small business on social mediaI read an interesting report today suggesting that 90% of SMEs are using social media to promote their business.  It was based on a survey by a site called Manta.  They asked 600 SMEs about their online work, and found that the vast majority were very active, with 90% of them active on social networks.

“Small businesses understand they need to go where their audience is,” Manta Chief Executive Pamela Springer said Wednesday. “Participating, networking and being found online is extremely important today in growing their business.”

You can certainly see the temptation for businesses.  I mean millions of people use social media every day.  Using social media to engage with these people is also typically free, in financial terms if not in terms of time.

Is it providing results though?  Are the SMEs going about it the right way?

Lets be honest here, there is never a shortage of studies saying that SMEs are heavy users of social media.  Are they using it effectively though?  I would suggest that most are not.  An eMarketer survey recently suggested that just 25% of SMEs utilise social media in any kind of structured way.

It’s the build it and pray approach.  I’ve no doubt that many SMEs will have set up a Facebook page or a Twitter account.  There’s a huge difference however between simply setting something up and hoping it works, and actually having a purpose behind your endeavour.

It’s akin to merely flirting with social media rather than delving into it fully.  A bit of fun if you will rather than a serious attempt to change their business.  So what can SMEs do to ensure their social media work is getting results for them?  Here are a few lessons that would get them off on the right foot.

Lesson 1 – Focus

Ok, if you’ve ever run a small business you’ll appreciate how valuable your time is.  Many will have enough trouble ensuring that business ticks over without having to do social media as well.  When you have something free, not to mention very popular, there’s a temptation to sign up to every social network out there.  The result is that you don’t do any of them well.  So the first step is to focus on one thing, and be comfortable with that.

Lesson 2 – What skills do you have?

Be realistic here.  Figure out how much you can really devote to your social media work, be it in terms of time, knowledge or cash.  For instance if you have a particular flair for photography then this may influence your choice of social network.  Unless you’re hiring someone in, you have to be realistic about what you can achieve.

Lesson 3 – Have a purpose

To decide what tool you’re going to use, you first have to figure out what it is you want to do on social media.  How will your presence there help existing customers?  What can you offer to new customers?

The important thing about having a clearly defined purpose is that it should provide you with something you can measure.  You need a measurable outcome so that you know if what you’re doing is working or whether you could get better results by doing something else.

Lesson 4 – Experiment

The other great thing about having something you can measure is that it allows you to experiment.  You shouldn’t go into this with any expectations or pre-defined notions.  Instead approach it with an open mind and do lots of small experiments that you can measure to determine the effectiveness.  Once you find something that works you can then start to scale it up, but if you’re going to fail (and you probably will along the way), then it’s better to fail in small ways than big ones.

By trying lots of different things you’ll gain a lot of experience about social media, about your customers, and of course about your business.

I should state before you go on, that this post isn’t intended as a how-to guide on what to do on Facebook or Twitter or whatever.  There are plenty of other sites that do that for you.  This should help you approach social media with the right attitude though, and hopefully help you make a success of whatever it is you decide to embark on.

It would be great to hear in the comments section any great examples of small businesses using social media well.