Social media for your small business
Explore social media spaces that really work for businesses
By Heather Lockwood
If you are an agency owner, you may not think of your agency as a small business, or yourself as a small business owner; but in reality, that's exactly what you are. And while certain social media venues give you access to the public, including current and potential customers, there are others that are also geared toward small business owners connecting with other small business owners.
Whether you want to connect with other people in the same field, are looking to hire someone to help out in your agency, or have questions about marketing or advertising for people who might have been in a similar situation, social media can provide a wealth of information. Depending on what your objectives are in getting involved in the social media space, there are different site options that you can join.
LinkedIn is probably the most popular B2B social media access point. It gives the user the opportunity to connect with others in their field, as well as other small business owners in their community. LinkedIn is used in many cases to connect with others who have the same interests or business needs that the user has. You can share with others in your field the things that might be working for your business and, in turn, you can get business ideas from others in a similar business situation. Within LinkedIn you can create and join groups so that you are connecting with people based on your area of expertise, or expertise you might be looking for.
LinkedIn has turned into a powerful marketing tool for job seekers looking for careers in a certain area or for hiring managers who are looking to fill jobs with people who have the skills their business needs. The trick is to figure out how to make LinkedIn work for you and your business. Whether you are looking for tips and ideas or looking to hire new employees, LinkedIn may be a great way to connect with the right people.
Although LinkedIn can be used as a tool for networking your business and making business connections, it is still driven by the individual. LinkedIn advertises the site as a way to connect or reconnect with colleagues or classmates, discover job connections, and network with experts who are willing to share their tips and ideas. It is free to join and individuals can create a profile and their own page. Then they can create and join groups that are of interest to them. It can certainly help connect the user to potential customers and other business owners with similar interests, while still being focused on the person rather than the business itself.
LinkedIn also has a Question and Answer section and an active blog. There is a lot of varying information available through LinkedIn, and while some of it is focused on small business and business tools and tips, you may need to search for specific topics to find information that is relevant to your particular situation.
Another social media vehicle that you might consider is Manta. Unlike LinkedIn, which is primarily driven by and for the individual, Manta is exclusively focused on businesses. It not only gives you an opportunity to reach out to similar businesses, but it is a much more sales-driven environment than most in the social media space. While it is still designed to make personal connections, there is a sense that the purpose of Manta is to get more customers and make sales. It is not against the rules to be sales oriented, to talk about what services your business offers, or even to directly solicit business via the site.
This may run counter to everything you've heard or read in regard to social media. In most cases, a hard sell is discouraged in spaces such as Facebook, Twitter and blogs. Most people will tell you that if you blatantly try to sell, you will be ignored or even lose fans. These rules of the road do not necessarily apply in regard to Manta, which might be what can make it the perfect space for your small business to be in. Even more so than LinkedIn, Manta is a direct way to advertise and promote your business and what you offer.
It is easy to get started on Manta as well. In fact, if you are a small business, chances are you already have a Manta page. Manta took the initiative to create pages for many existing businesses. If you do already have a page, now is the time to get out there and claim it, then add your own profile and information about your business. If not, just go into it as a new user and set up your page. It is free to claim or to add your business profile. From there, you can select and search other businesses based on your interests. Manta may be the perfect venue if you have a small business insurance product because you can search for specific business classes that might have a need for your services and connect with them directly.
An active blog section on Manta allows you to search specific topics and ask questions specific to small businesses. You can search for new businesses, businesses for sale and where your own business ranks among the 60 million companies that are searchable on the site. While there are similarities to LinkedIn, Manta is exclusively focused on small businesses and business owners. Manta allows you to position your business, get help on managing and growing your business and connect with potential customers.
There are marketing and sales tips from other business owners that could help you reach more customers, videos designed to help small businesses grow and a huge community of over one million users who have the same questions, issues and success stories that you have in regard to your business. You can also find information on Human Resources—how to find and hire the right people, where to look for candidates, training and managing. A technology section contains articles on news, tips, and tricks that you can use to make technology do more for your business. You can also sign up for e-newsletters, the tip of the day and more. Manta even has a section for new business owners, which offers business plans and ideas to help get new businesses off on the right foot.
Although Manta is not as well known as some of the other social media sites, it might be just the thing to get your small business into a social media space that really works for businesses. If you are more interested in connecting on an individual level with people who have the same business interests and objectives, LinkedIn might be the right resource for you. Either way, both of these sites are a great space to be in if you are looking to connect with other business owners and get tips and ideas that can help bring success to your business.
Keep in mind that being on LinkedIn or Manta should not take the place of reaching out to your fans and potential customers via Facebook and blogs. They serve a different purpose, but one that may serve to enhance your other social media endeavors.
Heather Lockwood is advertising manager for Foremost Insurance Group. For more information, visit ForemostAgent.com.