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Benefits of using social media to promote your business

Think social media is just for big businesses? Think again! Social media provides a cheap and effective marketing tool for small businesses too.

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1. Increase website traffic

If you regularly update your website or blog with new content, signposting it using social media can drive increased traffic. Plus, search engines are starting to take more notice of links from social media, so it could even help to increase search engine traffic.

2. Raise awareness of your business

People buy from people they know and trust. They may not always follow you on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn, but by getting your name out there and building relationships with relevant people, potential customers are more likely to have heard about you. And you may even get recommended by others.

3. Get seen by journalists

Twitter isn't just used by businesses and customers, most media organisations got wise to the power of tweeting early on and now use it as a source of interesting stories. Entrepreneur Dawn Fry of Make Choccies, who works from her garden shed, got her business mentioned in a national newspaper because a journalist doing a piece on shed working found her on Twitter and tweeters at Humbers Homemade got spotted by researchers for the BBC's One Show.

4. Engage customers and increase loyalty

It can be difficult to stay in touch with all of your customers, but social media gives you the opportunity to engage with them on a one-to-one level. By becoming more involved with your company and getting to know the people behind the business, customers will feel more loyalty towards you, returning to buy from you again and again.

5. Increase sales

If you're looking for a concrete return on investment on your social media efforts, there's plenty of evidence that social media can result in sales. In fact, Forum member Mike Ode made 65% of his annual turnover from social media and networking.

However, don't expect to broadcast messages and the sales will roll in, you need to interact and build relationships with people before they will buy from you.

6. Manage your reputation

Many businesses are afraid to put their good name out into the world of social media. What if someone says something bad about them? Rather than seeing this as a threat, you can turn it to your advantage by tackling bad perceptions about your brand head on and thanking people when they say something positive about you.

7. Conduct market research

Social media gives you access to instant feedback from your target market, and what's more it's absolutely free! Plus, you can use it to keep an eye on what your competitors are doing. Forum member Hayley Chalmers used Twitter to carry out market research and gain valuable industry information when setting up her online retail business.

8. Networking opportunities

Good contacts are key to successful businesses, and social media offers the opportunity to meet more potential contacts than you ever could in person. Plus, it integrates very well with traditional forms of networking. Use social media to find events to attend and forge relationships that you can then continue in face-to-face networking.

9. Educate customers

Sometimes it's not enough to go straight in with the hard-sell. Social media allows you to nurture leads and educate them about issues surrounding your industry. Share your knowledge and experience with articles, blog posts and videos to establish yourself as an expert in your field.

10. Cost-effective

The best news is that social media is free! Other than your time, participating in social media doesn't have to cost you a thing, which can help to significantly reduce your marketing budget. It is important to establish from the outset what you want to achieve from engaging in social media. This way you can easily see whether social media provides you with a return on the investment of your time.

Keep measuring your success against your goals. If something isn't working then don't be afraid to change it or try another type of social media.

Members of the Forum can download a free guide to getting started with social media.