Why Your Competitors Are Keeping Customers and Gaining New Ones Through Social Media

According to a recent survey conducted by online payroll service SurePayroll, the majority of small business owners believe there is a clear business value in popular social networking Web sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.
According to SurePayroll Online Marketing Manager David Rohrer, the online presence of small businesses is becoming more important to remain competitive with big businesses.
“It is no longer just an outlet for personal use — it’s rapidly becoming a must for business success,” says Rohrer. “Big business is tapping into the blogosphere and posting their company profile pages in online communities. Small business owners need to do the same. What’s so great about the online world is you don’t need a million-dollar marketing budget. In fact, the most effective online connections are free personal communications from a business owner to their community.”
If you need proof that social media works and is thriving in the minds of smart small businesses consider Wiggly Wigglers, a rural England-based natural gardening mail-order company that won the 2008 Global Dell Small Business Excellence Award.
By using social media to connect with current customers and reach new ones, Wiggly Wigglers:

  • Serves 90,000 customers worldwide and delivers its products across Europe;
  • Cut its advertising budget by 80 percent when the company turned to social media over traditional advertising;
  • Facebook fans currently stand at 898, with over 170 discussion topics;
  • Hosted a total of 50 weekly podcasts from the “Wiggly sofa” reaching thousands of listeners per week, and San Francisco Chronicle readers rated it their “favorite gardening podcast;” and
  • Built its catalogue based on Wiki ideas generated on its Facebook page by experts and customers.

Maybe you’re thinking, this is all fine and good for some hip English company – but what about me?
Social media is for EVERY small business owner. It’s just a matter of determining to step out and start somewhere. Why not start now? Make your first Facebook page for your business.

SurePayroll’s tips for optimizing social networking are:
Know Your Target Audience
Digg, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn all offer different advantages to a small business.
Know which outlet is most effective for your message and audience.
Start a blog, or comment on other blogs to contribute to what those in your industry are saying.
Share videos like “how-to” clips or tours of your business. Join groups like Google Groups, Yahoo Groups or industry-specific sites that are related to the products or services you offer.
Yahoo! Answers and Linkedin Answers are great outlets for service-based business, as they allow you to establish yourself as an expert in your field. Matt McGee of SmallBusinessSEM.com wrote a great blog post about Yahoo Answers to get you started.
Get Started…Without a Financial Investment
No one can argue the fact that time is money. If you are like most smaller businesses with few-to-no resources, you can still participate by simply listening. The cost is minimal and the payoff can be great. You can listen to what people are saying about you and your competitors. You will learn what people dislike about your products and services and see if anyone is providing suggested improvements. You may even find forums where people are giving you some of the best testimonials you have ever heard, but you have to be listening to hear them. Marketing Pilgrim has written a Beginner’s Guide to Social Media Marketing that will help get you started. Also, read Chris Brogan’s Social Media Power Secret to learn about where to listen.
Maintain Your Commitment
Being available and engaging with your online audience is essential. All your online communications define the level of success you’ll have in your targeted community, including the personal touch you put in your:

  • Blog posts
  • Blog comments
  • StumbleUpon reviews
  • Twitter tweets

If you create a blog for your company, post regularly and respond to comments. Give your blog a personality and make sure it’s not just another place for your press releases.
If you choose to join Yahoo Answers, StumbleUpon, Digg or any other sites, just be active and participate. The worst thing you can do is blatantly try to market your company, and the best thing you can do is simply be part of the community.
Twitter allows you to communicate up-to-date news about initiatives, interactive support for customers, and is an open forum for discussion. Being transparent with your business motives and happenings allows for more consumer trust and builds a relationship founded on the belief that you’re always available.