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Get Real Business Results From Social Media

According to Nielsen Online, the average Facebook user spent 5 hours, 46 minutes on the site in August 2009, far exceeding the average for the number-two online time-drain, Yahoo, at 3 hours, 14 minutes.

Marketers are turning to social media as a low-cost, potentially high-impact way to promote products and services. So far in 2009, 66 percent of marketers used social media in some form, according to the Association of National Advertisers. That's up from just 20 percent in 2007.

Judging from that data, you'd think small businesses everywhere were fired up about social media. At the moment, that's apparently not the case, according to a recent Citibank survey of 500 U.S. small businesses (consisting of 100 employees or less). The survey shows that 75 percent of small-business executives aren't using social media for business. They're hyperfocused on generating sales and managing cash flow to survive the recession, so things like social media outreach have fallen down the to-do list.

Nevertheless, small businesses that engage with customers on social networks can reap some rewards. First, however, you must set your expectations properly.

Setting Your Social Media Expectations

"It's unrealistic to think that because you join a social network, your entire business will change," says Ben Parr, coeditor of Mashable, a leading social media blog. "You have to find people who are interested in what you do and respond to those who are talking about your brand. It should be an ongoing part of the marketing you do. And like anything worth doing, developing your social media profile takes time."

Once you amass a sizable, loyal following for your Facebook updates and your tweets, you might expect to experience a number of benefits.

Stanya Doty, the sole proprietor of wine and gift shop Simple Indulgences, says that Facebook and the e-mail campaign service Constant Contact have allowed her to cut ad spending by 75 percent. She admits that getting attention on Facebook can be difficult--but her Facebook fan base is growing. "And if I can get information out without having to pay for it," Doty adds, "that can only help my business, especially in a difficult economic environment."

"One negative blog post or tweet about your company can cause a lot of damage," says Parr. But you can turn it around by responding quickly to the complaint. Cable TV giant Comcast is the gold standard for companies that use social media to respond to their customers. When Comcast gets wind of a complaint about its service on Twitter, the company will usually respond right away to the customer, asking how it can be of help.

Chris Lindland, founder of the quirky online-only apparel company Cordarounds, tracks what people are chatting about by using Twitter, viewing Google Alerts, and reading blogs. The blog and Twitter conversations sometimes inspire new Cordarounds products.


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