How important is social media for small business owners? In a word, imperative. 

The platforms are too important for hearing from, learning about and getting to know your audience and would-be audience. What’s more, businesses not using social media are putting themselves at a distinct disadvantage as compared to their competitors, who’re likely soaking up all of this social listening and putting it to work for their brands.

“But where should we start?” is a common question I get from entrepreneurs. The platforms are myriad and as varied as the North is to the South.

Everyone told you to start a Facebook page. And a Twitter and LinkedIn account. And a YouTube channel. They said you’d be left behind if you didn’t do it, that your business would be seen as archaic and out of touch. So you created accounts, built up your social media channels and joined the club. Now what?

If you’re like many business managers, you might be left wondering what all the fuss was about. If you’ve been left disenchanted by some of your social media efforts, fear not. No, I’m not going to sell you on “How to Build a Social Media Plan in Five Easy Steps.”

But I do want to share some tips from my experience in the field helping entrepreneurs use social media to their advantage to build customer loyalty and boost sales for their brands.

#1 – Develop a strategic marketing plan for your time on social media. 

Social media is a tool in your marketing box. Your success will be determined largely by how you use it? If you threw up a Facebook page but haven’t updated it since 2009, or you find you don’t have the time to keep the content fresh and engaging, then it may be best not to have one at all. Like any marketing effort, evaluate your social media efforts in terms of output versus input. You’ll get out of it what you put into it, so make sure you have a plan in place for how you’re going to use social media to connect with your customers and build relationships.

#2 – Adopt the philosophy of listening first and talking second.

Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter are incredible tools that allow you to have direct contact with your customers and hear what they’re saying about you. Take the time to listen to what they’re saying and engage them in conversation. Create a space online where your customers can share stories about what they love—fishing—and then use the opportunity to share stories right along with them.

#3 – Take your time spent on social media seriously.

This is the voice of your company online we’re talking about. Sure, interns are great, and some even work for free, but just because that 20-year-old may know how to navigate 12 electronic gadgets at one time doesn’t mean he knows how to engage your customers and speak on behalf of your business. For managing your company’s social media efforts, you need someone who lives and breathes your business and knows it like the back of their hand. These folks are best-equipped to use your social media as a way to truly engage your customers and build loyal relationships.

#4 – Don’t take yourself or your brand too seriously.

It’s easy to get sucked into the latest shiny, online object. But while it’s important to stay current on technology, it’s more important to stay in touch with your customers. Where are your customers hanging out and gathering information? What are they reading? What events do they attend? How do they like to receive information from you? Learning and using this kind of invaluable insight will help you build lasting relationships with your customers far beyond your last tweet or Facebook update.

You’re only able to do that if you’re focused more on their needs and less on your own. 

#5 – Don’t be pushy. Success at social media for small business favors the patient.

This goes back to point No. 2, but the best social media pages present a variety of content fans want to read, watch or listen to. No one likes to go to a party and listen to the loudmouth yelling about himself the whole time. The same is true online. Instead of just blasting updates every hour onto your newsfeed, you might ask open-ended questions. Invite people to share pictures and stories about their latest fishing trips. Solicit feedback about product design and ask what your business could do better.  You might be surprised at the responses you receive and the conversations that happen naturally.

“ If you threw up a Facebook page but haven’t updated it since 2009, or you find you don’t have the time to keep the content fresh and engaging, then it may be best not to have one at all.”

What things have you learned so far from your social media endeavors? What’s worked and what hasn’t? I’d love to hear your comments and suggestions so we can all continue to learn together.

Liza Jones Full Circle PR Social Media for Small Business

Guest post author Liza Jones, president at Full Circle Public Relations based in Greenville, S.C., has helped companies like Costa Sunglassesand Simms Fishing Products enhance their social media efforts. She’s a Clemson Tiger fan, student angler and mom of two funny boys. You can connect with her online at www.twitter.com/lizapjones or at www.fullcirclepr.com.