How to make social media work for your small business

Develop a strong social media presence for your small business and turn social likes and shares into profit by creating a small business social media strategy.

Social media has transformed the way we live our lives: from keeping in touch with others to staying up-to-date with issues that interest us. And increasingly businesses are turning to social media to promote their products and services and keeping in touch with their customers.

Social media is a cheap and effective way to talk directly to your customers, create brand awareness and deliver customer service. It can help you target customers who are more likely to purchase from you, and turn satisfied customers into brand evangelists.

It pays dividends, too. According to a recent study by the Internet Advertising Bureau UK, nearly 80% of consumers are more inclined to buy more often in the future because of a brand’s presence on social media and two fifths of small businesses say they’ve won new customers by having a social media presence.

As a small business owner, you may feel you don’t have the time and resources to keep up with the fast moving world of social networks. However, with three quarters of adults regularly using social media, ignoring a market this size may ultimately limit your business’s growth.

The solution is not about ‘doing social media’; it’s about doing it in a way that delivers the most return for your time and effort. Here’s how to make social media work for your small business.

Define your social media business goals

Simply creating a Facebook or Twitter account for your business isn’t good enough. Instead, the first step in creating a social media strategy is to define your business goals. What do you want social media to achieve for your business? How will you measure its success, and how will you achieve these goals? Typical social media business goals include:

  • Attract customers – acquire new customers for your products and services?
  • Retain customers – get loyal customers to follow your social media accounts, rewarding their loyal behavior with discounts or exclusive offers and competitions.
  • Promote awareness – get people with a large number of follower to endorse your company and raise brand awareness.
  • Deliver customer service – respond quickly to customers who post both positive and negative feedback on your social media accounts.
  • Share news, offers and promotions – generate excitement and news about your business, stories about your staff and bring your products to life with offers and special promotions.

To get social media working for you, avoid vague strategies such as ‘do more social media’, or ‘send 20 tweets a day’. Simply being active on social media networks without a strategy is ineffective, and worse can harm your business if customers try to reach you via social media and you’re unresponsive.

When setting strategic social media goals, use the SMART system as defined by Paul Meyer in his book Attitude is Everything:

  • Specific: your social media goals should be clear and specific. Aim for three or five main goals, such as attracting 500 followers on Facebook in three months.
  • Measurable: your goals must be measurable. Set targets for number of social media engagements, such as times your posts are shared with other, or the number of clicks from social posts to your website.
  • Achievable: goals must be realistic and attainable to be successful, so avoid the temptation to think you can attract millions of followers overnight.
  • Relevant: are your goals relevant? Do you have the time, resources or commitment to meet that goal? How will you achieve them? Think about how your social media activity will ultimately benefit your business.
  • Time frame: Your social media goals should have a realistic target date or time frame, such as increasing your retweets by followers by 25% within three months. This will help you focus on day-to-day activities and you can monitor the performance of your social media activity.

How to target the right social media audience

Social media is about people. Your social media strategy will fail if you don’t know who you want to reach, so you must define the audience you want to attract. Ideally, these people will become loyal customers.

Spend time building up a profile of the type of audience your social media content should reach. Visit competitor social media accounts to see what type of person is following them and the content that they’re engaging with. Create an audience profile that lists location, details such as typical age and gender, and types of interests and questions they have.

Knowing your audience means you can plan what content to write, tweet, post or pin that gets the response you want. Experiment with different types of content and tone of voice on social media channels to see what attracts the audience you’re most interested in.

Choose your social network

Setting up a social media account takes a few minutes – making it tempting to dash off and set up on a whole range of social media networks. But while it’s quick to get started, building an engaged, loyal customer base takes time and effort.

Which makes choosing a social network highly strategic. Don’t try to be active on all of them. Instead, it’s better to spend time and effort on just one or two social networks. For example, a restaurant that relies of customer reviews would be better off concentrating on the location-based social network FourSquare, while a fashion brand would get more mileage posting fabulous images of its clothes on Instagram rather than tweets on Twitter}.

Watch this: Think social media can’t help your business? Twitter allows tweets – or posts – of just 140 characters. In this video, Twitter shows how that small character limit has been helping all types of businesses:

 

Having identified your online audience and defined your social media goals, you can pick the social media network best suited to your small business.

Many of the big social networks are coy about revealing their latest user statistics, so create a personal account and log on to see the type of people and content that social network attracts. That way you can be sure the social network suits your business and the content you want to share. Here’s a brief guide to some of the bigger social networks:

Facebook With 1.5 billion monthly active users worldwide, Facebook is the biggest social network in the world. Over 60% of the UK population – about 31 million – have a Facebook account according to data from Think Digital First. While the biggest group of users are aged between 25 and 34 (26% of users), the sheer numbers of active accounts means Facebook is a great way to reach people of all ages. To win attention, you’ll need great quality content, and Facebook allows you to pay to advertise, target posts to specific demographics, and ‘boost’ your posts so they get more exposure.

Twitter –  Around 15 million active users will log onto Twitter at least once per month in the UK. Twitter is social media platform based on short message of up to 140 characters, which are called tweets. It is used by businesses to update news, handle service questions from customers, and increasingly is used by customers to directly (and publicly) complain about problems. A quick response is a priority on Twitter to manage any negative posts.

Watch this: Twitter has produced a video designed to show how the social network can help small businesses:

Instagram This picture-sharing social network has about 14 million monthly active users in the UK. A younger audience than Facebook, with 39% of its UK users aged 16-24 and a slight female skew, with 64% being female. As a visual-led social network, pictures and short videos take centre stage at Instagram – great for brands showcasing new products.

LinkedIn – This professional network has over 60 million monthly views and more than 15 million users in the UK, and is the business-to-business network of choice. Around 75% of users are over the age of 35 and 79% of users are male, with posts and groups on setting up businesses, advice from business leaders and a vibrant recruitment platform.

Pinterest – An online pinboard that offers a way to save and share pictures, videos and notes that you’ve gathered from websites while surfing the web. It’s estimated that there are around 10.4 users million in the UK. User engagement is high according to Pinterest with more than 70% of users acting on the content they see. Good for design, fashion, home accessories, food, crafting, travel and interior decorating businesses to share visuals of their work.

Google+ – Nearly half of its users in the UK are 18-24 year olds, with more than half using the platform to stay in touch with friends. However, 42% stated that they used Google+ to interact with brand content.

Snapchat – Still dominated by the young, this video and image sharing platform has doubled its active users from 100 to 200 million globally, although no UK specific statistics have been released.

Decide content type and frequency

Once you’ve defined your goals, audience and platform, you’ll need to develop a content strategy. Being creative, relevant and original is one of the toughest social media marketing challenges – and a hard lesson many businesses have to learn is you can’t transform your audience into paying customers by simply broadcasting sales and marketing messages. Instead, audiences want content that’s relevant to them, rather than your business.

Decide what type of content you’ll use, such as written blog posts, images, video clips, quotes, quick tips, Q&As and infographics. If time is limited, posts and images are less time-consuming to create than videos and custom graphics.

Be authentic as well, sharing likes and posts that excite you about your business and market. A personal touch works well with content, such as asking a question of your audience or stating an opinion. Create a template using free image software so you can quickly change text and simply post. Re-use old content such as a post that got lots of likes – pick a new angle from the story and re-title it.

It’s a good idea to build up a bank of content ahead of posting, then establish a regular routine for updating your social media networks – it’s better to post little and often than do so in bursts punctuated with long stretches of inactivity. Setting a schedule for your posts can also help to make the most of your time allocated for social media marketing. The optimum frequency depends on the social media network you’re targeting: for example, with Facebook, Google+, Instagram and LinkedIn aim to post once or twice a day. With fast-moving Twitter, at least 10 tweets a day is a good idea, while 50 pins or re-pins a day is necessary to keep you visible on Pinterest.

Respond and measure social engagement

Don’t simply post and then sit back. Social media is a two-way conversation, so respond to comments and feedback to show that your business is listening to what customers have to say. When feedback is negative, take the conversation private – many social media platforms including Twitter and Facebook have private messaging capabilities – rather than holding in the full glare of your public social channel.

Watch this: Get social media marketing etiquette right with this video guide from Entrepreneur on the ten laws of social media marketing:

It’s also important to measure your social media involvement. Tracking the impact of your content will help you understand what works and what doesn’t, allowing you to adjust and improve your social media strategy. Most social networks have tools you can use to track and measure your performance such as Google analytics and Twitter analytics.

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