The Beginner’s Guide to Social Media for Small Businesses

By January 24, 2018 Business, Social Media

Why Social Media for Small Businesses?

Jumping straight into social media marketing for your small business because it seems “like everyone else is doing it” is probably a bad idea! First of all, if you are starting a new small business, launching social media channels right off the bat may not be the best use of your limited resources. While social media is “free” it can still involve a significant commitment of time and energy. It’s best to take a breath and make a plan about how you want to meet your social media goals.

The good news about social media is that most social media platforms, like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, are quite easy to use and understand. All you have to do is get started.

Project

Social Media Strategy

Timeframe

6 Months initially and then ongoing

What You Will Do

Construct target audience; co-ordinate your channels; listen; communicate; create a daily plan;

#1:

Do Your Homework

Behind every great success is a story of hard work-there are no shortcuts!

For a great social media campaign, you’ll need to have a great social media strategy. This starts with understanding your audience and how to connect with them on a genuine and authentic level. To do this, it’s necessary to understand your current customers (and their needs) as well as your future customers ( and their needs). A good place to start is by defining your audience. Do this by separating your customers into groups: age, gender, interests, professions etc. It’s important to create these profiles on paper, so don’t just talk it aloud-these will be documents that you return to, so it may be helpful to find images of what each group looks like (just one). This will help personalise your message to a particular group later on.

Next, we want to firm up your message. Based on your defined target audiences, identify the key problems or concerns that you can address or present a solution to. Expand on these main points for each profile group and attach it to each profile. This will serve as a quick reminder every time you look at your target audience and help you to remain on topic. Below this section, write out three key marketing messages that you think are the most important points to get across to that target audience.

Now that we have defined our target audiences and intended message, we need to take the time to do some research to find out which social networks these groups are using. There’s no point in identifying our target audience only to not use the right media channel to reach them.

It’s important to note here that not all social media channels are not created equal. Each one has a different primary audience, momentum and focus. It’s important that we understand these differences so that you can plan accordingly to use the required amount of effort on the right channels.

#2:

Coordinate Your Social Channels

If we think of each social media platform as a stand-alone project, then success will be quite limited. The social media networks you choose to use should work together to help you achieve your goals. The whole idea here is to work intelligently. By picking the specific platforms that work best for your business, we can effectively reduce the level of work needed.

Think of your website as your brand’s home base. We want to co-ordinate your social media efforts in order to push people to your website where they can buy your product or service.

If you haven’t already, start using your blog to establish the human voice of your company and share information. It’s also a valuable opportunity to engage with your site visitors and lead them through your sales process.

You can optimise your website and blog for social media by adding a few easy elements to your design. Site platforms like WordPress began as a blogging platform and have grown out from that. Most sites will have the capability to blog, or can have it added quite easily. If you need this, then have a think about contacting me here and we can get you sorted!

If you want visitors to follow your various social profiles, make sure you display social icons prominently in the header, sidebar or footer of your website. Bear in mind here, that you don’t need to have it everywhere, but make it prominent and visible. The icons should link directly to your social media profiles so your readers can follow you immediately. When you’re putting them up, click through to make sure they work correctly. You don’t want to block someone from following you because of a broken link!

Include a call to action (CTA) at the end of your blog posts asking readers to like you on Facebook or follow you on Twitter (or whichever platforms you’ve determined are best for your audience). I am active personally on Facebook, and professionally on Twittter, and LinkedIn. Feel free to follow and connect with me.

Make a plan also to integrate your company live social media feeds (e.g., Facebook, Twitter and so on) so visitors can see your recent activity. When your audience can see what you’re sharing, they may be more likely to follow you. Frequent activity on these platforms will also persuade people to follow, especially if the content is relevant to what your company does and what the customer is looking for.

When people come across valuable content, they want to share it with their friends and followers. If you don’t have sharing buttons, your visitors will likely click away and you’ve lost that opportunity to reach a wider related audience. The simple fix is to include these buttons on your site to make it easy for the person to share.

#3:

Get Started, but Start Small

You’ve now defined your target audience, you know where to reach them and you’ve optimised your other marketing touch points. It’s time to get social.

This is one of the most important pieces of advice to keep in mind, so listen carefully: Start small. It sounds counter-intuitive initially. You want a large audience to hear your message (which is good-we all want to see a bit of ambition), but there are a number of quotes I could throw in here from films, so I will:

“Great men are not born great, they grow great.” (The Godfather)

“Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming. What do we do? We swim, swim.” (Finding Nemo)

”Nobody is gonna hit as hard as life, but it ain’t how hard you can hit. It’s how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. It’s how much you can take, and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done.” (Rocky Balboa)

Do, or do not. There is no “try” (The Empire Strikes Back)

There are a few underlying points from all these quotes, namely that growth, success and development are part of a process. When we look at individuals or companies who have large social media followings, it is because they have worked at it. Everyone started somewhere and everyone started with nothing. It’s what you do with it that counts and when we start small and focus on the content of the message, rather than the recipient, it is this focus that will show your unique selling point to your followers. Get the message right and the rest will follow.

Social media takes time and energy, which are precious resources. Set yourself up for success by starting with a manageable load. I would suggest that you choose one or two platforms to start with. This way, the load is manageable. Any questions that come your way through the small number of platforms you choose initially will allow you to focus on quality.

The best way to guarantee consistency is to incorporate social media into your daily routine. Block out the time on your calendar, turn off all distractions and dedicate time to managing your social media accounts. Do this in one or two different time slots every day.

In your first month or two, expect to spend a minimum of 15-30 minutes a day on social activities. You can increase the time as you see fit.

Remember the audience profiles and sample messages you created? Use them to determine what original and curated content you’ll share and create an editorial calendar to keep track of that content.

Your aim is to help your readers, so give them a tip they can use or share information that helps them solve a problem. When you give out relevant information, people come to view you as an expert. Remember that to your customers, you already are the expert. Share some of the knowledge you have with them to help them in everyday activities.

Tool Tip: You’ll need a social media management tool to organise and manage your daily social media activities. HootSuite is a social media dashboard that offers monitoring, scheduling and analytic services. Sprout Social is another cost-effective tool that helps you find and schedule content and track social media performance.

#4:

Listen and Share

Social media conversations are happening all around in real time. Social listening is an excellent tactic to monitor what people are saying about your brand. Respond to comments, mentions and feedback even if they’re negative. You want to turn negative into positive experiences, as it is our detractors that we can learn most from. Don’t get me wrong, we all positive experiences and positive supporters, but it can be our negatives that make us better, force us to fix something or generally improve!

Tool Tip: Mention app monitors the web, including the major social media channels, and tells you every time somebody mentions your name, brand or target keywords.

Content is the crux of social marketing. Unfortunately, combing through the Internet for good content to share can be slow and time-consuming. To avoid getting bogged down, set up a process for organising and aggregating quality content that provides value to your audience. Add the content to your editorial calendar and you can share it when you’re ready. I have a list of topics that I want to talk about on my blog-my process involves creating a new post in my WordPress CMS, listing the relevant sources that I will start with and then when I’m ready to look at that post in detail, I can revisit my listed sources and read further around the topic to develop the post. I don’t think it matters too much about the timing of delivering the content, provided you’re not planning to talk about something that is currently in the news: waiting 6 months to talk about the price of Bitcoin for example will look very different today to how it looked before Christmas 2017, or even how it might look tomorrow.

Tool Tip: Feedly and Flipboard are magazine-style newsreaders that aggregates content from different sources and organises it for you. It can be a big time-saver when you’re looking for timely, relevant content to share! It’s also useful personally for reading material that help keep you up to date and aware of news in your chosen field.

#5:

Create Your Daily Plan

With a steady stream of content in the pipeline, you’re primed to post and engage on social media.

Make a list of the activities you plan to do every day. For example, comment on and/or link content on three different Facebook pages. On Twitter, tweet and retweet 3-5 times per day (you can schedule these).

If you’re using a site like Pinterest, a good rule of thumb is to pin and repin 3-5 images per day. If LinkedIn is the best platform for your audience, share a link and like other people’s links.

When you get accustomed with these daily activities, search out and join groups and communities to target specific professional demographics. Initiate and participate in more conversations by asking questions and posting comments to updates by others. My principle in the past has been to offer advice to those who are asking questions, and also to provide the answer my company could provide before the customer knew they had a question. If you want further evidence of this, read this article and then go into your local Apple store and have a conversation with an employee. They will follow this strategy, despite the article detailing an iPhone 5, the principles are the same. When you apply these principles to your business, it becomes about fulfilling the needs of your customer, not about your product (no matter how good it might be). A change in focus allows you to make the customer happy.

Continue to personalise your brand: welcome new followers, thank them for sharing your content or offering something that can be of use to them, an infographic on social media engagement or something relevant to your area of business.

The most important point in this section, is to be intentional about your social activities. Success and growth never happen by chance, it’s through the execution of correct strategy and well deployed tactics and consistency.

#6:

Boost Results With Social Advertising

If you want to accelerate your social media performance, it’s worth your time to explore the paid advertising options. I will add a disclaimer here, social media platforms will happily take your money for further exposure. If that’s what you want, then absolutely go for it, but budget for it in your business like you would any other part of advertising.

Facebook offers a robust number of advertising solutions to help garner more sales, website traffic, brand exposure and audience engagement. There are a number of outcomes here, so pick the one you want to focus on and get going!

If Twitter is one of your main platforms, you have two advertising solutions: promoted content and promoted accounts. Promoted content helps you cut through the mass of noise and serve your content to tailored audiences. Promoted accounts can also help increase the size of your Twitter following.

LinkedIn also offers opportunities to reach specific audiences. You can buy advertising or use the sponsored updates feature to increase your brand’s visibility.

Even if your budget is small, don’t dismiss social advertising. Used strategically it can produce great results. But follow my initial warning, budget for it and stick to your budget.

One area you can experiment in (for free, I might add) is testing times for greatest amount of organic exposure. Make a plan to set out the time frames across the day in hourly blocks and set out a schedule to post during these times and monitor the level of engagement. Working with the statistical results, you will be able to see when is best for you to make certain posts. Be scientific about this, the aim is to increase your market exposure and get your business message out to as many people as possible. This will only happen when you know what gives the best return for your efforts.

#7:

Lather, Rinse, Repeat

The last step is the most critical: measuring and analysing your results.

Tracking performance data is the best way to identify which tactics are working and which aren’t. A few things to watch are growth, engagement and sharing. Most social media networks will have tools you can use to track and measure your performance and I would fully support a data-driven approach to this area of social media growth.

Google Analytics is a popular and easy-to-use option for monitoring traffic and interactions on your website or blog. This will help you keep track of which social media channels are driving the most traffic to your site. This in turn will show you where to focus your attentions

To stay on top of your social media plan, review your metric reports regularly (at least once a week). Each quarter, you should re-evaluate your big picture. Make adjustments for anything not working, and try to replicate the things that are. Remember, if it’s working, don’t try to fix it, just keep it going!

Tool Tip: Sprout Social creates easy-to-understand social media reports that can help you evaluate your social media performance. You can even compare your success to your competitors’. Every little competitive advantage you can gain will help your market-share and the bottom line of your company.

Some Closing Thoughts:

When using social media for your startup or small business, the most important thing to remember is that social media is a marathon, not a sprint.

Use this social media guide to start your social marketing efforts. Define your audience and choose the best platform to reach them. Do your research, integrate your social media icons and links, share your (and others’) content and keep track of how things are going. Follow those steps and you’ll be positioned for success!

Want to learn more? Join me in my 'Using Social Media to Market Your Products' class which is a 4 week course for local businesses in the Northern Regional College. Call 028 2563 6258 for more details.

References

Michael Johnston

About Michael Johnston

Michael is a Lecturer and Foundation Degree Director in Computing for the Northern Regional College in Northern Ireland. He is an avid supporter of technology enhanced learning, instructional learning design and blended learning. Michael has worked in a range of different roles in IT-from teaching roles to running his own web design company, Michael is equally at home working with theory, as he is conducting research, or building a bespoke IT solution.

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