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Boost your business with social media basics from expert Stephanie Schwab

Starting out on social media can be a daunting prospect for many small business owners. To get answers to some basic social media questions, we tapped Stephanie Schwab, founder and CEO of Crackerjack Marketing. A well-known expert on all things social, Stephanie runs the Social Media School in New York, where she trains businesses on how to start social media programs.

How do you know if it makes sense to be active in social media?

Social media is one of the few ways to communicate directly with current or potential customers. But you need to have the time, resources and interest in maintaining that dialogue. Building a social media presence takes time. It generally doesn’t deliver immediate sales. It can open up a marketing funnel, but it’s most effective if you’ve already proven your business model. If you’re not successfully making sales through other means, social media likely won’t help.

Also, evaluate your competitors’ presence in social media. If they’re using Facebook and Twitter, for example, that may indicate you should be there too.

How can a small business get started?

Ask yourself: what do I like to do? If you love writing, you could start a blog. If you like networking and chit-chat, Twitter may be a good choice. On the other hand, if you don’t use or like Facebook personally, there’s a good chance you won’t enjoy maintaining a business Facebook page, and you’ll let it go.

Consider your target audience and the assets you can share in social media, too. If your brand and content are highly visual (and your audience is mainly women), Pinterest may work. If you have a dynamic spokesperson and can do some light editing, you could create videos for YouTube, which can be used on other platforms, too.

The bottom line: you can learn the mechanics of any platform. You can’t fake interest. Do what you genuinely enjoy. Provide good, informative content so people want to engage. You won’t succeed if you primarily use social media to “sell.”

Do you have guidelines on how much time to invest?

To blog effectively, post at least once per week, but ideally 2 or 3 times. Make posts relevant and interesting enough that your audience will read them. They don’t need to be long. If you’re using Twitter, plan to spend at least 15 to 20 minutes a day, but ideally 30 to 60 minutes. Facebook takes the least amount of time. Generally, I recommend posting 1 or 2 times a day.

Of course, the time involved really depends on how big you want your social media presence to be.

Is there a way to minimize the time involved?

There’s no need to be on every single platform. I suggest two to start: for many businesses, a blog and Twitter is a great combination. I also suggest pre-scheduling content. Line up blog posts in advance. On Twitter, you can use Buffer or HootSuite to schedule some of your content in advance. And use your mobile device to engage on social media as often as you can throughout the day. You can do it on the train, or waiting in line at the bank.

How can a business owner encourage people to engage in social media?

When you start the social stuff, shout it from the rooftops. If you have a store, add a sign at the register. Add your blog address and Twitter handle to your business card and email signature. Remind contacts to follow you when you talk with them.

Try to engage with your industry’s influencers. On Twitter, follow relevant journalists and people who use your products or your competitors’. Retweet them occasionally, and tweet questions or comments in response to their tweets. Start interacting with people genuinely. Don’t be a salesperson.

Stephanie Schwab is the Founder and CEO of Crackerjack Marketing, a digital marketing agency specializing in social media strategy, training and execution. Stephanie blogs about social media at Social Media Explorer. She also tweets @stephanies.

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