Find a Social Media Mentor for your Small Business

Small businesses are in a strange place when it comes to using social media effectively. Rarely do they have the money to hire outside consultants to help shape their strategies, yet they often don’t know enough to do it themselves.

And when I say “do it themselves” I truly mean it. In the case of small businesses, small business owners are still trying to learn how to use these tools effectively. Oft-cited reasons for not realizing social media's full potential include small budgets and limited engagement (an obvious gripe considering all of the other duties small business owners are responsible for).

So the quandary is this: small business owners need to learn how to use social media themselves without wasting a lot of time doing it, but they don't have the time because they're too busy running the business. How do they figure out how to use social media?

The answer is to find a mentor: a similar small business in a similar situation using social media themselves to effectively drive their sales (or whatever measurement is important). Conduct both online and social media-based searches to find a business that you can model your own social media approach after. Specifically conduct research on a few key attributes:

  • Similar Size and Resources: It should go without saying that the first thing to look for is a business that reflects yours in size and the amount of resources they expend on their approach. Do some research on them to find out what composes the social media department: the owner sitting at his or her desk after hours, or a college intern unpaid and tweeting or blogging through the day. In any case it should reflect what resource you can similarly provide. 
  • Similar Context: What size is the city or town they’re in? I live in a small city in Southern, New Mexico in the United States. Obviously what works for a small business in Chicago might not work for a small business in my town (smaller population, fewer people using various social media channels). Likewise our city’s population is heavily Hispanic with many Spanish-speaking families, so a small business in Manhattan, Kansas, might not have the same results as a small business here.
  • Similar Demographics: Alluded to in the previous point, the customer base also needs to be similar. Are they from a certain, specific cultural background? Do they speak a certain language? Reflect a certain income or education level? Characteristics like these need to be the same to ensure that results can be imitated.
  • Widespread Presence: You need to actually find them in the first place to research them thoroughly enough to know whether or not to model yourself after them. Look for businesses that have a heavy social media and presence. Even though a business has a strong Facebook page, for example, if their website is abysmal with little information then it’s difficult to know that much about them. A strong presence with multiple channels, an in-depth website and a lot of online content will help you understand more about them.
  • Visible Success: Lastly, they need to be successful using whatever definition you’re using to define success. Is it through the number of followers or ‘likes’ they’ve accumulated? Is it through the amount of interaction they have with those people? If it’s the amount of conversions or sales related to these mechanisms it will take some creativity to find out, but in any case they have to have results similar to those you’re after.

Following a business that’s doing what you want to be doing will remind you every day how to do it right. Emulate their engagement practices, talk to your customers the way they do, and otherwise imitate their success.

Article first published as Find a Social Media Mentor for your Small Business on Technorati.

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