Should your small business be using social media? Judging by how often it is mentioned in articles and conversations, the answer at first glance would appear to be “yes.”

But determining whether social media truly is a worthwhile marketing tool for your business requires some research and careful consideration, according to Central Maine SCORE mentor Robert Kennelly. He notes that, “For all their high-tech attributes, social media is still fundamentally a means of communication with a specific audience. To get the most from it, you must first learn whether it is a viable way of reaching current and potential customers.”

And that means understanding the fundamentals of marketing. Who is your target audience? Where do they get their information? What do they care about? The answers will help you find the right media mix that makes sense for you.

Equally important is understanding the various social media tools themselves, how they work, who uses them and how they might be applied to your business. That part is relatively easy, as every small business owner can benefit by using at least one social media “listening post” to keep up with news and trends affecting your customers, your industry and your community.

For example, you can follow Twitter posts of leading experts, join in LinkedIn discussions, or see what other businesses in your community are up to via their Facebook pages.

If you do elect to start using social media to reach customers, you’ll need to gauge its effectiveness — just as you do with any other marketing tool. Look beyond basic numbers that tell you the size of the user base and the number of people who like or follow you. It is more important to monitor engagement — how often are the users interacting with your social media? Are you giving them a reason to interact?

Kennelly adds: “Many businesses have experimented with contests and giveaways to increase their user base, but then never engage with the group. Content as simple as fun facts related to your business can give those users a reason to interact or share with friends.”

It is also essential that potential followers of your social media communication be able to find you. That’s why search engine optimization is as important as ever. An easy way to get started is by using the keyword tool Google Adwords to test the popularity of your keywords and tags by giving you estimated monthly traffic numbers and suggestions.

For more information and an appointment to meet with a volunteer mentor, contact Central Maine SCORE at 782-3708 or [email protected], or contact the Auburn Public Library for an appointment. In Oxford Hills call 743-0499; in Rumford-Mexico call 364-3123. Or contact SCORE at

This column is provided by the Central Maine SCORE chapter.