Conversation overhead at a recent networking dinner: “It seems as if everyone today, even the smallest businesses, has a social media manager,” said a real estate agent.

“You’re right,” replied the accountant she was talking to. “I need to get one. I just don’t have time to handle all of my social media anymore. But I just don’t really know how to find the right person.”

It’s true, it seems as if most business owners have hired an “expert” or a “consultant” or a “media team” to handle the business’ social media presence. But how do you know what to look for? How do you find the right media manager for you and your business?

The field of social media management is so new, and is so ever-changing, that it is difficult for anyone to call themselves and expert, says Jackie Berman, of Pearls of Wisdom Media LLC. She prefers the term consultant instead.

When Berman graduated from Trenton State College in the 1970s as a psychology major no one had heard of social media, let alone the Internet. Personal computers were still a rarity, too. Berman came from a family with an entrepreneurial spirit. “My dad owned a couple of businesses,” she says.

So it came as no surprise when she joined her husband, Craig Berman, in business. “He had been servicing copy machines and large printers for a number of years, and in the early ’90s he saw that toner cartridge renewal was an up and coming business, so we opened Cartridge Renewal Systems in 1993,” she says. She is still the president of the business, which is located in Manalapan.

Learning by Doing. As social media became more important for businesses she began handling the Facebook page and then the Twitter account for Cartridge Renewal Systems. She did it so well that other business owners began asking her for advice.

“People kept asking me to help them with their social networking, and when you get asked to do something enough times, if you are an entrepreneur, you begin to think that you should be in that business,” she says. Berman opened Pearls of Wisdom Media LLC, in June of 2010. The company is named for her mother, Pearl, because “she always gave me good advice,” Berman explains.

The business specializes in “strategic consulting for companies concerning their social media marketing.” Berman helps the company to develop a plan and then implement it. She specializes in Facebook and Twitter, but also works with other social media as well.

Why You Need It. Social media is changing everything. Business Week recently published an article about the power of social media and how companies are beginning to embrace it, because they really don’t have a choice, says Berman.

“Not everyone has a blog, or wants to blog, but you would be hard pressed to find many people who aren’t on some type of social network. Now it’s time for small business to follow suit and meet their potential customers on their own turf, or risk falling behind the times,” she says.

Social media increases a small business’ ability to brand itself, creating a recognizable identity for products and services. “It is one of the best ways to create a buzz, to get the word out about your product, to build relationships, to establish yourself as an expert, to open up a line of communication with millions of potential customers,” says Berman. “Social media allows small businesses to compete with large corporations.”

Posting on social media sites can also direct more traffic to your website by improving your search engine ranking. In fact, Berman says that using social media is more about increasing people’s knowledge of your company than it is about getting individual sales.

“People who think that tweeting on Twitter will bring them direct sales will be disappointed. Social media is indirect. It is about making your company more accessible. Being more accessible means being perceived as a more trustworthy company,” she says.

It Takes Time. Berman recommends that business owners tweet three to five times a day and post on Facebook a few times a week. “The type of things you post on Facebook are different than those you tweet on Twitter, and the same is true of the other social media,” says Berman.

Each site has its own style and its own audience. You can turn off a potential customer by posting the wrong type of information to a site. At best, you will seem out of touch, at worst, overly aggressive, explains Berman.

It is time consuming to find the right information to tweet or post and then to post it appropriately. That’s where experts like Berman can help. “If you know you should be using social media but don’t have the time or knowledge, look for someone who can do the work for you,” she says.

When looking for the right social media expert ask them which media they specialize in, and make sure that it is the media that you feel will work best for your company.

Do experiment, however. Consider working with an expert who is also familiar with some sites that you are not. You will never know what will work for your business until you try it.

You Still Must Interact. Social media is all about interacting in a more personal way with customers and potential customers. Just because you hire a social media expert doesn’t mean that you can ignore your company’s social media presence. Ask your consultant to forward tweets or posts that need additional follow-up — then make sure you do follow up.

A social media manager can help you with your media presence, but the personal quality means that you, too, must be involved. Once or twice a week at least, check out your own social media pages. See what is being posted. Make sure that you like and approve of the content, that it is relevant to your business.

A social media expert should be searching for relevant articles, information and links to post on your sites, but you can help your expert out. After all, her expertise is social media, not your business. Pass on articles that you come across. Talk at least once a month about the direction you want your social media to take. Tell your expert about any special events or promotions that you are planning for your business. The more actively you participate in your social media pages, the more they will help your business.

The bottom line, explains Berman, is that all marketing is about getting out the word, engaging in conversations, taking suggestions, solving problems, educating your audience and promoting your company, product, or service. “One of the best ways for small businesses to create buzz is through social media,” she says. She believes that no small business can afford to ignore social media marketing these days. “If you’re not using social media,” she says, “remember that your competition is.”

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