Social media has done wonders for small business advertising. Print ads, radio ads, and television ads are effective, but the cost can blow a huge hole in your budget with no guarantee of success. Spend your entire advertising budget on a traditional media campaign, and a poorly-designed ad or a bland slogan can wash your money right down the drain.
Social media, on the other hand, is free. And it’s everywhere. To be clear, we’re talking about things like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc., plus industry-specific sites - any friend-finding, spread-the-word-type site that allows you to create a profile and promote your brand. These virtual coffee shops can be a godsend to the small business owner, and it only takes a single post to become the latest buzz. Of course, random posts generally don’t find much of an audience. To maximize your showcase, it’s important to have a plan.
Don’t limit yourself to a single platform. Create a company profile on all available sites, and tie everything together. For example, announce on Facebook that you’ll be attending a conference at such-and-such, then live-Tweet your enthusiasm throughout the event. If someone is following your company on Twitter, chances are they’ll be interested in what you learn and will re-tweet to others. Then you become the company with the cool insider knowledge about the up-and-coming things in the doodad industry.
Make it Easy
Your company should already have a website, and your website should have a blog. Each page of your site and blog should also have the various "Like" buttons for Facebook, StumbleUpon, Reddit, Twitter, etc. It’s so easy for someone to see something interesting and click a button - suddenly, your page just found a few hundred new viewers. If those buttons aren’t there, the only way to share is to copy and paste the address of the site, log into Facebook, and make a big post about it. People won’t do it, they’ll just move on. If you want people to advertise you for free, at least make it easy for them.
Get Friends and Followers
The best social media strategy is useless if your mom is the only one reading it. Friend and follow everyone you know. Some companies actually sell friends and followers, but there is a question as to how real these people are - if your brilliant posts are going to a neglected account, they are useless. A good way to populate your list is to put yourself out there, just like in real life. Comment on someone else’s post, and put links to your various pages in the signature of your email (if you don’t already have a custom signature, get one).
Don't Be Spammy
Now that you have all these friends, don’t turn them off by advertising 24/7. Don’t come across as a constant ad - let people see that there’s a real person behind these posts, and that the real person just happens to make some really awesome thingies. Sure, it’s fine to post about upcoming specials, new product debuts and such, and you definitely should. But also post normal everyday things.
Just check in to say hi, or complain about how this humid weather is slowing production of the whooziwhatsits. Don’t forget holiday posts - you should always, always remember to wish your friends and followers a happy holiday. It puts you out front as a nice company, one that remembers "what’s really important". If you can tie it into your sale on thingies, all the better.
Don’t Make it All About You
Yes, the point of all this is to promote your business, but you don’t want to be seen as the semi-spam who occasionally has good sales. You want to be seen as in industry insider who’s more concerned about disseminating industry news and knowledge, and just accepts the added exposure as a side benefit - in fact, only about 20% of your posts should be directly about your product. Re-tweet interesting things from other people, post links to a talented up-and-comer related to your field.
You may be trying to corner the bobble market, but you came across a young artist who designs custom bobble-keepers. Post it (with pictures) - he gets exposure and feels flattered for attracting the interest of such a highly-esteemed bobble-maker. You get his esteem, and his attention - when your spring collection debuts, he will dutifully re-post it and you’ll reap the benefit of his followers. Not to mention the fact that your other friends and followers will see you as a company that supports rising talent, and a source of all things bobble.
Social media is more than a workplace distraction. In fact, you know that employee who always seems to be on Facebook during office hours? Appoint her head of your social media campaign. Social media is a powerful tool that uses word-of-mouth (the most effective marketing tool ever) and takes it to a global level, and it’s free. Not taking advantage of it means you’re leaving huge swathes of potential customers out in the cold.