Social media used to be looked on as an optional, though nice, marketing and advertising means for small businesses. The thinking was that it was trendy but ultimately led to little if any measurable increases in sales.
This has all changed in recent years, as social media has become not just a marketing avenue, one of the many roads to sales, but instead a marketing must.
Customers have become much more tech-savvy and require more information before making a purchase. This means that they’ll probably go to a company’s website and check Google for any reviews about the product or service.
If they can’t find anything about your business at all, they probably won’t purchase it for fear of a scam or low-quality product or service.
SMEs are estimated to contribute $5.5 trillion to the US economy, and seeing as 8 out of 10 SMEs use social media for business growth, it means a huge amount of business is done through social media.
In order to survive in today’s competitive market, we’ll go over some of the most important aspects to help your small business grow.
Define Your Goals and Audience
If you don’t know where you’re going, you won’t know when you get there.
The same applies to social media: if you don’t know what you’re trying to achieve, how will you know if you’ve achieved it? The best thing to do is to set some measurable goals for your business.
Pure advertising no longer works, as content cannot be the intrusive, traditional marketing form, but instead must be useful information that the customer will willingly partake in.
Therefore, you should be able to answer the following:
- How will you promote your business? Through educational, funny/educational, or another type of content?
- Will you offer discounts or sales on the social media platform?
- Do you just want to build brand awareness, or do you want to drive traffic to your site?
The best method of goal-setting for any organization is Paul J. Meyer’s SMART method.
You should also determine what your audience will be and adapt content for them. Figure out the age, education level, income, interests, career, and location.
For example, if you are mainly involved in dog care, your target audience will probably be mid- to older-generation, college-educated, middle- or upper-income pet owners in a variety of careers and locations.
If you sell accessories for Raspberry Pi or other similar products, your target audience will be younger, largely male, etc. You can do a rough estimation, but you should be aware of your audience already.
If you’re in the dog care business, you can have softer, more family-friendly, traditional content with slight humor, whereas the tech-crowd appreciates stronger or sharper humor, usually accompanied with memes or other trends.
Have an Idea of Your Content
Now it’s also important to decide what type of content you’re going to deliver.
Facebook and Instagram are great for sharing photos, but they work less effectively on word-friendly Twitter.
What categories will you offer? If you’re in the invoicing software business, you should probably focus on working with your target audience—small businesses and freelancers—and create content that will be interesting for them. The type of content will be up to you (infographics, memes, videos, blogs, etc.) but your category should be fresh and interesting for them.
For example, over at InvoiceBerry, we’re not going to discuss much about Justin Bieber unless he at some points gets involved in the small business and freelance sphere. Even then, we would make it suitable for our audience.
How often will you post? Getting involved in social media can be time-consuming, and many small businesses make the mistake of getting very involved in the beginning and then burning themselves out and posting nothing for days on end.
You want to be relevant, but you should also pace yourself and work according to how much you can do in the long-term.
Research and Adapt to Platforms
Different platforms work for different audiences and types of businesses. If you’re in the business of selling classic Italian silk ties or cigars, you won’t have much luck on Pinterest, as they generally appeal to the 50 and under female crowd.
Similarly, if you’re a trendy company that sells and refurbishes skateboards, LinkedIn probably won’t be your best bet.
It’s possible and quite popular to have a multi-platform presence, with small businesses creating more photo content on their Instagram account, engaging in users over their recent blog post on Facebook, and sending out updates and news on Twitter. Twitter updates are generally short-lived and quickly buried under incoming tweets, whereas Facebook’s posts have a much longer lifespan.
Secondly, whether you’re in the B2B or B2C business will also determine your platform.
B2B businesses have much more engagement on LinkedIn, whereas B2C businesses can interact more with their audience on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. To that end, LinkedIn generally shows your more adult, business-oriented side, whereas the B2C platforms show your personality.
Connect with your customers
Modern customers love engagement with the businesses that they use. They love the idea of a human face to a corporation or small business, or anything in-between.
It’s a wonderful idea to work on interacting with your customers through social media on a regular basis, and definitely attempting to respond to most of them when they have questions or criticisms. It’s been estimated that customers complain 879 million times on social media, but that only 1 in 8 messages to companies are answered within 72 hours.
This is a great—but lost—opportunity to engage customers through showing that the company cares, is responsive, and is working to fix or qualm whatever faults their product or service may have.
Beyond just improving the speed and efficiency of customer service, Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites are great for interacting with customers about many other things.
You don’t want your social media presence just to be about marketing, where you’re only promoting your brand and only discussing its benefits. You want to become a leader, an authority figure, in that field that your brand or service is in.
Remember, social media is not about you, it’s about your customers, what they’re interested in and are passionate about. This also means asking your customers what they think about a certain idea, product, or industry trend. This creates a conversation, a discussion even, which is much better for engagement.
It is recommended that businesses follow Pareto’s 80/20 rule for social media: 80% of your activity should be “friendly” retweets, comments, and other participation, and only 20% should be original content. If not, your social media presence will be seen as just another marketing stunt and you will lose that necessary engagement.
Social media to this end then is not just about increasing your brand awareness, but also about creating long-term brand loyalty.
Automate Your Social Media Management
But how do you do it? How can you spend so much time getting into discussions with people on social media, creating new content, and still run a business?
First of all, for your organization’s sake, you should use a social media management tool such as Hootsuite, Buffer or SproutSocial. These all offer you the ability to post to multiple social platforms, track all your comments and mentions, and measure your post and campaign results through their dashboard.
You can also automate tweets and posts, and even schedule Facebook and Twitter updates when you’ve posted new content on your website.
At InvoiceBerry, we use Buffer, and this allows us to schedule our posts for certain times and days (especially weekends), so that we don’t have to constantly and immediately be updating. It also helps us to see which of our posts work, which work more than others, what kind of engagement we’ve got, and generally keep track of trends.
Hire Social Media Help
However, you should appoint someone who is completely dedicated to your social media presence if the following are true:
- it’s eating into your time dedicated to other business activities
- it’s become a burden
- it’s distracting you from completing other tasks
This Social Media Manager could work on a part-time basis (let’s say 4 hours a day) or full-time if you want to really solidify your presence online.
The SMM’s responsibilities will work on interacting with your customers, answering their direct comments or criticisms, updating your posts through blogs, images or tweets, and most importantly collect the necessary data to see which activity is most likely to increase your social media presence.
The person should have wonderful writing and listening skills, be a people person (introverts probably shouldn’t apply) and hopefully have a strong background in customer service and marketing.
This person should also be creative enough to come up with some campaigns to boost your presence, such as photo competitions or more interesting promotions.
To sum up:
Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media sites are a great and necessary tool for improving the reputation of your company and the engagement you have with your customers.
In order to create and improve your social media presence, remember to:
- define your goals and audience by using the SMART method and researching the age, income, education, and interests
- ready your content by deciding if you’ll go with mostly blogs, tweets, photos, or a combination of all of them and setting a good pace for your social media updates and interactions
- research the various social media platforms and adapt and cater your content to each site’s probable audience
- connect with your customers by answering their questions, but also by engaging them in direct communication and larger conversations
- use online social media management tools to help you organize your social media presence and keep you from being overwhelmed
- consider hiring a part- or full-time Social Media Manager dedicated to your presence on the various platforms who’ll take over your updates, interactions, and create compelling competitions or promotions
With these tips, you’ll surely be set on your way to creating a more authoritative brand and a larger following of loyal and engaged customers.