1. Start with a plan
Social tools are easy to use and you can get started with organic posts for free. That might make it tempting to dive in and just start posting. But like every good business strategy, using social media for small business success needs to start with a good plan.
Without a plan, you have no clear goal for what you’re trying to achieve. That means there’s no way to measure your results. Take the time to create a social media plan right upfront. This ensures that all your social efforts support specific business goals.
Here are some strategic social media tips from our guide to creating a social media marketing plan:
- Set social media goals and objectives. Create goals that follow the SMART framework. They should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely. Base your goals on metrics that will have a real impact on your business. For example, aim to acquire customers or raise your conversion rate, rather than simply racking up likes.
- Research the competition. How are your competitors using social media? While you don’t want to copy them, learning from what others have done is a great way to reduce your learning curve. A competitive analysis can help you learn what’s working and what’s not for other businesses like yours.
- Conduct a social media audit. If you’re already using social media, now’s the time to take a step back and evaluate your existing efforts. As part of your audit, look for impostor accounts that may be stealing your online thunder.
- Find inspiration. You’ve looked at what your competitors are doing online, but what about other businesses? Take inspiration from the success of businesses in all industries. Where can you find these success stories? Head to the business section of most social networks and you’ll find useful case studies. It’s also a great idea to ask existing followers what they want to see more of, then give them exactly what they ask for.
- Create a social media calendar. A social media calendar helps you post the right content to the right social channels at the right time. It should include a plan for your content mix. Try starting with the 80-20 rule. Use 80% of your content to inform, educate, or entertain your audience. Use the other 20% to promote your brand or sell your products.
2. Decide which platforms are right for you
Don’t make assumptions about where your audience spends their time online. Your instinct might tell you that if you’re targeting millennials, you should skip Facebook and focus on Instagram and Snapchat. But the data shows that 84% of millennials still use Facebook.
To make sure you’re using social media for business effectively, you’ll need to conduct some research of your own. This will help you to understand how your specific audience spends their time online.
Keep in mind that this doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing approach. You can use different social channels to reach different audiences, or to meet different business goals.
3. Know your audience
One reason using social media for business is so effective is that you can micro-target your audience. But first, you need to understand who your audience is.
Start by compiling data on your current customers. Then, dig deeper with social media analytics. You’ll start to develop a solid picture of who’s buying from and interacting with you online.
When they first started using Pinterest ads, Imperfect Foods targeted obvious keywords like “sustainability” and “healthy eating.” Then, they discovered that their target audience was also interested in finance.
They used that insight to drive new creative concepts. They started to talk about the money-saving side of reducing food waste, rather than just the environmental benefits.
4. Expand your audience
Once you have a clear picture of who your audience is, you can revisit your social media plan. It’s time to look for ways to reach more people just like them.
They tested ads on Facebook and Instagram, including both News Feed and Stories. They found that the ads that had performed best in the UK also performed best internationally. Their audience understanding meant their creative remained effective when they expanded beyond their original target group.
You can also use social media to drive new customers to your local business.
5. Build relationships
The unique benefit of social media marketing for small business is that it allows you to talk directly to customers and followers. You can build relationships over time, rather than asking for a sale upfront.
More than 40% of digital consumers use social networks to research new brands or products. Part of that discovery is getting to know who you are as a brand and what you stand for.
When people engage with your organic content or ads, it’s a great idea to engage back. This helps to build trust and form a loyal following. As fans share and like your content, you rise in the social algorithms and gain new, free, exposure. You also nurture relationships that can develop into sales over time.
Facebook Groups are another great way to build community and brand loyalty.
You can also build relationships with other entrepreneurs and influencers in your niche. Think your business is too small to work with influencers? Micro-influencers (starting with 10,000 followers) can be effective for establishing brand trust. As a bonus, they are often well within the budget range of smaller brands.
6. Share compelling visuals whenever you can
People have come to expect social posts to include a visual component.
Instagram, Pinterest, and Snapchat, in particular, are visual-first networks. If your content doesn’t look good, no one will stop scrolling to read what you have to say. But even tweets benefit from a good graphic. Twitter itself ays, “The single simplest thing you can do to get more attention to your Tweets is to add an image or GIF.”
Not sure your brand lends itself to great visuals? If Heinz Ketchup can get in on a photo-based meme, there’s surely no stopping you.
For service businesses in particular, great imagery can be a bit of a challenge. But every business can tell its story through photos and videos. Maybe you can showcase your company culture with images from inside your office.
Deutsche Bank used Snapchat to showcase the experiences of two of its interns. This gave potential employees an inside look at what it might be like to work for the company.
Or maybe you can use photos of your customers to highlight how they use your service.
Another option is to use stock photos. There are plenty of free, high-quality photos online that you can use in your social posts.
7. Focus on quality over quantity
The sheer number of social media marketing options for small business might seem overwhelming—but you don’t need to do it all. It’s more important to create quality content on a couple of key channels than it is to have a presence on every single network.
You can’t do it all, and there’s no reason to try. Reach out to your audience in the places where they’re already spending time online. Focus on using one or two social channels really well, at least to start. Once you’ve got those mastered, you can build from what you’ve learned and expand your efforts.
8. Use the right tools
The secret to using social media effectively is to take advantage of tools that automate or simplify much of the work. There are loads of tools to help boost your productivity. That means you can start using social media for business without having a full-scale social media team.
Here are some of our favorites:
- Engagement management. Social media is not a broadcasting system—it’s a way to engage with customers and fans. Social media management tools like Hootsuite can help you centralize all mentions and messages directed at your company in one dashboard. Then you can respond and engage without having to log into each of your individual social media accounts.
- Analytics. Getting all of that information in one place can help you get a better picture of your social efforts overall. Brandwatch allows you to create in-depth reports. Hootsuite Insights provides a great overview of how well you’re capturing the conversation in your space.
- Graphics. If you’re having trouble creating eye-catching images for your posts, turn to tools that will help get the job done. VSCO, Piktochart, and Canva are some of our favorites. You can find more photo-editing tools in our post on how to edit Instagram photos.
- Content curation. It can be a struggle to come up with new content to share every day. Content curation is the art of sharing quality posts from others (with credit, of course). It can be a great way to provide value for your followers and keep them engaged. Tools like BuzzSumo and Pocket can help you find and organize content to share. You can find more content curation tools in our beginner’s guide to content curation.
9. Monitor and respond to all relevant social media conversations
We’ve already talked about the importance of responding to people who post comments or questions on your social properties. But there’s more to social engagement than that.
You need to be aware of the conversations that are happening about your business elsewhere online and respond where appropriate. This is known as social listening, and we’ve created a whole guide on how to use social listening for your business.
10. Schedule your content to free up more time for engagement
We talked about creating a social content calendar way back at the beginning of this article. Once you have that calendar in place, you can create your social posts in advance and use scheduling tools to post them automatically at the right time.
This allows you to dedicate one block of time per day or per week to creating your social content. It’s much more effective than letting social posting take you away from other tasks throughout the day.
11. Track and refine your performance
As you implement your social strategy, it’s important to keep track of what works and what doesn’t. You can then fine-tune your efforts and improve results. The analytics tools mentioned above give you a great picture of your social efforts and can help track whichever metrics matter most to you.
Once you have an idea of how your strategy is working, it’s time to start looking for ways to improve. Using A/B testing, you can make small changes that boost your success over time. No matter the size of your business, social tools can help you better connect with your audience, reach new potential customers, and increase awareness of your brand. If the possibilities seem overwhelming, start small.