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Building Businesses on Social Media

Small businesses with tight advertising budgets should turn to social media to get the word out.

As a user of social media – is there anyone who isn’t? – I’m increasingly impressed by the precision and effectiveness of nonprofits and small businesses in getting the word out.

One of my friends owns a Pilates studio and does a terrific job of getting her group of friends on Facebook excited about exercise and a healthy lifestyle. If I weren’t a yoga buff, I’d have taken one of her classes.

Like everyone else, I’ve “shared” and “reposted” status updates about events on Facebook and job opportunities on LinkedIn. During my conversations with college professors, I was not too surprised to learn that more students are finding jobs via professional social networking sites than through more traditional channels.

Importantly, these sites enable businesses and nonprofits to build relationships with target customers and donors. Kiva, an online micro-lending nonprofit, does a great job in motivating its Facebook group of users to participate in meaningful discussions on the needs of poor entrepreneurs worldwide.

Amanda L. Renna of Foodshare promotes the Hartford-based nonprofit via social media. She says that while press releases, Web sites and newsletters are different ways to disseminate information, tools such as Facebook and Blogger allow Foodshare to really interact with the community.

“We do our best to engage people, not just solicit financial support. Social media enables us to do so by sharing personal stories and encouraging discussion,” Amanda told me.

One of my friends, an award-winning and truly gifted storyteller, is passionate about enabling nonprofits and companies to communicate – through stories – who they are, what they stand for, and where they want to go. It’s a narrative that is a multi-way process, inviting participation from the management, employees and consumers. Social media is designed in a way that encourages this kind of narrative.

Allison Lantieri of Ovation Benefits in Farmington, which specializes in employee benefits and workforce health, says that since March of this year, when the firm began using social media, traffic to its website increased by 350 percent.

“We look at social media as a way to plant a seed and share our story,” is how she put it.

I asked Caitlin Thayer, a social media professional whose clients include the Mark Twain House & Museum, to offer some tips to Patch readers who own small businesses. 

Here’s what she said:

“The best way to start using social media is that, just start. If you're not comfortable with the different sites – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, blogging, foursquare or Yelp – join personally first so you can figure out how they work before you start accounts for your company. And read a lot! Read as many articles and blogs as you can about how companies are using social media. No need to reinvent the wheel here, feel free to copy other companies that are doing it well. If you're successful, you'll know. You'll have people talking with you, engaging with you, asking questions; and then you'll see them coming through the door and telling their friends. If you're not getting any of that after six months, reevaluate and change up your strategy and posting style.”

Hope the downturn is not too hard on your business. Good luck if you’re planning to start using social media tools.

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