Social media has changed the face of marketing. It is has changed the world. Some would say it has been good. Some would say bad. Whichever camp you find yourself in it is true that as an entrepreneur or small business owner you must acknowledge that it has an impact on reaching your clients. However, just acknowledging it is not enough. You should step back and really evaluate each of the platforms to determine where your time and efforts are best spent.

As entrepreneurs, we don’t usually have a large staff that can easily incorporate social media into their everyday tasks. Let’s face it most of the time those staffs are primarily us. So, we should be strategic when we make our marketing decisions and not just those pertaining to social media. Here are a few important questions to pose to yourself as you evaluate social media and its role in your marketing plan.

Is my target customer really using the platform?

Notice that this question asks if your target customer is really using the social media platform you are considering. There is a difference between them using the platform because they are actively involved in it and using it because their business necessitates it. For example, if your customer is posting all about their lives, business, and various topics all day long chances are they are actively involved. However, if they are only posting specific things related to their business and their customers there is a good chance they aren’t actively involved in the platform.

This question needs to be asked for each of the social media platforms you are considering using. Do your research. Where do you find your clients and potential clients? What are they doing? You will start to see a pattern emerge as to where your customers and potential customers can be found online. Now take look at the demographics that each of the companies provides on their user base. How many more potential customers can you reach via this method? Once you have done this you can begin to rank each platform you are considering as to the order of importance each one is to your customers and the potential pool of new clients.

Now you have a clear idea of where your customers and potential customers are actively using social media. Next, you will need to see if your business fits into the platform.

Does my business have a product that easily fits into the platform?

Just because your clients are actively involved in a social media platform does not mean that your company and products will work in that setting. Is your product complex and needs a lot of detail to convey its message? If so, then 140 characters might not work for you. However, don’t make the mistake of overcomplicating your offerings because you believe they deserve a great deal of people’s time and attention. We all think what we have to say is very important. Make sure you are really assessing your products needs and not your own joy for sharing about your products.

Is your product very visually appealing? If so, then platforms that encourage or are centered around images may be the perfect fit for you. Do you see where this is headed? Once you have determined where your customers are you still should ask yourself if you can effectively reach them while they are there. Can you communicate my message in a way that highlights my brand within the constraints of the platform? If you can and your customer are actively using the platform then you may have found a great channel to include in your marketing plan. If you can’t or they aren’t then you could be wasting valuable resources on a channel that may never really amount to much.

Do I have the resources to be successful using the platform?

Many entrepreneurs stop after they have answered the first two questions. Say you have identified two social media platforms that your customers and potential customers are actively using and you can effectively communicate your message using those platforms, now what. You do the entrepreneur thing, right? You dive in and get going. But wait, have you asked yourself if you have the resources to be successful using those platforms? Do you have the time to create the strategy, write the content, and schedule the posts and tweets? And if you don’t do you have the money to hire someone to do it for you?

This may be the most important question of the three. Because should you charge headfirst into the world of social media marketing without a clear plan and the resources to execute that plan you can end up doing far more damage than good. Remember you only have one chance to make a first impression. You want to make a good one. If you can only start with one you already have your rankings so you know where to start.

What’s next?

You know how your customer and potential customers are using social media. You know how and if your company and product fit into the social media platforms. You have your rankings. You know your resources. Now what? You jump right in, right? Not so fast. You will need one more piece to be successful. A social media strategy, more to come on that later.

Until then remember that just because a particular social media platform is or isn’t right for your business right now you should always reassess them each year. Your customer might change their habits, your products might change, or your resources might change. In the end, there are no definitive answers that apply for all companies to the question, “To tweet or not to tweet?” Each company will have their own answer. Just make sure that you are doing it or not doing it for the right reasons.

By: Amy Matthews, CEO, AMI