Crain's Small Business Forum held a 10/2 panel discussion on social media that offered important insight for entrepreneurs and others hoping to more effectively harness this medium as a business tool. Key points include:
- Begin building your online community by tapping into successful communities that already exist around a certain topic. Study them. What works? What doesn't?
- Integrate social media into everything you do; include your social media handles on all e-mails and marketing materials.
- Make time for social media in a busy workday by using dashboard management systems like HootSuite and TweetDeck to monitor and engage across all social platforms.
Critically, be sure you listen as well as post. Social media is intended to be just that: social. Essentially, it's an extension of how you'd interact face-to-face with clients, potential clients and people who share your interests.
Have conversations to connect with your followers and truly build community, as well as to offer calls to actions and potentially special incentives for your social media followers. One panelist encouraged thinking of Twitter as primarily a conversational tool and Facebook as more of a billboard for posting what you have to offer.
Wait patiently for your social media community to evolve; it doesn't happen overnight! And don't hesitate to post important messages more than once. Especially on Twitter, people often read only the messages that are within their conversation stream of about the past 15 minutes -- so what's a repeat or two? On Facebook, posting as many photos as possible will dramatically increase your number of page views.
One panelist measured his ROI of time invested in social media by increased sales, increased buzz about his company, and having fun.