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Small Business Marketing: Making Social Media Pay Off for your Brand and Your Bottom Line

By Caron Beesley
Back in October 2009, Duct Tape Marketing, a small business marketing site, published a survey that suggests that more and more small businesses are starting to adopt social media as a means to promote their business. Despite apparent initial skepticism, 45% of the 2,000 surveyed small businesses reported that they are now using some form of social media.

The statistic may seem surprising.

While many business owners already live in an online world, and find adoption of social media an inviting and essential challenge, for others simply knowing where to start with social media marketing can be an intimidating task. And as Duct Tape's founder, John Jantsch, reflects," While it's easy to get on Facebook and Twitter, there's still a gap in understanding how to make them pay".

Skepticism aside, social media (and I mean everything from social networks, to blogs, to You Tube channels) is now a fundamental part of any marketing strategy. Now, more than ever, it's essential to be where your customers are; engaging with them in more active ways and nurturing a dialog that builds trust, reputation and (hopefully) a genuine interest and regard for your product or service.

Here are three ways that you can make social media pay for your business:

1. Social Media for Small Business Brand Building

Social media is branding, because it provides a way for businesses to get out there and get noticed - essentially to be where your customers are and to create a presence there.  But as with all marketing tactics, employing social media to enhance your brand is more effective when used as part of a wider campaign or program.

For example, a boutique fashion store looking to market its new Spring collection, while continuing to build its brand and reputation, could use social media in a number of integrated ways to achieve its overarching goals.

The store owner might choose to combine traditional "push" marketing tactics, such as email marketing and direct mail, with a social media element that uses the company's Facebook fan page to showcase different pieces of the collection over a period of two weeks as the items hit the store. The Facebook messaging might invite interaction by asking for feedback from "fans".  The store could also use its online blog to share the inspiration for the collection, offer tips for putting individual garments together, and so on. Then Twitter and Facebook could both be pulled in to let "fans" and "followers" know that a new blog post is live.

The goal here is to establish social media communities around the brand--online hubs where a business, in this case our hypothetical fashion boutique, is actively interacting and engaging with a base of passionate fans and brand advocates.

It's not rocket science, and not difficult to execute! But success really hinges on three things:

1.Continually monitoring what is being said about your brand online.
2.Reacting to what is said about your social media presence and fine-tuning your message accordingly (this is two-way, pull marketing at its best).
3.Not letting your social media presence to go stale - keep it fresh and engaging without going overboard (there is nothing more annoying than a Facebook or Twitter account on steroids).
And it doesn't stop there, social media is also increasingly being used to "reward" fans and followers of brands with exclusive promotional offers - which leads to my next point - social media as a lead generation tool.

2. Social Media as a Lead Generation Tool

Many businesses remain skeptical about the lead generation power of social media marketing, but according to an article in Marketing Profs (citing a recent report from Perfomics and ROI Research), the level of openness for, and interest in, promotional and branding content from members of social networking sites is surprisingly large. Here are just some of the results from the survey:

Among Facebook users who have connected with a brand on the site:

- 46% say they are likely to talk about or recommend a product.
- 44% say they are likely to purchase a product.
- 37% say they are likely to link to an ad for a product.
- 27% say they are likely to post an ad for a product.

Among Twitter users, for example:

- 44% say they are receptive to promotions and offers.
- 44% say they have recommended a product on Twitter.
- 39% have discussed a product on Twitter.

If you are interested in how your small business can use social media as a lead-generating tool, take a look at this invaluable Practical Guide to Social Media published by American Express OPENForum.

The guide features contributions from a host of small business experts and provides practical advice to help small business owners understand what social media can offer them. In particular, Duct Tape Marketing's John Jantsch outlines a basic framework for optimizing your social media content and online assets to help you achieve your marketing objectives. As Jantsch explains, "Lead generation today is more about being found than hunting".

3. Monitor your Social Media Impact and ROI

Keeping an eye on social media ROI is not the science that traditional CRM systems support, but that doesn't mean it isn't possible. As with all things social media, social media monitoring is infinite with a host of freely-available tools to help you measure and monitor your social media impact. Read How to Measure Social Media ROI from Mashable to get a better understanding of how tools like Google Analytics, Hootsuite, and more can help you monitor the influence your social media strategy has on engaging and influencing prospects.

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