Small businesses tend to be very skeptical of social media marketing because of the limited ability to measure ROI (return on investment). Still, savvy business owners know that marketing your business means engaging with your customer base. Since 80% of Americans use social media monthly, and since consumers are more likely to trust and buy from a familiar brand, the smart business man (or woman) is chucking archaic ROI expectations and turning enthusiastically toward an online marketing tool that’s free to use.

Tweet Deck Keeps You in the Game

It’s free to use, but it’s also time consuming – meaning that while you can be at the helm of your own online marketing campaign, small business owners are already wearing a lot of caps and don’t have the time to engage in multiple platforms. When it comes to social media heavy hitters Facebook and Twitter, many small business owners are confused about which route they should go. They feel they don’t have the time to learn both, let alone engage in both.

A quick solution would be to get on board with Tweet Deck, an online application that lets you manage multiple Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn accounts all in one easy module. You can simultaneously tweet and facebook across all or selected pages, see who’s retweeted or mentioned you, easily engage in LinkedIn discussions and more. Tweet Deck has a long laundry list of why you should be using it and what you can do with it.

However, Tweet Deck is still pretty limited when it comes to online engagement with Facebook users – which leads us back to our initial dilemma.

Facebook Invites More Players

So the question is, if you only have time for one platform, which should you choose? The answer depends on what type of small business you are. If you’re a small business that already has a client base, then set up a Facebook account and instantly shoot out a newsletter inviting all your customers to join you on Facebook. Facebook is a great tool for pyramid building; you can use your trusted member base to reach out to their extended friends and family. Facebook’s recent changes now also allow you to “be” your business profile and go in and interact with your client’s Facebook wall, leave posts and request friendships. This recent leap forward updated Facebook’s status from important to vital.

Twitter Builds the Hype

On the other hand, Twitter is a great way to engage with a much wider audience without having to reach out in a pyramid-like maneuver to get a following and keep up with them. Through Twitter’s 140 characters you’re forced to keep your message short and sweet while still opting to use all the great Twitter tools and strategies to stay relevant and gain a following. Using hash tags and the plethora of Twitter-based applications allows you to turn a series of 140 word tweets into a formula that can get you a lot more visibility a lot more quickly.

Social Media Calls the Shots

My suggestion is using both Facebook and Twitter. Of course, if you’re strapped on time, then judge your business type and the benefits and drawbacks of each platform per your needs. Otherwise, choose the social media platform that will benefit your business most and plan out a targeted campaign. After about 3 – 6, start exploring the other platform as well; in most cases, small business owners find that social media is no longer the daunting task they first thought it was and their own familiarity with it and its diverse options has made their work much more enjoyable.

As with any campaign, planning is key. When it comes to social media, a good plan takes patience and consistency. I recommend a minimum of a steady three month campaign that engages in your platform of choice daily and intermittently in order to keep up with the ongoing conversation. Ten minutes a day, six times a day is a safe bet for a busy small business owner eager to get on the social media train but who doesn’t have a lot of time to spare.