Connect with Customers Through Social Media
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Small businesses are finding success using social media to build and strengthen relationships with their customers. Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter are even catching up with email as an outreach tactic, according to a recent survey by customer communications provider Pitney Bowes and reported by eMarketer™.

Social media can provide a convenient platform to learn about customer needs, resolve problems and extend special offers to encourage sales. But using it effectively requires planning and ongoing effort. Follow these six tips to help make your social media outreach more successful:

1. Set your strategy

First, decide which goals you would like to accomplish. Are you hoping to attract new customers? Raise brand awareness? Drive more traffic to your website? Your goals will help determine where to focus your efforts and what sort of content to post.

Make your plan more concrete by quantifying the results you would like to see from your efforts, such as a five percent increase in sales or 10 percent more clicks on your website. Decide who on your staff will be responsible for managing your social media pages and how much time they will devote to them each day or week.

2. Choose your platforms

Spend some time on popular social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn® to explore their features and see how you can use them to help meet your objectives. Facebook works well for posting product photos and starting conversations with customers, while sending short messages through Twitter can let you quickly and easily announce new products, promotions or events, as well as respond to customer questions and comments. LinkedIn is better suited for connecting with other business executives.

Creating short videos for YouTube can help introduce your products and services to a wider audience. Depending on your business, you might post 1- to 2-minute product demonstrations, how-to videos or a behind-the-scenes look at how a product is made, such as a winery showing its wine-making process. Maintaining a social media presence can be time-consuming, so you might want to choose one platform to focus on first and add others later.

3. Launch your presence

Start building your social media community by inviting customers to connect with you. Promote your efforts on store signage on your website and in your email communications. Encourage your followers to share your posts with others.

Look at how your followers respond to your efforts and see if certain types of posts work better than others for bringing in new customers and boosting sales. For example, you can announce a contest on Facebook that people can enter by visiting your business. Post often and be prepared to adjust your tactics as you go.

4. Foster innovation

Use your social media pages to help identify unmet wants and needs and then respond with new products and services. Depending on your type of business, you might have a contest and invite your social media followers to think of a new product, such as an ice cream shop asking for suggestions for a new flavor. This can help you build community around your business while providing fresh ideas.

5. Address complaints

Social media offers a window into what others are saying about your business and allows you to address criticism head-on before it damages your reputation. You can respond quickly if customers post complaints on a social media site, showing them and other visitors that you value their business and take their feedback seriously. You can also take advantage of social media monitoring tools such as SocialOomph to receive alerts when your business is mentioned, positively or negatively.

6. Track your efforts

Explore social media measurement tools that can help you measure results. Tools such as HootSuite™ and Facebook Insights can help you track page views, changes in your numbers of followers, clicks on links sent out through your social media pages and other metrics. Monitor increases in sales and website clicks and look for new mentions of your business on review sites.

Give your strategy a few months before you really assess how you're doing. If you don't achieve the results you had hoped for, consider changing your approach or using a different social media platform to see if that might do better.

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This information is general in nature and is provided for educational purposes only. Regions makes no representations as to the accuracy, completeness, timeliness, suitability, or validity of any information presented. Information provided should not be relied on or interpreted as accounting, financial planning, investment, legal, or tax advice. Regions encourages you to consult a professional for advice applicable to your specific situation.