social-media goals change as well.

Follow your competitors, and don’t be afraid to try what they’re doing

Start following and friending your competition, as well as other businesses popular with your clientele, located in your town, or whose products perhaps complement your own. For example, if you sell artisan-roasted coffees, consider following popular local bakeries — who could be customers themselves, or whose customers could also become yours.

Share industry or local news that’s relevant to your customers, and don’t be surprised if a competitor or two reposts your content. And feel free to return that favor from time to time.

Have a website for followers to click through to

It’s okay to post the occasional “stand-alone” photo or comment, but generally it’s a good practice to include a link to something to further engage your audience.

  • If your post is about a new product, offer a link to your website where they can read more about it, make an appointment, or buy it.
  • If you have a company blog, consider pairing your social media posts to the latest content on your blog.
  • Otherwise, link to the most relevant page on your company’s site.

Practice active listening

The ability to listen to customers and other audiences is one of the best things about social media: It lets you find out in real time what your users and audiences are talking and wondering about. If something is trending in the news that’s related to your business, there’s nothing more relevant or timely than posting that with a short comment that your business is paying attention to that issue too.

You just might also find that audiences beyond the ones you thought were your key ones — people over 50, say, or young and busy moms, or people in another state or country — may have more interest in your products and services than you realized.

Be vigilant; respond promptly

Check your social sites often. Customers expect lightning speed responses, and there’s nothing more frustrating when questions are not acknowledged or answered promptly. Many customers expect a response within a day, if not within a few hours. Remember, you have competitors; your customers have other options.

Encourage conversation

Don’t hesitate to ask a question on your page — “Do you like this in brown or orange?” “What’s your favorite way to relax with a fresh cappuccino?” or “First day of school! What are the essentials in your child’s backpack?” Creating, and continuing, conversations through social media is an important way to engage your customers — and to personalize your company in intimate, immediate ways.