30 Tips for Using Social Media
30 Tips for Using Social Media in Your
Wading into the fast-moving flow of social media can be daunting to a small business owner
with very little time on his hands. Here's Inc.'s comprehensive social media cheat sheet for the
By April Joyner | Jan 25, 2010
1. Offer a peek behind the scenes. Offering a sneak preview of new products, services, or
features online can help build demand and provide critical feedback to help smooth the launch.
For instance, John Doyle, founder of chocolate company John and Kira's in Philadelphia, posts
photos of new products on Flickr and invites comments from customers.
2. Harness your expertise. Chances are your company's white paper won't go viral. But sharing
knowledge you've gathered through your trade can go a long way toward boosting your brand.
Ford Models, for instance, became a YouTube sensation through a series of videos that featured
its models giving beauty and fashion tips.
3. Demonstrate what your company does. Because multimedia is so
integral to social media, getting connected allows you to express your company's value
proposition beyond words. To show just how powerful his company's blenders were, Blendtec's
head of marketing, George Wright, created a series of videos showing the appliances churning up
such diverse items as a rotisserie chicken, a Rubik's Cube, and an iPhone. The series' 100 million
combined views helped boost Blendtec's sales by 700 percent.
4. Put your website's content to work. Want to draw more traffic to your website? Help spread
the word by encouraging visitors to share content they enjoy. GotCast, a website that connects
television casting directors with aspiring actors, draws new visitors by posting audition videos on
Digg and allowing others to share video links on the site. One way to promote the sharing of
your site's content is to install a widget, such as AddThis, that automates linking to popular sites.
5. Be candid. In unsure economic times, transparency goes a long way toward retaining and
attracting customers. Giving readers the scoop on your company blog is an easy way to keep the
lines of communication open. Giacomo Guilizzoni, the founder of San Francisco software
company Balsamiq, even posts sales and profit figures to show that his company is on solid
6. But be careful what you say about others. When Leslie Richard, owner of a North Carolina
clothing company, described Vision Media Television as a "scam," she was slapped with a $20
million lawsuit. While recounting negative experiences with others won't necessarily lead to a
court battle, it's best to steer clear of name-calling.
7. Interact with visitors—really. Just putting up a blog or a Facebook fan page won't do much
good if visitors sense the flow of conversation only goes one way. In fact, Matt Mullenweg,
founder of blogging platform Wordpress, lists not participating in comments as a surefire way to
kill a community. Mullenweg and his team field the many suggestions users have for Wordpress
through his blog.
8. Don't try to create a stand-in for yourself. With all the other tasks required within your
company, it's tempting to outsource managing your social media or even to try automating the
process. That can easily backfire, as Joe Pulizzi, founder of Cleveland marketing firm Junta42,
learned when he tried sending automated welcome messages to new followers on Twitter. His
online contacts quickly called him out for sending out what they perceived to be spam.
9. Don't pretend to be someone else. Thanks to IP address tracking,
observers can also quickly tell when company figureheads adopt fake identities for the sake of
fluffing up their reputation. Not only can the practice hurt your company's reputation, it could
also land you in legal trouble. The plastic surgery Lifestyle Lift had to pay $300,000 in
settlement costs to the state of New York for having its employees post flattering reviews of the
company without disclosing their affiliation.
10. Help employees bond. Corporations such as IBM have built in-house networks—even virtual
worlds reminiscent of Second Life—to link employees working in different locations. Small and
medium-sized businesses can take advantage of readily available tools to facilitate collaboration.
The Hoffman Agency, a public relations firm, uses Ning, which enables users to build custom
social networks, to connect its U.S. staff with employees in Europe and Asia.
11. Reward customer loyalty. Through social media, companies can not
only run promotions more frequently than coupons in the mail will permit but also devise more
whimsical and engaging campaigns. Sprinkles Cupcakes, a bakery chain based in Beverly Hills,
California, uses Twitter to send out daily promotional offers. The tweets, which ask customers to
whisper a "password" to receive a free treat, have helped the company draw more than 17,000
12. See what people are saying about you. A quick search for mentions of your company on
Facebook, Twitter, and Yelp can yield a goldmine of information concerning your reputation.
Several users on Yelp, for instance, suggested that employees at Quimby's Bookstore in Chicago
were less than welcoming. After reading the comments, owner Eric Kirsammer focused on
improving customer service. Applications such as monitter and Trackur can help you keep track
of the conversation across the Web.
13. Make amends with dissatisfied customers, quickly. Andy Carlson, owner of an Ace Hardware
store in Denver, once came across an angry Twitter update from a customer who had bought a
tool that broke after one use. He resolved the issue in a matter of minutes by referring the
customer to an area store and notified him of Ace's lifetime guarantee. Best of all, he was able to
catch the complaint after store hours—and prevent negative word of mouth.
14. Don't go on the defensive. A harsh rebuke of your business on sites
like Yelp can not only bruise your ego but also hurt your livelihood. But resist the temptation to
lash out in public. Sarah Dunbar, owner of Oakland vintage boutique Pretty Penny, privately
responds to less-than-flattering reviewers and encourages them to visit her in person. And keep
in mind that you can't please everyone. After Dunbar wrote to one dissatisfied customer, the
reviewer accused her of conducting "shady business" by trying to sway opinions.
15. Keep customers in the loop. Frequently on the go? Twitter can help your customers keep
track of your latest destination. Kogi Korean BBQ, which operates a food cart in Los Angeles,
keeps its Twitter followers constantly informed of its location on the street. The real-time
updates help Kogi keep up demand, as customers line up in advance at the broadcasted locations.
16. Find potential customers. A quick keyword search can help you find prospective customers
who may not be aware of your company but could nonetheless benefit from your product or
service. Bob Scaglion, a senior managing director at New York real-estate management company
Rose Associates, generates 100 leads per month on Twitter for his company simply by replying
to users whose tweets include phrases such as "moving to New York City" and "no-fee rentals."
17. Reach more markets. Social media can help your company reach
multiple markets at a time. Restaurant chain Boloco focuses most of its advertising on Boston,
which houses 13 out of its 16 locations. But as an experiment, CEO John Pepper decided to post
a copy of a coupon from a local newspaper on Twitter in order to reach customers in Vermont
and New Hampshire. Coupon redemptions increased by more than 150 percent as a result.
18. Target your online advertising. Both Facebook and MySpace allow businesses to run ads that
attract specific groups of users based on what information they include in their profiles. By
running Facebook ads targeted at students at specific colleges, StorQuest Self Storage, which has
locations in Arizona, California, Colorado, and Hawaii, increased its number of rentals by more
19. See where your customers are. A growing number of social networks are designed
specifically for users on the go, and some, such as the mobile application Foursquare, offer tools
specifically for businesses. Frozen dessert chain Tasti D-Lite, for instance, uses Foursquare to
gather data on how many people visit its locations and send promotional offers to frequent
20. Let customers help each other out. Including a customer forum on
your website or social network profile can help enhance your customer service while building a
sense of community. At Poolcenter.com, a swimming pool equipment retailer based in Arlington,
Virginia, customers often field each other's inquiries on swimming pool equipment before they
reach customer service reps. Get Satisfaction and Fixya are two sites that offer dedicated spaces
for customer service forums.
21. Build a community beyond your business. Photo hosting site SmugMug has established itself
as a resource for skilled photographers in part by operating a forum, Digital Grin, where
members trade advice on topics such as the best techniques for taking photos at night and
capturing wedding scenes. With the exception of a support section at the very bottom, the forum
is devoted to photography at large, rather than the company's own services.
22. Let customers contribute. FrontPoint Security, a home security provider in McLean, Virginia,
began collecting video testimonials from its customers, who filmed themselves with Flip
cameras. The videos are posted on FrontPoint's site and on YouTube, and even some customers'
personal blogs. FrontPoint's video efforts have helped the company more than triple its sales
23. Help others promote you. Social media can help you find passionate customers who are more
than willing to spread the word about your company. Crafts supplies manufacturer Fiskars
reached out to scrapbookers by inviting four avid users to blog. Its crafts community, called
Fiskateers, has since attracted 5,000 users who serve as brand evangelists.
24. Cultivate relationships that lead to sales. Soon after he joined Twitter, J.R. Cohen, manager
of The Coffee Groundz, a Houston coffee shop, began encouraging his followers to visit him in
his shop. He began getting to know customers so well that they not only initiated conversations
with him through Twitter—they began tweeting orders through the site as well. Now Cohen
periodically fields menu requests through Twitter, though he doesn't use the page primarily for
25. But don't promote too aggressively. While social network users have
proven to be open to marketing—especially if it involves a discount—they're not flocking to
Facebook or MySpace to hear sales pitches. If your profile or blog reads like an ad, it will turn
visitors away. Kent Lewis, founder of Portland online marketing firm Anvil Media, encourages
Twitter users, for instance, to pass along industry news and retweet interesting items from others
along with their own promotions.
26. Find ways to engage visitors offline. In March, Cinda Baxter, a retail consultant in
Minneapolis, ended a blog post on local business with one simple idea: choose three businesses