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5 rules of social media for entrepreneurs

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The advent of social media can level the playing field between big corporations and small businesses. Social media provides easy access to your customers, market research and customer service and keeps your business in front of your customers.  It also boosts website traffic and drives sales. Yes, you can grow your customer base using some of the same strategies and tools that the big guys use.  And, in fact, smaller enterprises are often the best and most nimble users of social media and have the most loyal following. Here are five tips for entrepreneurs to use in the social media world.
1) Find the social network that’s best for you.
Facebook has a unique culture as does Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, FourSquare, Snapchat and the rest of the bunch (there ARE many more). If you have time for only one social media platform, pick the right one for your business and audience and use it robustly.  Equally important is to commit to one channel, or if you choose to engage your market through more than one social medium, do not post the same message across all platforms. Duplicate posts mean that you are, more than likely, broadcasting a message, rather than engaging your audience.

2)  Produce quality content.
Make it a story, whether it is in pictures or words. People are on the internet for two reasons, according to Jay Baer, author of Youtility: To solve a problem or be entertained. So, it’s critical for brands to be unique and share valuable content that provides a balance of news, inspiration, questions, personal challenges or triumphs.  A good rule of thumb is the theory of thirds – one-third of posts should be industry news, another third should be about you personally or your employees and the last third is content about your business or product.

3) Be open, be genuine, be human
Like the Genie who whispers to Aladdin in the Disney movie, “Beeeeeee yourself.” On social media, it’s important to be genuine and engaging  – and to talk and act like a person, not a brand.  Don’t revert to traditional marketing, i.e. “and advertise” your brand. Rather, learn to connect with customers in a personal way. As marketing expert Seth Godin said, you’re human when you have a conversation or ask for help. You’re a brand when you shout your message. That means on social media, you value your relationships, reply to comments and tweets, like others’ content, respond with immediacy, act with humility and admit your mistakes. In short, act like a human and start  getting personal. Social media is called relationship marketing, after all.

4) Build relationships with reporters
Social media provides an avenue to communicate with the media – from your local business newspaper reporter to an influential TV anchor. Don’t hesitate to follow them, find their interests and engage them on a topic. Reporters often use social media to find sources for a story. Follow the ones in your community and industry and start a conversation. Here’s a screenshot of a Tweet from the Naperville Sun that’s looking for vendors and others for a story on brides and weddings.

5) Conduct research
Once you build up followers and have forged relationships, you’re able to conduct some low-budget research.  You could do this by asking for feedback on a new service or product. For example, if you’re a tutoring center, ask customers if they want evening hours or their best tip for taking the ACT. If you’re a bakery, ask followers to vote on the chef’s newest creation. Or, ask customers to take a survey and offer a prize to one random respondent who completes the survey. Social media is also a fertile source of market intelligence. There are various tools that enable you to collect tweets and Facebook mentions about your product or business. Also, you can study the words people use on social media to describe your business and then echo those in your marketing channels, perhaps even creating a hashtag. Who knows, it could go viral.

For those not on social media, jump on and start following a favorite brand. Are they human? What attracts you to them? Do they follow the rule of thirds? How do they infuse a personality into social media?

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