I am the first to admit that I have easily lost days of my life investigating the features and benefits of Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and other social media sites. Yes, they can be time wasters for the small business owner, the last person with extra time on his or her hands. But, I think the opportunities for new and developing markets far outweighs the risk of lost time as long as you surf with purpose. Remember, if we are mesmerized with the new media (just as we previously have been with web surfing and the greatest time waster of all, the television), doesn’t that mean hordes of customers will be wasting their time there? So, if you can remain slightly detached in your interactions, just enough to look at the new mediums as potential new markets, you may unearth a new possibility for profit for your business. My suggestions are the following:
1. Become a purposeful lurker. Surf without guilt for a specific period of time. Consider it “brainstorming” time, market research. Observe who is in the social media world and what they are doing. How are other businesses using YouTube, podcasting, blogging, social networks?
2. Keep notes on whether your customers are currently using social media and consider new ways they might be interested in using it.
3. If your customers aren’t there, are there potential new markets for you? Perhaps Facebook doesn’t reflect your current demographics, but have you ever considered how you could reach out to that market?
4. Get involved in the discussion. Join some of the small business groups on Facebook, LinkedIn and Ning. Follow Twitter conversations regarding small business or your products (I use tweetchat.com to monitor certain phrases). It’s a virtual chamber of commerce out there so join the conversation.
5. Start small. Blog. Create a newsletter. Podcast. Test market. Evaluate results.
Remember social media is all about the conversation. What message do you want to communicate to your customers? How do your customers want to engage in conversation with you? Introduce yourself!