By Rieva Lesonsky

Just like you, I’m a busy small business owner who can barely find time to sleep. Maybe that’s why I cringe every time I read about a new social media site that just launched, or a formerly obscure social media network (like Instagram) that’s suddenly supposed to be the “next big thing” for small business owners. Personally, I enjoy many aspects of social media, and it’s brought a lot of benefits to my business—but the thought of learning and managing one more social media marketing tool sometimes comes close to pushing me over the edge.

There’s no doubt that social media marketing of some kind has become essential for many small businesses. But the fear that getting involved with social media marketing requires your business to have a presence on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr, etc., etc. paralyzes many small business owners so much that they don’t test the waters of social media at all.

Does every business have to be active on every social media site? Of course not. The key is figuring out which sites can accomplish what goals for your business, which sites your customers spend the most time on, and which sites give you the most return on time and effort spent.

Personally, I at least test out every social media site that I hear about. Why? Because my business is advising small businesses, so I need to have a valid opinion about the social media marketing tools that are out there to help them. Similarly, if your business is marketing consulting, PR or communications, you’ll probably want to check out all the options out there to see what’s what. If you’re a plumber, on the other hand, you may not need any type of social media marketing outlet and might be better off focusing your efforts on creating a nice basic website, listing it in local search directories and optimizing it for search.

What are some considerations when deciding which social media tools to work with?

  • Facebook: By far the most dominant social media site, Facebook is the one to check out if your business is consumer-oriented. Starting a Facebook page is easy, and even posting as few as a couple times a week can give you an active presence.
  • Twitter: Twitter works for both B2B and consumer-oriented companies. Many restaurants, retailers, spas and other local businesses have found marketing success by tweeting out announcements and specials to their followers.
  • LinkedIn: This site is a great prospecting tool for B2B companies. It offers an easy way to get introduced to decision-makers you might never be able to connect with in real life, plus a way to see what companies and people are working on so you can tailor your sales pitches to their needs.
  • Pinterest: Pinterest is getting lots of buzz lately. Since this site focuses on sharing images, it’s worth investigating if you’ve got a visually oriented business like interior design, a clothing boutique or a hair salon where you can post photos of your work or products. However, photos can work just as well on Facebook, so if Pinterest is intimidating for you, you might want to check out Facebook first.