A month after co-founding Little One Books, Joan McCoy, along with her partner and colleagues, sat around admiring their newly-built Web site with no idea what to do next. 

For eight months, the retailer, which sells vetted music, books and videos aimed at newborns and children up to 5-years old, had no online presence beyond its Web site, LittleOneBooks.com.

“We spent a lot time asking our friends and family to visit the site. People would ask, ‘Do you have a blog? Do you Twitter?’ I had no idea what Twitter was,” recalled McCoy, who is in her late-50s, “We had never heard of ‘social media’ as a term.”

While the term “social media” was a foreign concept to McCoy and her team, her company was in desperate need of it. 

With a bit hesitation, McCoy hired a consultant to help establish the Seattle-based company’s online presence.  In two weeks, LittleOneBooks.com exploded and experienced a 500-unique visitor spike.

One of the latest marketing challenges for new and established business owners is deciding whether their business needs a social media plan.

 “Social media is about communicating with the audience,” said consultant Linda Pophal of Strategic Communications in Chippewa Falls, Wis. “A business owner needs to ask: ‘Does my audience want to have a conversation or relationship with me?’ and ‘What is the value of what I have to say to my audience?’”

With the help of her social media consultant, McCoy found her value in the blogosphere.

 “We would have never thought to ask the mommy bloggers to ‘like us’ on Facebook,” she said.  In September she reached out to 74 mommy bloggers and arranged for a few to guest blog on her site. “It felt like we were building a relationship in days, which in my world would have taken months or years,” said McCoy.

While Little One Book found success, social media can be detrimental to some business.

Barbara Farfan of Authentic Communications in Orlando warns, “Only businesses that will benefit from Internet presence and customer interaction need a social media consultant. Every other business is wasting its time.”

Farfan points to four criteria that can help entrepreneurs decide if they need social media:

  • any business people find by searching the Internet;
  • any business whose credibility is verified by searching the Internet;
  • any business with a target market of people under the age of 30;
  • any business that is enhanced by “touchy-feely” relationships.

But too much customer contact can lead to uncomfortable encounters.

“Activity does not create accomplishment in social media” reminded Farfan, “Just because you have easy access to social media and you know the mechanics of Tweeting and posting, doesn't mean you know anything about the intricacies and potential of social media.”

And generating followers, friends or hits doesn’t always translate into sales. Pophal recalls an encounter with a hospital that was using Twitter, “They were Tweeting wait time, which I thought was an interesting idea.  But looking at their Twitter feed, many of the people who were following them had no association with them geographically. The numbers weren’t meaningful because they weren’t reaching the right people.”

After building a solid base on Facebook, Twitter and the company blog, Little One Books’ team is cautiously crafting a quantifiable social media campaign. 

“Now we are going to do different kinds of promotions highlighting a particular product,” says McCoy, “We plan to measure success by tying numbers to sales.”

For now, McCoy and her colleagues share the social media responsibilities, but if the return on investment pays off, there’s potential to create a full-time job.

Armed with social media know-how, McCoy foresees, “having somebody overseeing social media will be the key to our success.”