Getting started with social media: Real life examples

Anita Campbell, executive editor of Small Business Trends, recently attended an event in Houston entitled Women in Business. She collected several comments from attendees about their experiences in using social media Web sites and online Web 2.0 tools. Here is what she found.

When speaking at events, I get the best response from talking less and asking more - in other words, encouraging the audience to share their examples and ideas. It's more interactive that way. It's more interesting. Everybody benefits from a wider set of experiences.

The event I attended this past Monday with a group of small-business owners in Houston, Texas was no exception.

At that event I asked those attending whether they were using various social media websites and online Web 2.0 tools. For those who responded "yes" I would then ask "what kind of results are you getting?"

In this post I'd like to share with you some of what those business owners said about using social media in real life situations.

About the Event

The event, entitled Women in Business, was hosted by HP for the benefit of Houston members of NAWBO (National Association of Women Business Owners) and WBEA (Women's Business Enterprise Alliance). It is part of HP's outreach to women businesspeople and small business owners, to create a dialog to better understand the issues small businesses face. While most of the attendees were women, I counted about a half dozen men, too, mainly co-owners or employees of women-owned businesses.

This is the second event in the HP Women in Business series that I've attended - the other being in San Diego. Each one has been nicely low key and characterized by a real desire to talk back and forth - and listen. Consequently, asking questions and getting the attendees to share their thoughts seemed very much in keeping with the overall tone of this event.

Good Experiences

Some of the positive Web 2.0 experiences that the business owners shared included these:

Blogs and Forums - One business owner reported getting new/return business from participating in several discussion forums and blogs. Her business is a muscle therapy business. Being a source of information - i.e., sharing knowledge and answering questions on the forums and blogs - demonstrates value for clients and potential clients.
LinkedIn - Several business owners reported good results from LinkedIn.com. One, a business coach, gets high quality business leads from LinkedIn, via making connections and being findable in LinkedIn. She points out that the people using LinkedIn tend to be professionals and corporate people (i.e., those in a position to actually hire a service provider). Her experience was a good recommendation for LinkedIn, especially if you are a professional service provider.
Facebook - Two business owners reported getting substantial results from Facebook. One business owner has a business profile page on Facebook, as well as a personal profile page. Another business operates a Facebook group and attracts interest in the business and develops loyalty through the Facebook group.
Online press releases – One person routinely puts press releases online and attested to their value at getting her website found in the search engines.
Online video - The owner of a product company reported getting good results with videos that were loaded at YouTube.com and also available on the company website. The video brought people in to the site and also engaged existing visitors on the site.
Twitter - One business owner admitted to being something of a Twitter-holic, using Twitter.com regularly to make and reinforce connections and to spread word of mouth about her business. However, she was decidedly in the minority.

Concerns

One of the other things I did at this event was encourage questions. Often questions reveal concerns that business owners have with using social media. So it's a good way to find out what's bothering or puzzling people. Here were some of the main concerns expressed:

  • Lacking time to learn and use social media tools - The biggest concern expressed over and over was, "Who has time for all this social media stuff?" As several others in the audience pointed out, the best strategy was to pick one or two tools and focus on doing those well. Another spoke about dividing up the effort, by having several employees sharing the updating responsibilities on the company blog. (As an aside, it seems to me there's a great business opportunity for some company to provide contract help to perform social media activities.)

  • Feeling uncomfortable putting information online – One business owner said she frequently received connection requests for LinkedIn but had not felt comfortable putting her information on the Web. Another business owner in the audience assured her she would not suffer a lot of spam through LinkedIn, but could actually make valuable connections with other credible business people.

  • Questioning the ROI – One business owner wondered aloud if anyone ever got real business from these social media tools. If the audience responses and experiences demonstrate anything, they show you can if you pick the social media tool that fits your type of business best. LinkedIn seems very good for business service professionals, whereas forums may be better when dealing with consumers who are researching answers to questions they have about health or purchases.

  • Worrying about spam comments on blogs – Two business owners worried that a blog would lead to problems due to spammers. I pointed out that you are in control at all times and can moderate spam or abusive / inappropriate comments.

  • Questioning the difference between a blog and a forum - Several people were unclear of the distinction between a blog and a discussion forum. Although there are a number of differences, the chief one I pointed out was that on a blog, the blog owner controlled the subject matter to initiate discussing (even though readers contribute to the discussion). With a forum, anyone can initiate a discussion topic.

  • Wondering how to get started with a blog – Several people asked how and where to get started with a blog. I recommended experimenting with setting up a free blog at Blogger.com or WordPress.com, to see if you like blogging on a regular basis. An audience member recommended Blogger.com as the blogging platform she uses.

    There was much much more, but this gives you an idea of the experiences and also the concerns of small business owners around social media.

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