Social media has empowered small businesses in ways that were unimaginable a decade ago, forever changing both the way they engage with customers and how they market their goods and services. At little or no cost, social media marketing lets local shops reach consumers quickly and en masse—or provide individually tailored customer experiences.
Of course, leveraging such a powerful medium invites its share of risks. The biggest risk, however, is not engaging on social media at all.
Fearing that even dabbling in social media will turn into a time sink—or worse, a legal nightmare—busy professionals are avoiding sites like Twitter, Facebook and Google+. Unfortunately, that means they're giving those massive audiences the cold shoulder as well.
Social Media Marketing Help for Small Business
To help set small business owners on a path toward social media marketing success, three companies have joined forces on the Local Lift Tour, a multi-city series of free workshops that help entrepreneurs boost and protect their brands online. Attendees can expect panel discussions and breakout sessions—where social media experts share best practices—punctuated by Q&A sessions with the pros. As always, networking opportunities abound.
Three cities are on deck for the coming weeks:
- Philadelphia, PA on Sept. 22
- Brooklyn, NY on Sept. 24
- Washington D.C. on Oct. 20
Prior stops included Austin, San Francisco and San Diego, and you'll find streaming video of those events—and links to RSVP for future events—at the Local Lift Tour website.
Meet the Social Media Experts
Rocket Lawyer, a cloud-based, mobile-enabled legal services company, offers tips on averting legal complications while engaging on social media. Affiliated attorneys are on hand to answer questions and provide guidance.
Main Street Hub, a provider of local customer relationship management (CRM) services, lends its brand-building expertise.
Finally, local review site Yelp is on-hand to share winning approaches to handling the ups and downs of engaging with customers online.
For Matt Kaufman, Rocket Lawyer's director of small business services, the Local Lift Tour is an opportunity to help businesses protect themselves online and demystify the intersection of social media marketing and the law.
Busy small business owners often task someone with managing their social media accounts, sometimes a new hire. Although not a bad practice in and of itself, many of them go about it the wrong way, says Kaufman.
Small businesses place perfectly fallible people in charge of "a huge soapbox," he says, without bothering to institute "real guidelines on what an employee should actually do." Faced with the oftentimes unpredictable nature of social media feedback, Kaufman has witnessed "employees go off the rails on Twitter" to devastating effect on a company's online reputation.
Kaufman strongly encourages small businesses "to put an employee policy in place" that outlines acceptable behavior on social media and how to handle challenging situations like negative reviews or feedback.
A scathing review can be like "getting punched in the gut," says Kaufman. "Not quite sure how to react," some small business owners may respond hastily while forgetting to be tactful. Before things get out of hand, Kaufman is keen on advice from partner company Yelp that's also helpful if one should catch fire. "Stop, drop and roll."
"Stop, don't reply right away. Drop the emotion and craft a reply that you're proud of. And roll, don't engage in back-and-forth," he says.
Finally, small businesses must not forget that the law also applies to their online interactions, reminds Kaufman.
Playing it fast and loose with one's language or "berating someone online" can result in "getting into a world of libel and slander," he cautions. Also, false advertising can land a company in hot water, whether it's in pixels or print.
Pedro Hernandez is a contributing editor at Small Business Computing. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.
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