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How Effective Use of Social Media Can Help Your Small Business

The use of social media is no longer a fad or trend; it is a necessity for any business that is looking to effectively reach out to its customers, engage with them, stay relevant, and maintain brand awareness. In the past, business and indeed marketing was a one-way street with no dialogue. But today, social media has changed the way of doing business and has placed dialogue at the center stage of business relations.  While some small businesses are yet to fully implement social media policies, some are already leveraging the potency of social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Google +, Pinterest and Tumblr just to mention a few. In this post I will be discussing about small businesses that know how to use social media effectively.

SMALL BUSINESSES THAT USE FACEBOOK SUCCESSFULLY
As the largest social media site, Facebook can offer small businesses massive exposure, allowing business owners to save significantly on marketing costs. Over the years, Facebook has implemented various changes to make the platform more small-business friendly. As such, businesses can make use of photos, Facebook advertising and additional apps to market their brands. Examples of small businesses using Facebook for successfully are Mabel’s Labels and Cake Pop Princess.

Mabel’s Labels

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Mabel’s Labels is a small business in Ontario, Canada that specializes in creating sticky labels for kids so they will not misplace their belongings. Apart from having a very colourful Facebook Page, this small company uses their Page to inform their customers and fans about any special offers and interesting products that they have introduced. The owners make good use of pictures of children using their products. Bringing a human face to products is a growing and essential trend on social media and it is a strategy that Mabel’s Labels has really leveraged. They encourage fans to join the page and to tag photos; it is not a surprise that their Facebook Page is jam packed with tagged photos.

Another interesting aspect about their Facebook strategy is the use of video uploads. The company owners have not only uploaded great videos, but they have also encouraged their customers to upload videos of their kids using the labels bought from the company. The special Livestream area allows fans to access information about events and promotional activities such the popular ‘Fan of the Week’ promotional contest where fans upload photos of their children using products from Mabel’s Labels. The winner receives free sticky labels and is proudly featured on the Facebook Page. But the ‘Fan of Week’ promotion is not the only contest this small company has. The “Contests” area of their Facebook Page features several contests that keep engaging their fans. Mabel’s Label further uses their Facebook Page to ask fans about ideas to improve the company. Customers can also shop straight from the Facebook Page. According to the company, Facebook is a major source of referrals.

Cake Pop Princess
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Cake Pop Princess is based in Kent, UK and has taken the idea of lollipops to a new level by creating cakes and truffles on sticks. This home based small business is growing in popularity beyond the UK and almost all the orders come from the owner’s Facebook Page.  According to the owner, she uses Facebook to interact with her clients and to display her latest creations. Cake Pop Princess’s strategy is to engage her audience by asking for their input about products that she is creating. She also holds her fan’s interests by posting and sharing photos on a regular basis. For this small business owner, the key is genuine interaction with your fans by posting relevant comments instead of spamming people with marketing messages. The key is to moderate your comments and updates so fans will not feel overwhelmed with your messages. The Cake Pop Princess uses giveaways to generate more ‘likes’ for her page. Occasionally, she asks fans to share her Facebook Page so they can join the giveaway contests but this is just a one off requirement, not mandatory for all contests. Her other strategy is to partner with other relevant companies especially for contests and giveaways. This is a great way to make more people aware of your company— your fans ‘like’ the other company and fans of the other company ‘like’ your company. It is a quid pro quo!

SMALL BUSINESSES THAT USE TWITTER SUCCESSFULLY
Twitter is a great social networking tool for communicating with customers and followers in real time using very brief messages. Twitter allows you to set yourself up as an industry leader, to build awareness about your business and to really zero in on those users that have a keen interest in your business. Both big and small businesses are engaging massively with their customers on Twitter. Examples of small businesses that use Twitter successfully are the Cream Brullee Man and the Roger Smith Hotel.

The Cream Brullee Man
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The owner of Cream Brullee Man located in San Francisco is Curtis Kimball. His business, which has shown remarkable growth, started as a side job to complement his work as a carpenter. Because his crème brûlée business, which operated from a cart, was unlicensed, he could only communicate with potential clients via social media. He quickly realized that most of his customers had found him through Twitter. His customers would buy from his mobile cart and then tweet about the goodies they had bought and told their followers where Kimball was located at any given time. Today, the owner of Crème Brûlée Man has more than 20,000 Twitter followers. Kimball’s strategy is less about tweeting out overt marketing messages; he largely uses Twitter to tell his followers where he is and the great experiences he is having selling his products around San Francisco. He also uses his Twitter account to tell his followers and customers about the new flavors available each day.  As his catering business thrived, Kimball was able to quit his carpentry job to focus on selling his delicious crème brûlée.

The Roger Smith Hotel
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The Roger Smith Hotel in New York is a popular, stylish boutique that faced a lot of competition from the larger trendy hotels in the region. This boutique hotel took to Twitter to generate buzz for its brand. However, instead of solely focusing on just any follower, they focused on the influencers on Twitter who would help them spread the message about the great services that The Roger Smith Hotel was offering. The Roger Smith Hotel asked some of the Twitter influencers to visit their hotel while they were in New York. The influencers took up the invitation and once they visited the hotel, they tweeted about the pleasant experience they had. By reaching out to influencers, the Roger Smith Hotel attracted traffic to its doors, thanks to the positive, widespread word of mouth by social media influencers. The hotel became serious about its social media strategy by setting up a Twitter booth in the lobby. Guests who find out about the hotel through Twitter are offered special discounts and other giveaways. The Roger Smith Hotel uses Twitter to talk with their present and past guests thereby encouraging potential patrons to want to pop-by the hotel. The busy timeline is an indication of the time and effort that Roger Smith Hotel has placed in interacting with its customers and followers.

SMALL BUSINESSES THAT USE GOOGLE+ SUCCESSFULLY
Google+ is still a growing social network when compared to Facebook and Twitter. Nevertheless, Google Plus offers immense benefits to businesses by integrating your profile to other Google facilities such as Google Maps, Google Search, and Google Places. Notably, due to its integration with Google Search, your profile, and subsequently your business is likely to gain more visibility due to the direct search engine optimization benefits. Integration with Google Places will be especially beneficial for brick and motor businesses. Examples of businesses using Google Plus successfully are NO8, which campaigns for LGBT rights, and the Social Skillet.

NOH8
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Fresh, relevant content is very important to most Google Plus users. The users on this social networking platform are not looking to engage with brands that post the same content on Google+, Facebook, Twitter, or other social media sites. The users are in fact looking for unique content that has not been recycled across other social media outlets. NOH8 understands this fact only too well. NOH8 makes use of its Google Plus business page to share thoughtful videos that support the goals of the organization. The group also shares captivating photos that many of the people in their Google Plus circles appreciate. According to the founders of the organization, posting photos and sharing videos on Google Plus is a way for them to engage their audience and to interact with people from all over the world who support their primary message. As a small organization, they attribute their success to the fact that they create interesting and relevant content for their brand page.

The Social Skillet
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The Social Skillet is an unconventional online cooking school/tutorial founded by Lee Allison and Eric McKee. These two accomplished cooks make good use of Google Plus for live demonstrations on how to prepare some of their delicacies. On Google Plus, they host the G+ Round Table for their interesting demonstrations, which offer potential clients a peak at their cooking and training skills. Their video demonstrations on Google Hangout are largely interactive so those in their circle interact directly with the chef and with others who are participating in the hangout. This approach has generated a lot of traffic to their Social Skillet business. Today, over 13000 users have added Social Skillet in their Google Plus circle. The strategy used by Social Skillet is focusing less on direct marketing messages and more on offering relevant cooking demonstrations that in turn prove the chefs’ cooking skills. The viewers who participate in the Google Plus hangouts also feel that they receive valuable information and not just a marketing message compelling them to buy or pay for a service.

SMALL BUSINESSES THAT USE YOUTUBE SUCCESSFULLY
YouTube attracts millions of viewers each day and continues to be an effective marketing and branding channel for small and large businesses. Examples of small business using YouTube videos successfully are Etsy and Luxy Hair.

Etsy
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Part of Etsy’s success with YouTube can be attributed to the fact that it is a visual business that is naturally suited for video. Etsy uses YouTube video to showcase the vibrant handmade items created by its members. It offers viewers a look into the day-to-day life of different small businesses using Etsy to sell their merchandise. The main strategy for Etsy is covert branding that overlooks pushy marketing messages and instead focuses on showing viewers that the company truly cares about its members and entrepreneurs who sell from the site. Features such as the ‘How to Tuesday’ are also great spaces that offer members a chance to create YouTube videos where they share advice and their success stories.

LuxyHair
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Luxy Hair is a hair extension company with a great YouTube marketing strategy. Their approach is simple yet rigorous at the same time- they have done careful market analysis to locate their audience. As such, their YouTube videos target the relevant demographic group. Luxy Hair also plays around with popular trends to appeal to the fashion senses of their target audience. For example, some of their video tutorials show their viewers how to do their hair like Kim Kardashian. These types of trendsetting videos attract a lot of traffic for Luxy Hair. Today, this small brand has more than 200 videos on YouTube offering tutorials one all things hair.

SMALL BUSINESSES THAT USE PINTEREST SUCCESSFULLY
As a visual social networking site, Pinterest has allowed businesses to not only show case their products; it has also enabled them, through the ‘repins,’ to attract traffic to their websites and thus to the business itself. The key to succeeding on Pinterest for many small businesses is finding a good match between your products and service and your target audience. If you have an audience for your products and services, Pinterest can be a great trigger of growth for your business. Two examples of small businesses that are using Pinterest successfully are Popcosmo.com and Skinny Taste.

Popcosmo.com
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Popcosmo.com is a mother-daughter creation that targets teens who are keen on popular trends. The website largely focuses on the teen crowd in Louisville, Kentucky. The mother-daughter team comprising of mother, Kim, and daughter, Chloe built a Pinterest board where they share amazing, teen-friendly arts and crafts, and fashion images that they sourced from other sites. The Popcosmo.com team has really focused on posting cool videos and pictures on their board. They not only post their own content regularly but they also keep followers engaged through thoughtful content creation. For examples, most of the videos they post focus on showing their teenage audience how to do something cool like decorating their nails or trying out a new, stylish hairdo. This approach has generated a lot of ‘likes’ and repins for popcosmo’s board with over 10,000 new visitors viewing their board in just a month. These views have also translated to over 120,000 unique page views a month for their popcosmo.com website, which is set to attract many advertisers across the country.

Skinny Taste
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Skinny Taste is a popular food blog created by Gina Homolka in 2008. Skinny Taste is arguably the most popular food blog on Pinterest attracting over 130,000 fans and, according to the Business Insider, it is the fourth most famous commercial Pinterest account. The Skinny Taste website attracts over 2.5 million viewers each month and most of this traffic can be attributed to the Pinterest followership the boards attract.
Gina Homolka merges both beautiful photography with healthy creations that are of interest to her audience, which is mostly an audience focused on healthy eating. For the owner of Skinny Taste, success on Pinterest requires making connections with other users who are well known for their quality pins. Once you network with these influencers (given that you too are posting high quality pins), they are likely to pin your products on their boards, which already attract huge followings.

SMALL BUSINESSES THAT USE TUMBLR SUCCESSFULLY
Tumblr mixes the concepts of social media and blogging.  This microblogging platform works on the premise that brief content can indeed generate interest and initiate interactions between brands and their customers. Some small businesses that are using Tumblr successfully include Somebody’s Mother’s and the Museum of Useful Things.

Somebody’s Mother’s
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Somebody’s Mother’s is a small company that specializes in creating dessert sauces. It has not only integrated its website with Tumblr but it has also found a way of using Tumblr’s social features to share images of the tasty dessert sauces it creates. Somebody’s Mother’s uses a Tumblr web design, which makes it easy for customers and site visitors to transit from the blog to their website, and vice versa, without so much realizing when they exist the Tumblr blog or the business website. The use of high quality images of their desserts also attracts a large amount of traffic to the Somebody’s Mother’s site from their Tumblr blog.

The Museum of Useful Things
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The Museum of Useful Things sells… well, useful things that come in handy in day-to-day life. Their Tumblr blog is a major source of traffic and publicity for their business. Their main strategy for this company is to use a mixture of high quality images mixed with text posts to create an engaging and useful blog. Their textual content briefly explains the type of products the Museum of Useful things sell. While their image content offers an up-close, visually attractive look of the actual utilitarian stuff they sell.

25 Ways to Market a Home-Based Business

Running a home-based business is always an intricate balance between keeping the costs of operation low and implementing an effective marketing strategy that will create the right buzz for your business. Nevertheless, here are effective ways that you can market your home-based business:

1. Create a business website: This may seem like an obvious tool, but many home business owners do not invest in a professional website. Yet the truth is that a large number of consumers got to the web first to locate a business. Without a functional website that showcases your business, products, services and contacts, you are virtually invisible to potential customers. Fortunately, any home business owner can invest in a blog today because hiring a professional web designer is very affordable. If you have some HTML skills or have a basic understanding of WordPress, you can build your own website using affordable and readily accessible website templates. Other requirements such as obtaining domain names and hosting are equally reasonably priced.

2. Leverage business to business opportunities: Partnering with other businesses can be a great way to market your business. While the other business introduces you to their products and services, you also introduce them and their audiences to your business. For example, if your home-based business focuses on creating custom sandals, you could collaborate with a local retail store and ask them to display your sandals; you could offer the first 50 customers to the retail store a discount if they purchase your sandals. You may also offer a one-off gift voucher for anyone who purchases your sandals from the stores.

3. Facebook: The best thing about marketing on Facebook is that when done right, it can expose your business to thousands and perhaps millions of people. Facebook allows you to create a business page where you not only create brand awareness for your business, but you can also interact directly with current and potential customers. Facebook allows you to post images, videos and text based content that relates to your business; a great way to generate buzz for what you do. You can also make use of Facebook ads, which work on a pay per click basis. Use Facebook to host fun contests where you give away some freebies; this is also an effective way to generate publicity for your business.

4. Twitter: Twitter lets you find like-minded people whom you can interact with on the platform. While Twitter may not enable overt marketing, it allows you to establish yourself as an expert in your field. You can find people to follow locally and these local people may follow you back, all the while getting to know more about your business. It is also possible to add a link to your website in the tweets you send out, allowing your followers to click straight through to your business site. The rule of thumb when it comes to Twitter marketing is to engage in the social conversation, to offer valuable information and to set yourself (and consequently your business) as a reliable source of information.

5. YouTube: Today, video is one of the most effective ways to generate brand awareness, to market your business and to interact with your audience. A video sharing platform such as YouTube attracts hundreds of millions of viewers each day. What does this mean for your home-based business? If you just put in a little creativity, you could be visible to millions of viewers. A good way to market your business on YouTube is to create interesting videos offering tutorials on how your viewers can use your products, videos showing you at work or even videos showing how other happy customers are using your product or enjoying your services. The main idea is to offer your viewers something valuable and entertaining other than just selling your products.

6. Pinterest: Pinterest is one of the most popular social networks; it is especially popular with small businesses and home-based ventures. Pinterest will work well with visual businesses such as those that relate to design, cookery, arts and crafts, and events. Nevertheless, even service-based businesses are making great use of Pinterest. Even though this network does not allow direct advertising, you can post inspirational images, videos and quotes on your virtual pinning board to illustrate to your audience what it is that you do. The best part is that you can include your website address on the items that you pin, allowing users to find you easily. Pinterest is a fantastic platform for meeting and interacting with potential buyers and connecting with other small business owners in your niche.

7. LinkedIn: LinkedIn is one of the largest professional online networking platforms. As a small business owner, it is essential to network with likeminded people in your field. LinkedIn allows you to meet professionals and experts with whom you can share ideas and exchange referrals. A good way to market your business on LinkedIn is to position yourself as an expert in your niche by offering others on the platform relevant information when they ask questions and pointing them to additional sources of information. Once you set yourself up as a reliable source of information, people will start to look out for the products and services that you offer.

8. Offline Networking: In addition to meeting and connecting with people online, it is important that you get out of your house and meet people in the real world. Business is with people; real people will buy your products and services and they will help to spread your business name. So, attend events where potential customers and business partners are likely to be. Make an effort to be involved in neighbourhood activities; this is a great way to spread the news about your products and services to your immediate network. Make presentations in the events that you attend if possible. A good place to find out about networking events is local newspapers, niche journals, industry websites and blogs.

9. Link with social media influencers: Social media influencers can help spread the word about your business fast and effectively among their hordes of followers. Using features such as the hashtag for Twitter and Pinterest, tools like Klout and blogs like Technocrati, you can help you find influencers in your niche. It may take time before they link up with you or endorse you but it certainly pays to follow these influencers and engage with them as part of your marketing strategy.

10. Local business Listings: Platforms such as Google Places (also called Google+ local) make you visible to your local target audience. When your business is listed on Google Places, the physical address of your business will be accessible to local potential clients when they search for the type of product or services that your home business offers. Google Places is integrated with Google Maps and organic search results making these local listings a great way to make your business visible and accessible locally. Other effective local listings include Bing Local, Yahoo! and Yelp, just to mention a few. Regardless of the platform you use to list your business, it is important to optimize your business description using relevant keywords so that your business location and description can appear at the search engines, for related search.

11. Email marketing: Email marketing is not only a powerful marketing tool; it can also be highly effective in generating sales and connecting with your customers and potential clients. If you are new to email marketing the first challenge is to find a substantial list of people whom you can send your email newsletters. You can generate leads severally—you can purchase targeted leads from lead generation companies online, you can start to blast your e-newsletters to your existing contacts, you can host events online and offline and ask people to offer you their contacts so you can notify them about future events, contests and promotions. Your website can also be an effective tool for lead generation when you ask site visitors to opt-in to offers, membership and other goodies. Use the e-newsletters to inform your audience about new products, services, offers, contests and events that you are offering.

12. Affiliate marketing: Many home business owners choose to market their products through affiliate programs simply because they are cost effective. Affiliate marketing essentially entails hiring a virtual sales force to market and sell your business services and products for a commission. Affiliate marketing may not only generate buzz for your business, it can also create brand awareness, generate high potential leads and it may boost sales. There are hundreds of affiliate programs that your small business can use to market your products and services. They programs you select will largely depend on the niche and how agreeable the terms of business are to you.

13. Press Releases: Distributing press releases may seem like a redundant and traditional marketing technique. However, the truth that is that gaining publicity through local media can be a big boost to your home business. The advantage you have is that you can distribute your press releases online to reach a greater audience and also distribute them offline to local press. A well-written press release can go a long way in spreading the word about your business and the products and services that you offer. To write a good press release, offer something that is newsworthy, back it up with solid facts and statistics, and include pictures if possible as well as your brand logo and contacts. It is also a good idea to check with media houses their requirements for press releases to make sure that you get it right the first time.

14. Writing blogs: Set up your own blog to build an audience and potential customers. A good blog will certainly boost brand awareness, introduce people to who you are and what you do and will allow your audience to interact with you through comments and questions. The main aim of a blog is to educate, inform and entertain your readers instead of bombarding them with marketing messages. Ensure that you make your blog posts shareable by embedding social share icons such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and LinkedIn among others. In addition to writing content for your blog, guest blogging is also a great way of getting your name out there, attracting traffic to your own site and establishing your credibility.

15. Product Case studies: Showing people how your product works is an excellent marketing strategy. You are not just telling people to buy; you are showing them how your services or product will improve or enhance their lifestyle. Create slideshows and post them on sites such as SlideShare with a link back to your website. This is also great content for video; just create video tutorials elaborating how your products/services works and post these on video sharing platforms such as Vimeo and YouTube. Be sure to post these product case studies on your website too and in other websites as guest blog posts.

16. Use a referral system: Even though it is underrated, word of mouth marketing is one of the most effective and affordable tools for marketing your business. People are more likely to buy something that their friend or family recommends. Establish a referral system as part of your marketing campaign for example, by rewarding customers who refer a client to you, or encourage your fans to like and share your page, tweets, and pins on social media and from your blog.

17. List on Industry Directories: Industry directories can be a great way to get your name known by industry influencers. Simply search online for industry directories in your niche and then follow the requirements for listing your business there. Who knows, this can be a great way for you to find other businesses that you may partner with to market each other’s products. Just be sure to offer an accurate and adequate description of your business including the services and products your offer.

18. Host events and seminars: Hosting events allows you to meet people and to exchange ideas. Events do not have to be extravagant; in fact, you can host some of the events right off your house, in community facilities or you can partner up with local businesses to host events that will help generate brand and product awareness for you and for your business partners. Your events should have a purpose or a theme that your prospective clients may be interested in.

19. Craigslist: Craigslist is arguably the largest online classifieds sites. It is estimated that almost 10 million people visit Craigslist everyday to look through the ads. This means that this platform can be an excellent way to make your business services and products visible to your local community. Importantly, it does not cost you anything to advertise on Craigslist. The rule of thumb when advertising your business service and product on Craigslist is to select an appropriate category so that prospective customers will find these services and products easily on the platform. It is also essential to display your products professionally. Take the time to capture compelling images, include the prices, your business website and email as well as phone number. If you provide services, use appropriate keywords to clearly describe the services that you offer.

20. Use Help a Reporter Out: HARO or Help a Reporter Out is a free to use platform that links regular people with reporters who are looking for untold stories, expert information and quotes. On any given day, there are hundreds of opportunities with journalists looking for great stories. As a home business owner, seizing any opportunity on HARO that matches with your business can lead to the publicity you want for your products and services.

21. Contests and promotional gifting: Everyone likes free stuff and contests. A great way to generate buzz for your home business is hosting offline and online contests. You can host online contests through your website and blog or through social media networks. Offline contests and loyalty program will work well if you partner with other local businesses that stand to benefit from the publicity as much as you will. Regardless of the type of contest you host, the focus will almost certainly be on your business.

22. Text message marketing: The proliferation of companies offering targeted leads has made text message marketing a more accessible option for small home based businesses. Relevant and targeted text messages can provide your business with so much visibility given that millions of people use their mobile phones throughout the day.

23. Use business cards: Business cards are yet another underestimated marketing tool. As a home business owner, business cards allow you to inform those in your network about the services and products you offer. They also build your brand image. People in your network will typically refer to your business cards when they want to contact you or when they want to refer a potential customer to you. Invest some time and money in finding a professional designer to create appealing business cards to support your marketing strategy.

24. Forum Marketing: Niche forums can be excellent places to spread the word about your business. The best approach for successful forum marketing is offering relevant information, advice and insights — setting yourself as an authoritative source of information in your niche. People will soon be eager to find out how the services and products you sell can help to improve their lifestyle. Most niche forums allow you to include a link to your business website along side your comments.

25. Advertise with Pay-Per-Click programs: Programs such as Google Adwords and Microsoft’s Bing Ads can help you reach out to your targeted audience without necessarily using too much money. Through these keyword-bidding programs, your advertisements appear alongside organic search results at the search engines. For example, a web user who is looking for a local publicist in Toronto will see both the organic search result and business ads about publicists in Toronto. They can click the ad to be directed to your website where they will find your contact information. Pay per click advertising makes you visible to both local and international clientele. The best part is that you only pay when web users click through your ads.