During the past six months, you’ve probably learned what a “tweet” is
and what it means to “friend” someone. Though both are interesting new
forms of interaction, their applications to small business communication
are less clear.
Twitter and Facebook are, at their most basic levels, additional
channels aiding in small business communication. Like print or broadcast
advertising, these social media initiatives allow a company to directly
communicate with consumers. Though unlike advertising, these services
allow for two-way communication where your audience – which includes
customers, prospects, advocates, government entities and the general
public – can respond. It is this engagement where many companies fall
Kicking Off Your Social Media Initiatives
Simply setting up a Twitter handle and Facebook page does not plug you
into the social media ether. Managing these accounts and consistently
updating them is vital, so much so that many large companies are hiring
full-time employees to man their social media initiatives. For
entrepreneurs with limited time, there are many applications that can
help you manage content for both services in one place, like Digsby
(which has instant messaging integration as well), Brizzly or TweetDeck.
For entrepreneurs new to Twitter or other social media initiatives, the
best approach is to do a few searches on words that are relevant to your
business and try to find a handful of experts in your field to follow.
Then, spend your first few days just “listening” to the conversation
from these experts, resisting the urge to start singing the praises of
your product or broadcasting your message. Once you get a feel for the
kinds of things people talk about and how they do it on Twitter, start
with the 2, 2, 2 rule. Post 2 original things, re-tweet two posts you
find interesting or useful, and reply to two people about something they
tweeted. This is a good way to be a valuable participant and to
increase your “followers” number as people find the things you have to
say to be useful.
For most entrepreneurs, a significant investment of time and resources
strictly for social media initiatives is not feasible. Depending on a
company’s level of commitment to increasing its small business
communication efforts, social media may not be the right channel, right
now. But, for those companies that can invest resources to examine the
social media landscape, determine if it is right for their business and
actively engage in dialogue, Twitter and Facebook can be powerful tools
to grow their small business communication strategy.
Though Twitter and Facebook are good starting points, if these social
media darlings are where your social media knowledge ends, you need to
know about the many other small business communication technologies that
allow entrepreneurs to interact with customers and engage prospects.
Oldies but goodies…
The social media landscape has significantly changed the face of small
business communication, but it does not mean previous technologies have
been rendered useless. “Old” technologies, such as e-mail newsletters,
instant messaging and message boards are still active and can still
increase productivity (and sales!). Many entrepreneurs already have a
strong understanding of these technologies and have probably used them
in the past. Consider dusting off that old e-mail newsletter you belong
to – you know, the one you haven’t read in 2 years – or do a quick
search of what message boards are out there. You may be reminded of and
surprised at how useful these seemingly out-of-date services can be.
Some you’ve probably heard of, but may not know the full power of…
LinkedIn has become the platform for business-focused social networking.
By setting up a LinkedIn profile, users are able to post their work
history and professional profiles for others to see. This tool presents
opportunities for generating new business, reconnecting with old
colleagues, and finding a job.
While many business users may have a LinkedIn profile, they may overlook
the other small business communication tools LinkedIn provides. For
example, LinkedIn Groups are a simple way to create an online forum
where customers, prospects and industry insiders can exchange ideas.
Similar to an e-mail newsletter, the Group allows invited LinkedIn users
to interact with one another and for a company to communicate key
messages. With some simple work on the front-end to get the group
moving, an entrepreneur can then take a back-seat to let the patients
run the asylum – while still maintaining his or her position as the
A wiki (rhymes with tricky) is a website that allows users to edit the
content that is posted on the page; the trick to wikis is ensuring the
edits are accurate. Wikipedia, for example, is an editable online
encyclopedia in which users can edit the content. The reason the
information remains accurate is Wikipedia has designated individuals to
From a business perspective, a wiki is a great small business
communication tool for companies with geographically distributed offices
or teams. Users can post a document or other materials on an internal
wiki and allow a group to review and edit the material in one place.
Beyond the team collaboration, the wiki also helps with “version
control,” a problem that occurs when some users do not have the most
up-to-date version of a document. Microsoft’s SharePoint offers
companies the ability to make internal wikis, as well as discussion
Some small business communication tools you may not have heard of…
Yammer is an enterprise microblogging service – think of it as Twitter
for internal business communication. The service allows businesses to
create their own internal communication channel and limit use to those
who have a valid company e-mail address.
Yammer allows users to post questions, share news, ideas and documents,
and post status updates to the entire group. This service allows short
messages to be sent and for users to filter the messages they receive so
they aren’t bombarded with information that is not relevant to them.
Much like a wiki, Yammer allows distributed companies to communicate in a
private community, only in shorter bursts.
Ning lets users create social networks around topics about which they
are passionate. Do you love cheese? If so, you can create a cheese
lovers community. Do you fear bunnies? Then you can connect with others
who share your phobia. With Ning, you create the network that matches
Why should an entrepreneur care about all these different social media
initiatives? If your company produces gourmet cheese, that cheese lovers
group is a new business goldmine. Are you a psychiatrist just out of
med school looking to build a client base? The bunny-phobic network is a
breeding ground for potential patients. Whether setting up a targeted
social network or joining one already in existence, Ning can connect
your business with others that share your unique passions.
What’s more, Ning has one of the more quantifiable ROI models of all
social media. Ning’s premium service allows the administrator to run ads
on its network (this service does require a fee, though). Not only
could you run your own ads, you could potentially run ads from other
members of your community, creating a quantifiable revenue stream from
When it comes to social media initiatives, there is no magic bullet to
grow your business. But there is a unique combination that is right for
every entrepreneur. By balancing time and resources, and examining the
social media habits of its customers and prospects, a business can
develop a small business communication strategy that will accelerate