The Importance of Social Media to Small Businesses

These days, consumers are living more and more of their lives online, but in many cases, small businesses may not be doing enough to connect with their many potential customers on that level.

As more people start accounts on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social media services, it may behoove small businesses to wade into these online worlds in an effort to better reach their market, according to a report from the Harrisburg Patriot-News. However, large numbers of smaller companies may put minimal work into building their online presence in general – many may not even have current websites – and in today's world, that can be a major hindrance to successfully building and expanding a customer base.

This is especially true of social media sites because these allow companies to connect directly with customers who are already interested in a business, the report said. That ensures an engaged demographic is receiving a large amount of up-to-date information about whatever aspects of the business a company wants to put out into the wider world, including details about sales, new products and more.

The learning curve for this, however, can be extremely steep, particularly for small business owners who prefer to do everything themselves and have a limited familiarity with how social media works overall, the report said. But to let that be an impediment to starting such accounts and trying to connect with local customers is to potentially slash potential business going forward.

"I had no idea what a hashtag is," Cindy Dwyer, the owner of a small frozen yogurt shop in Pennsylvania, told the newspaper. "I had no idea of the power of Twitter. I had no idea how many people used it. But it's the personality of the company, the messaging of the company. It gets real-time information to your guests."

Better than the traditional alternatives?
Today, even with all the evolving technology and consumer preferences toward online interactions, many small businesses may still rely upon the marketing strategies that were in use 10 or more years ago, before the proliferation of smartphones and social media, the report said. Direct mailings, newspaper advertisements and TV spots may still have their place to some extent, but the old adage about word of mouth being the best advertising is still true, and these days, that kind of conversation can spread far more quickly online than in the real world.

It's for this reason that small businesses may benefit from getting out in front of the conversation and having their own pages and engaging customers as early in the process as possible, the report said. Many people who are just now starting their own small firms set up social media accounts for them before the companies are even open for business, and this may help to generate an advanced interest in the products or services offered.

It may also be helpful to these businesses to give consumers an incentive to use these social media outlets, the report said. For instance, Dwyer's frozen yogurt shop holds occasional polls online to determine what new flavors it tries out, and many other companies offer specific discounts that can be redeemed only through social media platforms.

Looking into the many ways in which revamping consumer interactions may help a business is a good idea for any owner, particularly those that want to become more than businesses in their community, and transform into local institutions. This may be done by developing a loyal customer base and making sure to develop relationships with those people, and social media is a great way to come off as a company with personality.