Free lunch ticketAt the moment I’m preparing a couple of workshops on the use of social media, and the same thought keeps striking me time and time again: social media is great but the fact that it’s totally free shouldn’t be the reason why you use it.

When it comes to social media, I think there’s a bit of a bandwagon effect going on. Yes using social media has become fairly widespread, so why would you want to get left behind? New rapidly growing social media sites are springing up daily, like Pinterest. And Facebook isn’t just about just friendships any more, even the big corporates have set up Facebook business pages, so shouldn’t you have one too?

But there’s a key question that is often missing from this kind of ‘me too’ reaction to the whole social media arena – is it right for me and my small business? ‘Free’ is a very seductive word, add it to anything and people naturally want it without questioning the value or relevance of what they are actually getting.

And while the use of social media may be free, it does have a huge time implication attached. And for any small business owner, time is money. So now that puts a slightly different slant on it, doesn’t it? Not to mention the fact that if you start using social media but then don’t use it regularly and consistently, it can actually have a negative impact that will be damaging for your small business.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of using social media. The key is to make it work for you.

So here are 5 top tips for making sure it does:

1. Identify your target audience and how they use social media. If you are selling to other businesses why set yourself up on Facebook, if LinkedIn is your customers’ usual environment? You need to fish where the fish are!

2. Which social space will offer the best and most effective ways to engage with your audience? If you’re offering a free coffee and cake to three people every day when they visit your café, get tweeting!

3. Think about how you can add value and provide interesting content for your audience. There should always be a reason why you post new information.

4. Don’t take a scattergun approach. Focus on one social media platform first. Plan your content and work to a schedule so that everything happens at the desired frequency – and doesn’t leave your followers disappointed.

5. Measure, monitor and refine. Get one right, then you can consider if there’s another social media platform that might complement or enhance your existing activity.

And finally, don’t forget that social media isn’t the only low cost or free marketing tool. Why not sign up for my free Fruitful Factsheet on low cost marketing to get some more marketing ideas!