Social Media Basics for Small Business
It wasn’t that long ago that most small businesses were mom-and-pop stores relying primarily on word-of-mouth to attract regular customers. Today’s consumers, however, often rely on what they’re able to find out a business from a few simple clicks. Consider the fact that roughly 62 percent of all adults worldwide access the Internet from some type of mobile device. Social media offers a cost-effective way for small business owners to reach those increasingly mobile customers.
Understand Your Customers
Define your audience by developing a profile of who your average customer is in terms of age, gender, interests and profession. Think about how somebody matching your average customer profile would search for you online and how they would likely prefer to engage with your business online. Use this point of view as the basis for your social media strategy.
Fine-tune Your Message
Now that you know something about your customers, define the message you want to deliver to those customers. Determine what problems you are trying to solve for customers with your products or services and, more importantly, how you are better able to solve those problems better than a competitor offering similar solutions. Come up with at least three messages you want to deliver to your audience to fine-tune your message and further define your target audience. Most of the time, your message is going to include one or more of the following goals:
- Showing advantages over competitors selling/offering the same products/services
- Establishing yourself/company as a source of reliable information
- Increasing brand recognition to encourage brand loyalty
- Encouraging customers to recommend your business to others
Pick and Choose Your Social Media Platforms
All social media platforms are NOT created equal. Each platform has a different audience, purpose and focus. While some businesses do well with the constant back-and-forth of Facebook, for example, it may not work well with the message you’re trying to deliver to your potential customers. If you sell a bunch of consumer products, visual platforms like Pinterest and Instagram are more likely to work for you, especially since you can keep the content fresh by encouraging customers and followers to submit their own pics or create their own boards. You’ll also want to consider how much effort you’re going to put into your social media platforms For instance, there’s no reason to have a Facebook page, Twitter account, YouTube channel, Instagram account and Pinterest page if two or three of those platforms are going to be virtually blank — especially since blank pages with little more than your business name and address don’t impress customers who come across pages that have been long abandoned thinking that they are going to find something useful.
Coordinate Your Social Media Platforms from Your Website
Even though social media seems to be king these days, your website is still the main source of your marketing efforts. Keep in mind that all of your online efforts should be working together, not independent of each other. All of your social media platforms should be easily accessible with the simple click of an icon on your website. Conversely, each social media post should link back to an appropriate page of your website. It doesn’t always have to be the homepage, especially if you use meta descriptions for each page along with carefully selected keywords and phrases (search engine optimization).
Drive People Back to Your Website
The purpose of social media is to strike up a conversation with your customers, not hit them over the head with a sales pitch. This is a subtly you achieve with creative use of hash-tags (a method of connecting related content with a relevant word or phrase), links back to your website and the use of carefully selected keywords and phrases. You want to drive traffic back to your site, which is where they will be encouraged to take the desired action, browse your selection of products, call you for more information or complete a purchase.
Optimize Your Website/Blog for Social Media
While your website is the place where transactions are going to take place, your blog is the “voice” of your brand. Your blog can engage visitors enough to guide them through your “sales funnel,” which ultimately leads back to your website. If you want your website and blog to be at the top of your sales funnel, then you’ll need to make sure that your social media pages are easily accessible. Further optimize your website/blog for social media by:
- Displaying social media icons where they can easily be spotted (header/sidebar)
- Linking icons directly to your social media page profiles (to allow for instant following)
- Including a call-to-action at the end of blog posts or as tag line on your website that encourages visitors to “like” you on Facebook, subscribe to your YouTube channel or follow you on Twitter — or whatever social media platforms you decide to use for your business.
- Integrating live social media feeds (to allow visitors to see what’s going on with your social media pages in real-time as an added incentive to start following)
- Incorporating share buttons to encourage visitors who like your content to share it with others (thereby increasing your audience reach)
Maintain a Style Fitting Your Brand
You want a uniform look and style that matches your brand. Establish guidelines for posting content to all of your online platforms so that everyone is on the same page. If your company has a more professional style, for example, then don’t try to be “hip” with your social media posts by dropping slang phrases and making pop culture references only known to the teen set, especially if this isn’t the general attitude of your customers or clients. Your style is also defined by the color scheme you use, the lettering and font you use for your company’s logo and other design elements found on anything that represents your business online. For this reason, you want to be consist with these design elements if you want to increase brand recognition.
Think Big, Start Small
One of the reasons why businesses mistakenly assume that social media isn’t right for them is because of unrealistic expectations. There’s nothing wrong with having big long-term goals. However, social media marketing isn’t a key to instant success. It’s going to take time to engage your audience and start seeing the kind of results you want. Get started by choosing one or two platforms you know that you can keep up with in terms of providing regular content and engaging with customers. It’s better to manage two social media platforms well rather than trying to juggle five or six poorly. Successfully manage your preferred social media platforms by:
- Getting into the habit of adding updates as part of your daily routine (expect to spend about 15-30 minutes per day on your social media accounts)
- Taking time to see what’s being posted (this can sometimes provide inspiration for new content)
- Establishing rules/guidelines for social media posts on behalf of your business (if you’re not able to take time to update content yourself) and procedures for responding to comments (both negative and positive)
- Using social media management tools like HootSuite and Sprout Social to organize and manage your daily social activities
Brush Up On Your Social Listening Skills
You’re not likely to be at a loss for topics if you “listen” to what’s being said on your desired social platforms. Social listening also involves listening to what’s being said about your brand. Some of your regular content should be responses to comments left by followers, especially if you notice some perspectives on your products or services beyond what you had in mind. It’s just as important to respond to the positive comments as it is to address negative feedback. Ignoring anything negative tends to make matters worse since dissatisfied customers are generally more outspoken about their disapproval than satisfied customers are about their wonderful experience with your brand.
Find Reliable Content Partners
It’s not always going to be easy to come up with fresh, relevant content that’s sure to spark a conversation on your social platforms. One solution to your content dilemma is to find reliable content partners who can provide articles related to your business in exchange for a mention in your blog, an ad spot on your website or a link back to their site in your social posts. Bloggers tend to be reliable sources of fresh content, especially if you strike up a relationship with so-called “influencers” — bloggers with a significant amount of loyal followers.
Create (and Stick to) a Daily Plan
Once you have your sources of content all set up — in addition to what you post yourself — the next step is to come up with a daily plan for dispersing your content. You’re never going to succeed with social media if you create pages and hope for the best. Regardless of which platforms you use, take time to welcome new followers and thank anybody who shares useful comments, especially if you notice certain people becoming regular contributors. On a related note, you can always ask regular contributors if they’d be interested in being a guest blogger, which is a creative way to get new content for your other online forums. Be as specific as possible with your plan when it comes to how you will use your selected social media platforms. Consider the following example:
- Add 3-5 new Facebook posts per day
- Comment on 3 user-contributed Facebook posts
- Link content to 2-3 related Facebook pages (the more engaging you are with related businesses, the more likely they are to return the favor)
- Tweet/re-tweet 3-5 posts per day
- Pin/re-pin 3-5 Pinterest images per day
- Share a link to other relevant links on LinkedIn
Consider Social Advertising
If you want to boost your social media results, paid advertising can be the key to increased traffic and more conversions. Facebook alone has a wide selection of advertising solutions designed to increase brand exposure and send more Web traffic your way. Twitter has promoted content, an option designed to serve your content to an audience more likely to be receptive to your message. Promoted Twitter accounts are designed to increase your amount of followers at a faster rate. LinkedIn offers sponsored updates to boost your brand’s visibility. If you’re not sure what your desired social platforms offer in terms of social advertising options, do a little exploring. You might be surprised at the tools and options available to you.
Measure and Analyze Your Results
Social media trends come and go, so it’s important to continuously know where you stand, how your brand is perceived and what can be done to improve the results you’re already seeing. There are plenty of free tools you can use to track your social media results. Google Analytics, one of the most popular tracking tools, allows you to see where your social traffic is coming from and which platforms are driving the most traffic back to your website. You can also get metric reports to get an idea of how things are going with all of your social media efforts. Such information can be used to:
- Determine strategies already working for you (this is where you should be focusing your efforts)
- Identify social sites where you may want to rethink your approach
- Eliminate social platforms that aren’t generating interest among your target demographics
- Help you determine where to focus more of your social media marketing efforts
With more than a billion active Facebook users alone, social media isn’t a form of marketing that small business owners should dismiss so easily. Careful research, ongoing monitoring and a regular influx of content are just a few of the ingredients that can help small businesses serve up a hearty dose of effective engagement likely to give them a leg up over competitors targeting the same consumers. The good news is that it’s not necessary to have an unlimited budget to effectively reach constantly connected customers. When it comes to social media marketing, creativity and active involvement can be the key to retaining existing consumers and attracting new customers.