Many small businesses are just getting started in social media.  I've had many clients tell me they don't know where to begin.  Regardless of what your budget might be there are some simple ways you can “test the waters” before jumping in head first.

Below are some tips to help you begin to integrate social media into some of your traditional marketing and business efforts. Social media should not be something separate from your traditional marketing efforts.  Integration is key and will maximize your investment in all marketing, both online and offline.

Remember just like marketing, social media is not sink or swim.  The best marketers are those that take risks, take time to listen to their customers and learn from their mistakes.  Try, try, try and try again.  If you are doing these three things you will eventually get it right.

Social Media Quick Start:

1.  If you don't already have one, setup a Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn account. All 3 of these are must haves for most businesses. Blogs are usually beneficial for most businesses as well.  You can start one for free on

2. Develop a marketing plan. If you don't have one, write one or hire an expert to help.  It doesn't have to be 100 pages.  At minimum take 30 minutes to formalize your goals and objectives.  If you have no goals and objectives you will have nothing to measure your success and learn from.

3. Next, develop a timeline of the activities you have planned. Review the activities of last year, ROI and any data that can help you make improvements and better decisions for 2010. At minimum try to have at least one theme per month.  This is a great way for small businesses to begin integrated marketing.

3.  Co-Marketing Partner List: Make a list of your partners, local charities or other companies you can partner with for some co-marketing activities.  Why not get together and share resources, run an ad together and maximize both your voice, market and brand a wareness.

4.  Go-To Market Strategy: Once you have your calendar at least in draft format, add some key categories for each month.  These should include the types of activities or mediums you use for marketing.  These should or can include social media, internet marketing via website, local advertising, promotions and campaigns, charity activities  and general events.   Optional tactics might be fundraisers, seminars, webinars and email blasts.

5. CONTENT CONTENT CONTENT: Now the tricky part… what are you going to market? What are you going to promote, email, talk with your customers about? What are you going to tweet, share on facebook or discuss with LinkedIn business members? I find this is the area most small businesses struggle.  If you don't already have a messaging platform, create one or hire someone to help.  At minimum ensure you have a mission statement, vision, value proposition, company description, product(s) description, benefit statement and list, feature statement and list, tagline, and more.  Developing this content one time at the beginning of the year will save you tons of time later.  It will also enable you to be more agile when a new opportunity arises for a good deal on a quick ad or co-marketing opportunity, or charity sponsorship.  It's about “Create Once, Use Many”. I also suggest writing some monthly Twitter Tweets, Facebook and LinkedIn posts for each month.   I promise if you do this you will NOT regret it.

6.  Map your calendar to your content. Since you created themes for each month during your marketing plan development, now you can start plugging in content from your message platform.  What features or benefits are best to market in the summer, spring or fall? You will begin to have something to talk about and inspire your customers!!  This is goodness friends!

7.  LISTEN: Before starting social media you need to listen. Listen to your customers, partners, mentors and most importantly your customers.  What are they saying about your product or similar products? How are your customers using social media? What social networks are they “hanging out on”??  You'll probably be surprised how many of them are using it effectively.  Take notes of what you learn, and how you can contribute content to the social platform to inspire them to read, listen and respond to your content.

8.  Develop your Social Media Plan: Based on what you learned in your research, develop a plan that includes goals, objectives and tactics for social media platforms, audiences, partners and content.  This should be mapped to your over arching marketing plan.  If you followed my directions, you will be able to easily map a social media strategy activities to the larger plan.  Guess what this means folks…wala… you are on your way to an “integrated marketing” land! Congratulations!

9.  Setup Your Social Media World: I don't have time in this blog post to go into detail on this section.  I will be writing some content over the next few weeks that should break down some of the steps for you.  Suffice it to say at minimum you need a Facebook Group and Business Page, Twitter Account, and Linked In.  If you are targeting niche markets you may need multiple eventually but remember we don't have to dive in head first.   There is much you can do with customizing each of these.  Facebook has some awesome features where you can make it function almost like a web page.  You can add html to enable email subscriptions, surveys, discussions and more.  Check ours out here

10.  EXECUTE: Now that you have some content it's time to just go for it.  Start Tweeting the content you developed in your message platform.  Post a Facebook post and share it with your friends.  You'll be surprised how many people will respond, become fans of your Facebook page, join your LinkedIn group, take your survey and respond to an offer.  Think positive!  Hopefully people want what you have to offer.  If not, I would question why you are in business.

11.  ENGAGE: It is important you don't just blast out “noise”.  Listen to what your customers have to say.  Respond when somebody posts on your Facebook wall.  If you see a new Twitter Follower who has a common interest, send them a message.  Social media is about conversations and relationships.  Inspire your audience and they will follow you, listen to you and engage.  Engagement leads to conversation which leads to a relationship built on trust and value added.  It is not until after you have INSPIRED and CONNECTED with your target audiences that you will ACHIEVE the business goals and objectives you are seeking.

12.  MEASURE your impact: Because you set goals and objectives you will know your key metrics.  If you are a small business who couldn't hire an expert and didn't really know what to expect or measure, it's okay!  Many companies are in the same boat.  However, regardless measurement is key!  Track your facebook fans, twitter followers.  Track what content they responded positively to.

13.  IMPROVE: Based upon the early learnings, tweak your approach, strategy, content and more.  CONTINUALLY LISTEN, MEASURE and IMPROVE!  This is the key to social media.  There is no perfect way to send a TWEET.  You will have good tweet days and bad.

14.  DON'T GIVE UP: Keep going!  You have made it this far do NOT GIVE UP.  Document your findings, wins, successes, learnings, and losses.  Keep your head up and have fun!

If you find yourself overwhelmed and realize now why the agency cost was higher than you thought it would be, then contact them for help!  Social media takes time, focus and dedication.

It's easy to create a Facebook page or a Twitter account.  The fun part is seeing your business grow, brand awareness soar and objectives met!

Remember you are not playing the social media game to be the most popular girl or guy on Twitter.  Although that may be a nice perk, we all will have a hard time competing with the 3+ Million followers of Ashton Kutcher LOL!

Good luck and have fun!!!