A recent study by Employers indicates that over half of small businesses believe in social media as an important marketing tool.  Yet, only 16% of those polled use their social media accounts to communicate directly with customers.  So, what are they actually doing with social media?  The average small business uses it to promote, much in the same way they use ads, direct mail and other forms of traditional marketing.

Social media for business promotion is fine.  But, the real leverage comes through engagement with people who are interested in you.  Your fans and followers are the real catalyst for your success with social media, so keeping in touch with them is critical.

Why?  Social media, much like content marketing, is all about building customer relationships.  In fact, businesses can take their cue from the origins of social media as a primarily “social” tool.  Sites such as Twitter and Facebook were really designed to help people communicate with each other, share resources and stay in touch.  Businesses can do the exact same thing with their customers, using the same sites.

Using social media sites to engage with current and potential customers takes a commitment of time. However, the tools are already built in, so you can simply think of your company account as another way to connect with your target market, just as you would with friends, colleagues and relatives.  Here are 5 tips for building the relationships that lead to sales:

1. Listen- There are a lot of conversations going on out there.  Some of them may be about your company, your industry or other topics that affect you.  Take the time to listen to what is being said before deciding how to respond or add to it.  You’ll learn more about what is important to your target market when you put your ear to the ground.

2. Participate- By becoming part of these conversations, you show that you’re interested in what people have to say.  This is also your opportunity to show how much you know about your topic, which helps to establish your authority.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions, encourage debate and even stir up a little controversy now and then.  It gets people talking and gives you more information you can use to connect with them.

3. Add value- Your comments should always add something of value to the conversation.  If you’re too self-promoting or don’t add any useful information, both you and your company will lose credibility.  Think of your efforts as conversation rather than as a push for sales.

4. Evaluate your goals- At some point, preferably at the beginning but also along the way, you should think about your objectives.  What you trying to achieve with your social media efforts?  Some businesses want to increase brand awareness, others are more interested in what their competitors are up to.  Honing in on your primary goals will save you time and energy in the long run.

5. Look at the big picture- Think of social media as a community rather than a place to sell your products and services.   People on these sites, just like the Internet in general, are not necessarily looking to buy something.  Most of the time, they want information they can use, and they want to connect with the sources of that information.  Make sure your efforts keep this in mind.  Don’t lose sight of the fact that you’re here to talk to people, invite them to join you, offer them your expertise, etc.  Design each individual post to make an overall impression that, over time, reflects your business objectives.

So, if you’re thinking about using social media to promote your business, or already are, remember to put some time into customer engagement!  It’s the best way to get those friends and followers to convert into customers.

Source: Kyle Lacy