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Q: I keep hearing I should be using social media to advertise my business, but I don’t know what that means. How does a business use social media effectively?

A: Social media is the term used to identify the many online networking tools available. Most people have heard of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn, but many more options exist. IBM’s 2012 survey of 1,700 CEOs across the globe showed that at that time, only 16 percent of customer interaction was through social media, but that was expected to grow to 57 percent in 3-5 years. Only 12 percent of the CEOs surveyed felt they were effective users of social media at that time.

Many business owners see using social media as an overwhelming time commitment, so they don’t start. Others just don’t know how to get started. Based on the abundant proof in the marketplace that social media marketing produces financial returns and the cost of using this tool is relatively low, it makes sense to learn more. As with all business initiatives it makes sense to start with a marketing strategy and education in using this business tool. The Oregon Small Business Development Center Network website is a good place to get a low-cost introductory course called “Social Media Basics.”

Business owners often jump to embrace the latest and most talked about marketing tools without developing a solid marketing strategy then give up when the tools don’t work for them the way they thought they would. The marketing strategy identifies:

Goals — How many leads or customer contacts do you expect to create? How will each of these be followed up on? How many sales will result?

Costs — Even though a Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook profile is low in dollar cost, there is a time commitment to maintain information and develop the messages that will be sent to prospects.

Action steps — what tasks need to be completed to make social media or any online marketing work for your company?

Timeline — when will tasks need to be completed?

Responsible parties — who in the company will be responsible for the social media marketing initiative?

How will success be measured? How will leads and sales be tracked?

Social media marketing is the new wave in reaching customers but it is changing every day. Start slow, find one social media site to get started and build on what is learned from that. Select the site based on the potential customers using that tool already. Statistics from Harvard Business Review Analytics Services and SAS show that over 90 percent of people in the U.S. under the age of 30 use social networking, and social networking accounts for 22 percent of all online activity. Also, 58 percent of companies are using social media marketing, so don’t overlook the tools for business to business sales.

The SBDC is a partnership of the U.S. Small Business Administration, the Oregon Small Business Development Center Network, the Oregon Business Development Department and Southwestern Oregon Community College. Arlene M. Soto has been the Director of the Southwestern Small Business Development Center since July 2007. To ask a question call 541-756-6445, e-mail, or write 2455 Maple Leaf, North Bend, OR 97459. Additional help is available at the OSBDCN Web page