For a lot of small businesses, getting started on social media can be scary.  You probably already have a personal Facebook page, and you might already be using Twitter, but if you're wondering how you can best use these tools for your business, you're not alone.  Many small businesses avoid social media all together, or they get started without any kind of plan.  Neither of those options are likely to help you grow your business, but a good social media strategy can.  Here are 5 rules every small business should know about social media:


1. Know Your Audience

Who is your customer?  Start by understanding who they are, and how they engage with your company on social media.  Depending on your audience, you can create a strategy that effectively utilizes the social networks your customers are already using.  Your audience also determines things like what type of content they want to engage with, how often (and when) they engage with your brand, and what calls-to-action work best to move "potential clients" toward becoming "clients." 

2. Quality Content Matters Most

Social networks are no longer about photos of cats, or posts about what you ate for dinner - unless of course you're a pet store, or a chef.  If you really want to develop a social media strategy that builds your small business brand, you have to focus on creating quality content.  What defines "quality?"  It has to be content that is both valuable to the reader, AND well produced.  Quality content means well-thought out, well written, visually appealing, and useful. It's not enough to simply post a ton of content and hope it sticks - it has to be valuable to your audience, and it has to be produced in a way that communicates that you know what you're doing.

3. Consistency Leads To Commitment

While quality is truly king, it's important to develop a consistent schedule of sharing across various social media channels.  Even if you produce helpful content, your audience will likely lose interest if you post, or share, too infrequently.  One of the best ways to build your social media audience is to be consistently sharing quality content.  We recommend that small businesses that are just starting out, figure out what is sustainable in terms of creating content for their business, and commit to that.  The more you commit to a consistent schedule, the more committed, and engaged your audience will become.

4. Build A Community, Not A Company

Sure, you're doing this because you're hoping to add value to your business.  That's a no brainer.  I'd challenge you to think about what that value really is, before starting to use social media.  If all you want is a platform for pushing out self-promoting content about your products and services, social media might seem like a great option.  It's relatively inexpensive, and there's huge potential for building an audience.  Of course, that audience isn't likely to stick around if all you do is promote yourself. 

On the other hand, the best brands understand that social media is a tool for creating community.  It can humanize otherwise impersonal brands and companies, and provide a connection point between you and your customers.  Focusing on creating a community, changes the approach you take to social media.  It means adding value, listening to what your customers are saying, and focusing on solving their problems.  At the same time, the result will be a much stronger brand experience for your customers, which can mean a huge return in terms of customer retention, new customer acquisition, and lifetime customer value.

5. Start

Finally, you can't steer a parked car.  I don't remember where I first heard that, but let's be honest - it's true.  When I travel, I often spend time figuring out where I need to be, how to get there, how long it's going to take, and what the best route might be.  All of that is valuable, but not if I never start driving.  In fact, often, we get paralyzed by all of the "directions," and "planning," and never get going.  

As someone who travels frequently for work, I can tell you that getting lost isn't nearly as bad as it sounds, and sometimes it's better to just start driving.  You can make adjustments as you go, but if you sit there in the driveway, you'll never end up anywhere - but the driveway.  The same is true in developing an effective social media strategy.  It's okay to plan, but eventually you have to start practicing.  It's okay if you make mistakes - chances are good that if you're just starting out, you'll make some.  Simply learn from them, make changes, and keep going!

What do you think?  What are a few rules, or tips, you would share for other small business owners?