By Mecca Ibrahim, Head of Social Media, Great British Chefs

I was delighted to speak at Fresh Business Thinking LIVE! on how Great British Chefs has been using Facebook, Flickr, blogging, Foursquare and Twitter to increase engagement with our customers (and prospects) and also to build our "social media footprint" in a short space of time - so much so that it now rivals those of much larger brands (for example, we have developed over 51,000 engaged Facebook fans in five months).

Our message and advice to small businesses is:

- Always be authentic when using social media

- Engage and don’t always self promote

- Listen and ask questions

For example, a Facebook post that manages to provide some imagery or information that people will want to share, "like" or comment on, is more likely to get comments if you ask an open question. Starting those questions with "Would you ever?", "How often do you?" "Tell us when you...", "What are your favourite..." have one thing in common: "You" & "Your".

When using social media remember that as a brand you are in someone else's personal space & no one is going to "Like" (quite literally) a brand that always talks about themselves and is never interested in anything other than their brand.

Make it a New Year's Resolution to see how you can think of ways to help others and listen to their "key issues" on facing 2012. For example, how can you help them stick to their New Year's Resolutions? It may be getting a new job or wanting to travel more, lose weight, write a book, set up a blog or move home. Try a simple post on Facebook based around a New Year idea and see what happens. Then carry that on with the rest of the year, thinking of "seasonality" or calendar events such as Valentine's Day, Easter, The Budget or The London Olympics. Any business - and not just a consumer facing one - should do this.

Have a great Christmas and New Year and please feel free to join our conversations on Facebook & [nurl=http://www.twitter.com/gbchefs]Twitter, where we'd love to hear your thoughts on cookery & food news throughout the year.

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