Social media is becoming an important influencer for small business owners. Large groups of potential customers are using social media to vet a variety of products and services. It stands to reason that if you want them to find you, you must be on social media, too. And to make a good first impression, your branding and content must be top-notch.
Best Practice: Planning
To derive value from your social media investment, try to adhere to best practices. Start by developing a comprehensive social media plan before doing anything else.
Establish what you hope to gain from being on social platforms. Are you looking to augment your increase awareness of your brand, lead viewers into a sales funnel or both? Do you want to specialize in a certain consumer niche (for example: parents with special-needs children) or a particular kind of product? Whatever your goal, writing it down will help you clarify your thoughts and stay focused on hitting your target.
Planning your social media program has another advantage. It will help you to distinguish yourself from your competitors. Taking the time to think through your actions will help prevent false and possibly damaging starts. It will also make your effort more sustainable. Finally, by planning first, you make it easier to publish strong content without running out of steam. Content is what sets strong social media competitors apart from also-rans. Build a great plan and your robust content and consumer engagement will follow.
Once you have a social media plan in writing, the next step is to create a social media calendar. This translates your desired level of monthly posting into daily and weekly milestones. This will make it easier for you to hit your month-end content-production goal.
Best Practice: Platform Selection
Which social media platform or platforms should you choose? Because time is limited, consider focusing on just one or several. The big three for small business owners are Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. If you have a clientele that skews towards a young demographic, you might try Instagram, which is popular with Millennials.
Facebook is the largest social media network in the world, so it’s almost a default choice. Facebook has many venues for reaching out and bonding with people—from your personal page to a business page you create. Facebook groups are also great engagement venues, with millions of possible options to join. For example, if you own a chain of nail salons, entering “manicures and pedicures” in the Facebook Groups search engine returns thousands of matches devoted to that topic.
LinkedIn is where business professionals hang out. This is where you can let people check out your credentials before doing business. It also provides powerful algorithms that allow you to engage with people in nearby networks. Once you’ve built a large enough contact list, you can begin publishing articles that LinkedIn will feed on your contacts’ walls. Using your contacts to reach out to other prospects is a great way to benefit from the platform as well. One way to engage is by writing testimonials for people you’ve worked with and vice versa (subject to compliance restrictions). For example, if you own a boutique website creative firm, you may opt to recommend your client’s business in LinkeIn. Perhaps the best reason to join LinkedIn is to keep tabs on your clients’ professional achievements. The LinkedIn system will automatically notify you when your contacts have career anniversaries or start new positions or jobs. These are obvious touch-base opportunities to see if their needs have changed.
Twitter is a fast-moving platform designed to share nugget-sized information. It’s more personal than LinkedIn, but less emotional or sentimental than Facebook. Its forté is publishing late-breaking political and cultural news, and tracking people’s reaction to it often in the form of rants. But Twitter members also post frequently about other topics of interest, including personal finance as an example. Complaints about a firm’s poor customer service is common on the platform. Companies that don’t respond swiftly to irate customers often pay a huge reputational price. In short, Twitter is best for listening and learning. By searching for specific hash tags that relate to your target customers, you can see what’s on people’s minds. Then you can respond with your own ideas, presumably using this knowledge to create awareness of your product or service.
Instagram probably won’t be a high-priority network for you unless you have a young client base. If you decide to participate, try to make your posts as visually appealing as possible.
Once you select your social media platforms, establish a goal for each one. Possibilities include:
- Increase your website traffic
- Generate brand awareness
- Grow your professional network
- Increase engagement with the public
- Move social media contacts down your sales funnel (example: by requesting a white paper or quote)
- Produce appointments
Clearly, one social media platform can’t achieve all of your goals. That’s why it makes sense to work with several to allow you to leverage each one’s strengths.
Best Practice: Content Development
Don’t just blast sales messages at people on social media. Instead, adopt a content-marketing approach. This involves posting links to educational articles or videos you’ve published on your website. If you own a chain of dog grooming sites, you may want to post content about allergies that can impact a pet’s coat, or spread news about a new dog park opening. Sharing them on social media will give your contacts a taste for the quality of your advice. It will also show them you sincerely want to help them.
Here are the top 4 preferred types of posts across a wide spectrum of potential consumers:
- A hint that explains how to save money (39%)
- Comments from other people (38%)
- A statistics that makes me look at a specific situation differently (33%)
- A definition or explanation of an industry term (29%)
- A quote from someone who has lived through a unique or specific experience (28%)
Best Practice: Post Automation
Post automation can keep you efficient by scheduling all of your monthly posts in one pass. This lets you batch process your posts when you have free time, then forget about it until next month. This hands-off system handles the busy work while you can focus on daily operations.
Programs like Buffer, Hootsuite and Sprout Social have robust free versions. However, if you need more posts than their free software allows, you might need to upgrade for a fee.
These types of automated campaigns save you time and they “blend consistency in message and cadence with minimal effort from the field.”
At the end of the day, though, being educated about social media best practices will only take you so far. Sometimes you just need to dive in and learn from first-hand experience. Don’t be afraid to take advantage of one of the greatest marketing breakthroughs in history: social media.