The numbers behind the social networking surge are startling: Facebook has more than 600 million active monthly users that the Web site reports spend close to 22 billion minutes daily on the site. While those numbers sound mind-numbingly high, small businesses should see them as dollar signs.Clara Shih, author of The Facebook Era and the founder of social media company Hearsay Social, said Facebook has given rise to a new consumer psychology and businesses need to embrace the new-found accessibility by making sure their social media practices work in their favor rather than an uncontrolled liability.Shih offered the following tips for small businesses on how to embrace social media to generate business and boost their bottom lines:Q: LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter… how do you as a business decide which one to use?A: Companies need to be aware of who their customers are and with over 700 million active users across these three sites alone, it’s becoming increasing tough to ignore. I think the No.1 rule is businesses need to find out where their customers and target audience are spending time and make sure they invest their presence there.Q: You also say listen to your audience so when they’re talking about you online you need to figure out what they are saying. And you say often times a small business doesn’t even know they’re being talked about online.A: That’s exactly right. I think before a business of any size goes on a social network it really behooves them to do a quick search on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. They may be surprised to learn that people are already talking about their brand and certainly their products and their market and potentially their competitors.Q: Everyone talks about how social media is so great for businesses but it can also be a liability to businesses if you don’t control it in the right way. You’ve mentioned consistency, but what are other ways to control the image online?A. The majority of pages that are created by businesses often get neglected because there was no clear strategy at the beginning when the business created the presence and I think companies just need to recognize it’s an ongoing commitment and it’s about what you tweet and say on an ongoing basis versus just having created the page in the first place.Q: If for instance, you’re a coffee shop. How do you keep your company relevant when there doesn’t seem to be new news to tweet or Facebook about every day?A: In the coffee shop example, there are ways to share what’s going on in the store, whether it’s an in store event, what customers are liking or preferring that day specials. Deals go a long way in retail.Q: So every day have a daily deal?A: That’s a great idea.Q:What else?A: Daily deals, focusing on customers. If you look at what Dunkin’ Donuts does, they actually have a fan of the week photo contest where they’ve engaged millions of fans to submit pictures of themselves and their pets and their children engaging somehow in the Dunkin’ brand. It’s been a great way to involve the community and extend brand region engagement.Q: Do you think in the future, businesses that don’t have social media pages are going to die out?A: It’s like where we were with the Internet and e-mail 15 years ago. There were a lot of businesses that were slow to adapt and yet, can you imagine not having Internet or e-mail? So I think that’s where we are with social media and it’s not that the businesses will die out, but certainly they will be at less of an advantage than those who fully grasp the new technology.Q: What is the new consumer psychology and how do you think consumers have changed the way they look at businesses?A: Well there are a few different elements of this new consumer psychology were seeing as a result of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. One is more sharing; really pushing the envelope in terms of privacy norms and what people are willing to share both with their friends as well as with brands. The second aspect of it is transparency. In an age where anyone can tweet and take a picture of anything, and I can also see who your friends are and what brands you like, the amount of sharing and the way that information is spread is unprecedented.Q: There are ads on Facebook that small businesses can take out, can you talk to me a little about that?A: Advertising on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter is very much tied to the added sharing that most consumers are doing with their profile information. Businesses of any size can take advantage of what’s called hyper-targeting to basically take any profile information and target ads at very specific audience profiles. For example, if you sell golf clubs instead of advertizing to everyone on Facebook, you could narrow your universe to just people who say on their profile in interests say that they enjoy golfing.Q: How do you do social media well?A: I think the most important thing about social media in addition to listening to what’s being said is just to be authentic. It’s all about showcasing who you are as a person and even as a brand, it can really be an opportunity to show a humanizing face to your customer.I think for a large majority of businesses that want to build their brand and want to reach new audiences and engage their existing audiences, social media can be tremendously powerful, but it’s not the kind of thing you can let run wild because that’s when it becomes a liability and that’s where we see a lot of the fear coming right now. I think companies can take steps which is a combination of technology policy and training their people to really transform that liability into an asset for the brandQ: And any other good tips from The Facebook Era?A: I think the most important thing for companies too is to use these sites as an individual consumer because then you can understand what the etiquette is like, what is the experience as one of the recipients of this advertising and marketing.
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