The Salesforce-sponsored Smartcompany research that sparked this Social SMB Series highlighted that while many small businesses (60 percent) suspected that community engagement was something that would bring return on their social media investment, they were going about achieving that engagement in quite the wrong way.

In the previous post in this series we looked at how to build an audience and a community around your brand using social media and search engine optimization (SEO). But how then do you engage with them?

To only market your products to your audience - one-way communication - is to overlook the most powerful opportunity of social media. Email, the web and any form of advertising provides the opportunity to market to your audience. Social media affords you the chance to talk to them.

By conversing with your customers, you can bind them more strongly to your brand than by merely sending them product announcements, discount promotions and customer endorsements (which according to Smartcompany was the focus of more than 70 percent of SMBs surveyed). Social media’s most valuable advantage is that it is two-way.

The holy grail of marketing is to have customers that want to talk to you, recommend you and in fact do your marketing for you (more on this in SMB Social Series #2). This is something highly attainable for small businesses in a way that does not cost huge sums of money and can deliver a competitive advantage over much larger companies as it levels the playing field.

While SMBs fight a daily battle against disadvantages of being small: constrained resources, small budgets and not enough hours in the day; they do benefit from great focus. Either around their local area or around their product or service specialist area, small businesses can use social media to discuss important and relevant issues with customers. This is far easier for smaller businesses as they benefit from goodwill in the marketplace and are given the benefit of the doubt by customers in a way that large multinationals simply aren’t. Some of the ways this can be done include:

  • Provide valuable information your customers can share and collaborate around, like recipes or travel destinations or problem-solving ideas
  • Adopt local issues that your customers actually care about
  • Run competitions that inspire your customers to contribute their own content
  • Discuss important topics that surround the problem your product or service addresses, share your expertise but also invite the expertise of your customers
  • Answer questions by searching for your keywords surrounding your subject or locale and solve people’s problems
  • Demonstrate your passion for your business in your content - people respond to the human emotion. 
  • Don’t be afraid of feedback, in fact invite it. Good or bad, when a customer provides feedback, they have become invested in your business success

For more ideas on how to engage your audience as a small business, these case study collections  are very useful:

While it depends on what kind of product or service you offer as to what channel will suit you best - be that Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn - it is always  important to centre your strategy on bringing that audience back to your website, blog or app. Measurement, analysis and tracking of this conversation is crucial to understanding how to evolve it, enhance it and track your return on investment.