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The Single Most Powerful Use of Social Media for Small Business

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I get asked all of the time for tips on simple ways to use social media in a small business that don’t require vast amounts of time.

I mean, small business owners know they need to get more involved online, they hear about and see it on TV daily, they are using more and more in their everyday lives, but when it comes to their own small business, it’s still taking a bit of a back seat because they fear they don’t have the time to do what looks and feels like a bunch of work for little immediate gain.

So, before I ever send an apprehensive business owner off to chase Twitter and Facebook followings I always start them with one simple tactic aimed at three very important groups.

So, here’s my advice: If you’re looking for the single most powerful use of social media in your business follow this simple plan.

The single tactic

My tactic of choice is one of the easiest to employ, automate and orchestrate and it has noting to do with tweeting. It’s simply the act of plugging in and listening to what people that are important or potentially important to your business are doing and saying in all of the social networks they participate in. Understand though that I’m talking about very focused listening here, that’s why this is a high payoff activity.

That’s right, you can derive immense benefit through social media tools without actually doing much more than listening. The first tool of choice is Google Alerts because you can set up countless alerts and receive daily email digests for all. Of course you’ll want to add another free tool such as Social Mention because it will help you pick up things that Google Alerts misses. I simply put my Google Alerts into Google Reader so I read them when I want and I bookmark all my searches in Social Mention and add a Listening Folder to my Bookmark toolbar so I can refresh the results anytime I like. (You can also step up to some paid versions like Trackur and Social Report)

The focus

Of course the next step is to determine who and what you’re listening for. Of course you’ll want to set up alerts and bookmarks for your own brand, that’s just common sense, but there are three other groups that I suggest every small business start tuning in to.

1) Clients - create alerts for all of your important clients and even go as far as adding their blogs to your RSS Reader, creating a Twitter List and adding it to a tool like TweetDeck and exploring if your CRM tool allows you to add the social connections for your clients (BatchBook, Highrise or ACT! all have this function). Monitoring what your clients and prospects are doing and saying in social networks will allow you to anticipate and serve their needs and build relationships much faster. A funny thing happens when you start to view your clients as real people!

2) Key Journalists – Almost every journalist is using social media these day and that includes this new breed of journalist we call bloggers. When you can locate the key journalists and bloggers in your industry or community, and you start to tune in as detailed above, you can find ways to engage them and build relationships by simply participating in their conversations with tools that didn’t exist just a few years ago.

3) Strategic Partners – I write about the notion of creating a team of best of class partners to bring to your clients frequently and one of the best ways to recruit and activate a strategic network is through the use of the systematic listening I’ve described here. This is a great way for you to learn what your partners need, how you can refer business to them and how you could create an entire content portal around all of the information and education your partners are putting out daily.

The payoff

Of course listening is simply the starting point. But, by using a systematic approach to listening and focusing that approach on the highest payoff audiences, you can now engage those you are following and know that your time is well spent. It may be fun having a debate with a random stranger on Twitter, it just might not be a wise use of your time.

However, when you track your clients you might just learn that your largest client has a new grandson or just watched their oldest receive a diploma – these life moments are excellent opportunities for you to come to know more about the real stories that make up your business.

When you read an article by one of your key journalists written about a topic you just happen to have a great deal of research on you can immediately jump in and comment or engage in ways that make you a valuable resource. Or, you can comment thoughtfully on a blog post of one of your key bloggers and start to build a conversation relationship that could eventually turn into a guest post opportunity.

When one of your strategic partners mentions they are looking for a programmer with API experience, and you know a wiz in that specialty, you can quickly step in and refer a solution – that’s the number one practice in generating your own referrals by the way.

So you see, if you’re one of those still confused about how to make social media pay or where to start to get your social media marketing going, look no further than your ears.

I talked about this very subject briefly in a video interview with Bryon Elliot on a visit to Orange County.

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