25% of small business owners said they plan to spend more on social networking in 2010, according to the Ad-ology Small Business Marketing Forecast.
Facebook ranked as the most beneficial social network for small businesses, followed by LinkedIn and Twitter, according to the November 2009 report. The 1,100 small business owners surveyed said the biggest benefits of social networking were the abilities to generate leads, keep up with their industry, and monitor the online conversation about their business.
But despite the enormous growth of business presences on social networking sites, there are still many misconceptions about how best to use social media. To help cut through the hype, here are a few social media myths dispelled.
Myth #1: Small Businesses Must be on Social Media
Ad-ology’s study found that 31% of small business owners said they don’t use social media because their customers don’t use it. If that’s the case, find where your customers are and the best way to reach them there.
Warren Sukernek, partner and vice president of strategies atLift9, said there’s a rush to get on Twitter and launch a blog without a plan. He stressed that spending time up front doing analysis, research, and goal setting will make a social media plan easy to execute.
He recommended first getting active as a lurker on different social media networks to see what’s happening and what people are saying. For example, check out what other companies are doing on Twitter and then assess what you like and don’t like.
Sukernek also pointed out that social media fits more naturally for certain types of businesses, but that doesn’t mean other businesses shouldn’t be on there. It may just take more time to build an audience.
“I wouldn’t dissuade that B2B company from dipping a toe in. It might make sense to dip a toe in a different pool of water,” he said. He suggested that being on an industry-specific forum or LinkedIn might work better in some cases than being on Twitter.
Depending on what the goals are, gathering competitive intelligence might turn out to be what’s most valuable to a business, according to Sukernek.
“It’s hard to put a price tag on that,” he said.
Myth #2: Set It and Forget It
Don’t expect a case of build it and they will come. Sukernek compared it to building a brick-and-mortar store and not putting a sign on the outside.
“You’ve got to promote it,” he said.
Cross promote your web site with the pages you set up on social media sites. Sukernek advised integrating these social media sites into your business’ offline activities. For example, a retailer should list their fan page URL and Twitter name along with its company’s web site.
Time spent on social media efforts depends on the type of business and the goals involved, according to Sukernek. Goals should be distilled down to revenue and key performance metrics.
“Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Set some reasonable, manageable objectives,” he said.
Myth #3: Word of Mouth Presence Isn’t There
Sukernek said small businesses think that if no one is talking specifically about their company on social networks, they don’t need to be there. He disagrees.
“They’re talking about subjects that are germane to the brand,” he said.
On the other hand, what if your small business is being talked about on social media in a bad way? Sukernek said people are probably already doing that, and suggests it’s better for small businesses to be aware of it and address it directly on those platforms.
Myth #4: Social Media is Only for Broadcasting Messages
Treating social media as a one-way communication channel is an approach that’s doomed to fail. Check in with your fans and followers by asking for feedback, responding to questions and comments, and being personable to build relationships with customers.
“It’s conversational. It’s dialogue,” Sukernek said.
Concerns of small businesses on social media aren’t much different than those of large companies. For those businesses that aren’t careful, subscribing to these social media myths can result in some big mistakes.