Vicky Anscombe: Social media for business - Why it works

Does your business have a social media account? If the answer's 'no, we don't have time', or something along those lines, you should probably keep reading – because this is one marketing tool that you definitely want to take advantage of.

Whether you think social media's not suitable for your business, you're worried who will run your accounts, or you simply don't know where to start, this guide will highlight social media's many, many benefits.

It's not a case of jumping on a bandwagon, but it's good to remind yourself that social networking is fast becoming an unrivalled business tool. Twitter is predicted to have 500m users by the end of March 2012, and Facebook is predicted to have one billion users by August of this year; on a related note, the birth of the 'Tweetbreak' has shown that social media has infiltrated every part of our everyday lives. If your customers see that you're not embracing this medium, they may applaud your stand against social media - but they may also assume that you're afraid of new technology, and that you're fearful of change, which can spell disaster.

Communication is key, and social media opens up your business in ways that haven't been possible before. Customers can contact you instantly by tweeting you, or writing on your Facebook wall - no more emails that take days to reach you, or hours on the phone, on hold. It's free, it's fast, and you're able to respond to queries and complaints instantly. Put simply, social media allows you to provide great customer service.

Social media (Twitter, in particular) allows you to continue to interact with customers long after a sale has been completed - a quick tweet asking them how they're finding their product always goes down well, and encourages further sales. It's also brilliant for finding potential customers and saying hello. A quick introduction never hurt anyone, and it's helpful to be seen being friendly towards customers and local businesses alike.

Twitter is also great for hunting down potential customers, and making yourself known to them. Tools such as Twilert allow you to search for certain phrases, such as 'looking for shoes' or 'mobile gardener'. An email is sent to you once a day with all the tweets that contain phrases you've listed, so you can then politely introduce yourself to people who seem to be seeking what you

Don't feel that you have to sign up to all the social networking sites; it may be that your company is more suited to a Facebook page, and that Twitter isn't your thing. When you find the platform that you feel most comfortable with, you will be able to engage in genuine conversations with your following - which is the most important thing. Don't feel guilty for choosing to ignore some certain social networking sites - find what works for you, and stick with it.

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Saying that, if you're the adventurous type, feel free to spread your wings! Don't just stop at Facebook and Twitter; new sites such as Google+ and picture-sharing site Pinterest are well worth a look. Don't forget that using different kinds of content is a good way of giving your followers something new; video content is a fast-growing medium, and a great way of keeping your followers interested. We recommend YouTube and Vimeo.

Finally, don't forget that the beauty of social media is its speed - all your successes can be broadcast immediately. Whether you've acquired a new team member, won an award or you're celebrating a milestone, you can let people know how well you're doing instantly.