Deborah Sweeney discusses the importance of social media for small businesses and startups.

Deborah Sweeney is the CEO of MyCorporation.com, a leader in online legal filing services for entrepreneurs and businesses. Here, she shares tips on how small businesses can successfully use social media for their own marketing efforts.

Q: First off, do start-ups even need social media?

Deborah Sweeney: Definitely – there is no doubt in my mind that, now more than ever, businesses must use social media. Last year HubSpot published a great study that found that 77% of the Business-to-Consumer companies they surveyed had acquired customers through Facebook. That simple statistic proves how powerful social marketing can be.

There is no other medium that allows a business to connect on such a personal level with their customers. Of course, it is important to remember that not all industries will benefit from social media in the same way. That same study from HubSpot found that retailers had the best luck at acquiring customers through Facebook, while manufacturing had a bit more trouble. However, both sectors still reported finding customers through Facebook, which means social media is worth using, no matter what industry your business is in.

Q: What social platforms do you think small businesses should use?

Deborah Sweeney: All of them! Haha, but seriously, you want to spread your business’s online exposure as far as you can. That means signing up for, and maintaining, an array of social media accounts. Many small business owners have neither the time nor resources to maintain a widespread social presence, so if can only sign up for the basics at least make sure you sign up with the big three – Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. A LinkedIn account is also very useful for networking, and for companies that mainly deal in Business-to-Business transactions. MyCorporation.com actually provides a free step-by-step tool to help business owners learn about these four social platforms, and how to best utilize them.

Q: What advice would you give a small business just starting out with social media?

Deborah Sweeney: Have fun with it! Don’t send every tweet and post to a focus group, don’t worry about how much of impact your posts had today versus yesterday – just relax, and enjoy the experience. Social marketing is a very organic process. It requires you to engage directly with your customers, and sterile, boring interactions will wind up pushing them away from your business. Remember, social marketing is much more useful for increasing your business’s exposure than it is for generating leads. If you treat your social channels as a way to create more leads, they’ll wind up looking like other traditional advertising mediums – trust me when I say consumers already get enough advertising in their lives. You want potential customers to be thinking about you, and to have a way to see what kind of company you are. That means you have to be as friendly and personable on social media as you are in real life.

Q: Do you think a business should handle social marketing in-house, or use an outside firm?

Deborah Sweeney: Well that all depends on what the business wants to accomplish, but contracting an outside firm can be dangerous. You run the risk of losing your own voice as it is replaced by whatever company is updating your feeds. Of course, the same thing could happen if an in-house social media marketer is too disconnected from the rest of the business. If you decide to have someone else hand your social media, whether you hire them yourself or contract an outside company, make sure you sit down with that person to see how your personalities mesh. The interview between myself and MyCorporation’s social media manager was more of an easy-going conversation than a hardcore vetting session – she and I get along very well, and her personality is very close to mine. Because of this I know that she is representing MyCorporation.com the same way that I would.

Q: Do you have any of your own social media accounts?

Deborah Sweeney: Of course! You can reach me on Twitter @DeborahSweeney, on Facebook, and on Google+.