NEW YORK CITY — Customer service used to end when a client walked out of a store.
But as social media gains traction and new methods of connection develop, more and more small businesses are looking for tools to connect with customers long after they have paid at the cash register.
The ways small businesses use social media is as varied as the businesses themselves, with some using the medium to move with the times, others to kickstart their ventures and yet others to broaden their base.
Have a Social Media Strategy
Small businesses learning to navigate the waters of social media need to be nimble and flexible, according to Elettra Fiumi and Lea Khayata of Granny Cart Productions, a video production and New York-based social media strategy company that works with business on their online presence.
"Have a strategy, but stay flexible," Fiumi said, listing LinkedIn, Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram as her top suggested social media tools for business right now. "Maintain the same brand image and ethos throughout platforms, but diversify the output according to the platform to better leverage it."
In one survey, nearly 90 percent of small businesses said that social media has helped their business, according to the study of small-to-medium-sized businesses that use social media, which was conducted by marketing software company Vocus and marketing firm Duct Tape Marketing. The surveyed businesses reported that social media makes up at least 25 percent of their overall marketing effort.
Most respondents in the survey said they attracted new customers and traffic to their site jumped after adopting social media into their marketing plans.
Use Technology to Move with the Times
Even more established small business owners look to the new technology to grow.
Wendy Simmons, co-president of the nearly 100-year-old eyewear company Moscot, said that her use of social media has helped the company strengthen its connection to customers online and offline.
"We've embraced social media since the beginning, not only just to transmit information, but to communicate directly with people all over the world," Simmons said.
The eyewear team has a strong following on Facebook, where a dedicated marketing coordinator posts at least three-to-five times a day, including behind the scenes photos at the shop, magazine editorials featuring their eyeglasses and links to a fun feature called Eye Spy on its blog, which showcases "daily snap shots of New York life."
"Whatever social media throws at us, we embrace," Simmons said.
Use Social Media to Fund Your Venture
Social media gave Autumn Standford the financial backing she needed to open her bakery, Kolache Company in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.
Like other small businesses that are looking for alternative access to financial assistance, she turned to the social funding platform Kickstarter to raise $7,000 for the small bakery. In fewer than 30 days, she had bypassed her goal and brought in $8,349.
Now, Standford serves up her Texan-style portable pastries stuffed with ingredients such as eggs, sausage and cheese, or sweet homemade fillings such as apricot, poppy seed and cherry, to hungry Brooklynites seven days a week.
In Northern Manhattan, small business owners Daniel and Zaida Grunes also credit social media for helping them build their soap company Manor House Soaps from scratch.
YouTube tutorials taught them how to make olive oil soap right from their kitchen, ask for feedback on test-batches via Facebook or get customers jazzed about the soap-making process by broadcasting the process from their home soap studio — formerly the couple's dining room — live on Google+ Hangouts.
"A global audience on Twitter cheers us on while we provide snippets of behind-the-scenes married life/startup banter along with artisan market dates and locations where locals can buy our soaps on weekends," Zaida wrote in an email describing the robust following the couple developed throgh social media before even building a corporate website.
The Inwood-based couple's social media engagement with customers from the U.S, Canada and Europe has yielded quick results, meaning Daniel needed to trim back his hours at the three-star-rated Michelin restaurant where he works in Midtown.
"With every social media status update and photo shared, we consider whether our communication will translate to potential customers both locally and globally," Zaida wrote.
Spread the Word to Broaden Your Base
In the East Village, Maria Bauch has also used social media to great success, reaching a broader customer base for the East Village Butter Lane cupcake shop she co-owns.
In addition to common sites Twitter, FourSquare and Groupon, Butter Lane is giving new tools a work out, such as the site GiftHit.com, which allows friends to give presents via Facebook, ranging from a single cupcake to a dozen, or even a class on cupcake baking.
"Awesome for us, because it sells cupcakes," Bauch said, "but also it gets out there all over Facebook and people can see…'What is this Butter Lane?' and go check it out."
Learn the New Social Media Culture
Sandra Ordonez, a web educator at Collaborative Nation, said being open to new tools is imperative for small businesses.
"Understand it's a different culture, and in many instances completely opposite from traditional marketing," she said, stressing that the crux of social media is centered on building relationships.
"Try to get to know all the people that reach out to you — who they are as people, what they like, what their needs are," she said. "Remember, we have gone from the broadcast model to the person-to-person model."
Ordonez counsels owners to invest in training, explaining that even when small businesses cannot afford a full time social media staffer, a small investment in basic training can make "the entire process so much easier."
"Just take the leap," she said. "As scary as it is, the sooner you start using it, the sooner you will get through the scary part."