13 Ways to Use Social Media in Business

Many businesses are struggling to generate new ideas that will produce incremental sales or replace sales lost to once viable but now irrelevant products and services. According to a recent survey, businesses are having "difficulty incoming up with new ideas to grow their businesses" along with troubles in "marketing and positioning themselves in a highly competitive market." (See the Survey of Small Business Success Index [pdf], sponsored by Network Solutions, LLC and Center for Excellence in Service at the University of Maryland's Smith School of Business.)

Some business owners and their management teams wonder if social media may somehow be useful in connecting with customers, bringing about boosts in either real-life foot traffic or online visitor volume, and stimulating sales. But they're not sure if they want to take the time to explore and leverage Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. Half of those surveyed say that social media took more time than expected; many were concerned that this approach could backfire, allowing customers to criticize the business via the internet.

Meanwhile you've got social-media expertise and loads of great ideas, but can't get anyone to take action on initiatives (such as these 13 ways) that come from you.

Recently, I spoke with the owner of a small but fast-growing company about methods that employees can use to win support for their ideas. Heidi Kallett runs The Dandelion Patch, a retailer specializing in custom stationery and gifts.

Methods of approaching your boss about new ideas

  • Choose the right company. Figure out if your organization values innovation. Heidi is enthusiastic about new ideas and approaches but other business owners may not be.
  • Know what the company owner (or your boss) wants to accomplish in all areas, particularly social media. Understand the target audiences, appropriate methods of interacting with customers, and results desired.
  • Find out what the boss holds sacred. Heidi, for example, is fiercely protective of her brand. She values positive customer experiences and community relationships.
  • Consider your mindset as a customer, how you like to interact with businesses, and behaviors that you find pleasing as well as those that may seem inappropriate. Let your boss know that you understand the need to reinforce the company's brand image.
  • Propose sample messages, campaigns, updates, etc. for the boss's approval, rejection, or tweaking to make sure that you are going in the right direction.
  • Set priorities so that social media doesn't take over your day-to-day work. Heidi asks that her managers engage in social media before and after hours only so that face-to-face interaction is given No. 1 priority.
  • Keep up with the latest trends in social media. Expand your knowledge and widen your perspective by taking classes (such as these special events offered by Network Solutions) and doing your own research.

Ways to use social media in business

  1. Make announcements about changes in the business: new product lines, new store hours, and new locations.
  2. Offer limited-time discounts on certain products or custom items placed before specific deadlines.
  3. Link to media coverage and press mentions of your business.
  4. Educate customers on the everyday and innovative uses of your products.
  5. Alert customers to seasonal changes in the business, which may mean new merchandise suitable for the season or sales in off-season items.
  6. Embed videos with customer testimonials that share how your business differentiates itself from the competition.
  7. Build bridges to new communities by sharing positive experiences that your business, its customers, and its employees have had with outside groups, such as non-profit organizations, professional associations, vendors, and area universities.
  8. Issue invitations to special events hosted by the company.
  9. Tell customers where they may be able to connect with you in real life, such as community festivals or trade shows.
  10. Post photos of special events, close-ups of specialty items, and in-store displays.
  11. Solicit input from customers about ways to shape special events, promotional activities, loyalty programs, etc.
  12. Get feedback on events, sales, and programs after you've introduced and hosted them.
  13. Listen to what customers are saying, value-added features that they notice, and reasons that they are loyal to your company so that you'll differentiate in a way that is meaningful to the customer.

Even if your company has zero online sales, you can still engage customers through technology. The Dandelion Patch is focused on the local community; nevertheless, Heidi builds relationships through a website, YouTube videos, Facebook page, and more.

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Guest's picture

The number one thing should be to listen to your customers! Don't look at social media as another way to advertise, but think of it as a way to build relationships with your customers and prospects. And how to we build relationships? By true open honest communication which starts with listening. Before you start blasting out sales and marketing material, take a step back and ask the people what they want. Then patiently listen to the answers and respond. That will put you ahead of the pack.

Julie Rains's picture

Connecting with customers rather than sending a one-way broadcast is definitely the point of social media, thanks for stating what I didn't say expressly. Presumably, customers have demonstrated a desire to connect with your business via a like on Facebook or a follow on Twitter, for example; giving them info of value (including alerts on sales) can be a first step in opening the conversation.

What I learned from Heidi is that marketing and listening are embedded, and that is often a key to innovation -- finding the intersection between what you offer (and what's profitable) and what customers who are your target audience(s) want. Setting some boundaries for the business along with goals can make social media effective as a marketing/communication tool.

Guest's picture

Great points, Julie. Having a strategy is so important before jumping into social media for business. I found myself explaining to business friends over and over again how determining what you want to get out of social media drives how you use Twitter and other sites. I finally sat down and wrote out my thoughts so I didn't have to keep repeating myself. You and I are on the same page.

I would love to have you review my new book, Taking on Twitter: Strategic Tweeting for Small Business. It addresses specific ways to accomplish a strategy (some of which you mention): http://kathibrowne.com/books.html

Julie Rains's picture

Hi Kathi, you can contact me via our contact forms if you'd like. Thanks for mentioning strategic direction first, execution second. One of the survey findings mentioned that business owners have found that creating brand awareness seems to be the most prominent benefit of social media, rather than generating leads. So strategy and goal setting can be ambitious but reasonable. I'm still learning so more ideas are appreciated.