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How to use social media for your small business

There’s a big difference between using social media in any old way and using social media effectively to help drive your business goals. And the stats suggest that most businesses aren’t using social media effectively: 88% of businesses are using social media yet 96% of people who are talking about your brand online don’t follow it. It’s not enough to share generic ads and content promoting your own business alongside occasionally retweeting and liking posts from popular accounts.

Social media is meant to be a conversation; you should be interacting with other people (and especially with your customers), instead of having a one-way dialogue and expecting the results to flow just from the sheer volume of content you share. To truly succeed on social media you need to:

  • Define what you want to achieve
  • Create valuable content
  • Grow (and engage with) your audience.

Here we’ll explain best practices for all three steps, and how they can help you get the most out of your social media marketing channels.

Define what you want to achieve (and align it with your social media strategy)

What are your marketing goals for the next 12 months? Have you defined them yet? If not, you need to start there before you even think about which social media channels work best for your brand, or what kind of content you need to post on them. Once you’ve defined your goals, you can align them with your social media strategy.

If you’re trying to build brand awareness then you need to be sharing more top-of-the-funnel content. This includes:

  • Industry-specific blog content
  • Photos of your offices and what your employees get up to
  • General news articles
  • Content around trends or events– for example, sharing relevant posts on the World Cup or Valentine’s Day and putting your brand’s spin on them.

Make sure every piece of content you generate or share promotes your brand in some way. For example, create your own unique style, or customize posts to always include your logo.

If your goal is lead generation then your social media campaigns will look very different. The kind of posts you’ll need will center around your product, your industry, and directing people to check out your website and services. The type of content varies by industry, but might include:

  • Links to gated whitepapers
  • Press releases and product updates
  • Coupons or discount codes.

Create valuable content and output

If you want people to engage with your social presence, you need to give them something in return. You need to give people a reason to follow you and be helpful. Steps you can take in your social media campaigns include:

  • Creating content that helps solve industry problems with useful tips, such as blog posts, whitepapers or webinars
  • Providing your industry expertise to answer user questions or help solve their issues
  • Getting feedback from your followers on what kind of problems they have, or giving them a chance to air their views
  • Providing enjoying and entertaining posts–everyone needs a laugh, after all!

By doing all that you can start to earn your place in people’s social feeds, and they are more likely to follow and interact with your brand.

As an extra step, why not involve your employees in your social media activities? Try out employee takeovers, or creating company accounts for any of your workers who are active on social media. Although be careful to keep control of your social accounts, or you could land yourself in a situation like British music retailer HMV where employees live Tweeted a mass firing directly from the company’s account.

Grow (and engage with) your audience

Do you know who you should be following? To get on the radar of the top social accounts in your industry, you first need to be following them.

Make a list of the influencers, organizations, customers, celebrities, and competitors in your industry and follow them. Then start to interact with them–retweeting, liking, and commenting on their posts–so you get them to notice you. And constantly be discovering; when you follow someone, check out who they are following, and look at suggested accounts to see if they are relevant. Your audience should be constantly evolving.

Once you do have an audience, then you need to make sure you are really engaging with them in a human and useful way. Here are some ways you can do that:

  • Post content or put your own spin on hashtags and trends
  • Take part in Twitter chats
  • Post insights from events (always using the hashtag)
  • Monitor relevant keywords so you can contribute to conversations.

Take influencer marketing platform PowerSpike as an example. Each time a new user signs up to their site, they add their account to a Twitter list filled with their other users. The company also interacts with its users’ posts, adding funny commentary or useful advice.

Remember, don’t just count the number of followers you have–this is merely a vanity metric–but look at how they are interacting with your brand. Are they liking or commenting on your posts? Are they clicking on the links you post? Do they visit your website? These are the important metrics that define your success.

Just a note on automation: while automating posts to go out at certain times of the day can be really useful in terms of engagement, use it with caution. Don’t send automated messages when someone follows you, and never automate customer service.

Don’t follow the New England Patriots’ example and send out automated celebration Tweets without thinking about the consequences.

And don’t do what McDonald’s did and post an automatically scheduled placeholder Tweet (although they took it on the chin and dealt with it with humor, which turned the situation around).

How do I take my social media marketing to the next level?

The work doesn’t stop there. You can’t decide on a social media marketing strategy, execute it, and sit back and wait for the results. Nope, your business needs to be constantly testing, improving, changing, and tracking everything.

Experiment to find out which channel and content work for your business

The conventional wisdom is that Facebook is a consumer marketing channel whereas LinkedIn is a business-oriented platform, Twitter serves both, and Instagram is mostly used by fashion brands and restaurants (and for restaurants).

While there’s a reason for these beliefs, that doesn’t mean they will hold true for your business. The only way you’ll know which channels work for you when you should be posting, and what kind of content works for your brand is by experimenting.

Here’s what you should do:

  • Pick a few channels to experiment with
  • Track engagement across these channels (making sure all test conditions are the same)
  • If one isn’t working, drop it and pick a new one (again keeping test conditions consistent).

The same process applies to the time of day you should be posting, and what kind of content resonates best with your followers. If you never get any engagement in the morning, try posting in the afternoon or evening (or investigate if it’s a time zone issue). If sharing articles doesn’t work for you, try posting more videos.

You can even experiment with A/B testing. For example, post the same image with two different captions on different days and see which performs better.

Track everything you do

There is no point in writing Tweets, and Facebook or LinkedIn posts if you have no idea how they are doing. Even the most perfectly crafted posts can fall flat sometimes. That’s why it’s key to measure the success of every single post.

To do that, you need to decide on the metrics to track. This could include:

  • Likes
  • Shares
  • Retweets
  • Comments
  • Impressions
  • Link clicks
  • Audience growth rate
  • Engagement
  • Conversion

The importance you put on each metric depends on your goals. For example, if your goal is to build brand awareness, then shares, likes and retweets, and engagement will be key. If your goal is to generate links then you need to focus more on link clicks and conversion.

Conclusion: Be human in all that you do

But, no matter what you do on social media, be a human, not a robot. We’ve gotten so caught up in automating, tracking, analyzing, and repeating, that we’ve forgotten to show our personalities and to remember that there is a human behind every avatar (other than the bots) that is often seeking human interaction.