Social media is a constantly changing and dynamic medium. It can be difficult to grasp how to use it to promote your small business, but all of the likes, shares, comments and direct messages do have a purpose. If harnessed correctly, social media can be an effective marketing promotional vehicle for small businesses that helps them effectively reach their target market without breaking the bank.
What Is Social Media Marketing?
Social media marketing is a technique businesses use to create awareness for their brand on social media platforms. While the kinds of goals businesses have around social media marketing vary based on a number of factors, they generally focus around establishing a presence on the major social media platforms, which include Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube and Snapchat. Other goals include building loyalty, increasing customer satisfaction and improving customer engagement. Organizations create shareable content designed specifically for the social channel, with the hopes of their followers liking, sharing and commenting on their posts.
Campaigns that spread through social media generally have more resonance with the target audience because the content is shared by people they know and trust, like their friends, family and coworkers. Businesses can access target data about their customers through the social media platforms and create messages tailored directly to their likes, dislikes and needs, providing the potential for better results.
Social media is not a promotional vehicle that leads to instant sales. Instead, it is a platform for making long-term relationships, building trust and credibility with followers and engaging with new and current customers.
Choosing the Right Social Media Platforms
The key to social media marketing lies in selecting the right platform for your business. Not all social media platforms are right for promoting all products and services. It’s important to get an understanding of each of the major social media platforms and whether your target audience uses them. Knowing where your target audience is on social media will help you select the right platform and create the right content to grab their attention.
Building Relationships on Facebook
Facebook is the largest social network in the world, used by over 2 billion people each month. This means there is a good chance your target audience is on Facebook. People ages 29 to 34 are the most common demographic on Facebook, though it is widely used by all ages, even senior citizens. When signing up for Facebook, people are required to provide real identities and personal details, making it easy for advertisers to target content to the users.
Businesses can create their own Facebook page or group to promote their brands, products and services. However, like all social media platforms, Facebook isn’t the place to make a hard sell or push your products. Instead, like all social channels, it’s important to build relationships with your audience, gain their trust and develop a sense of loyalty.
In order to maximize your content efforts on Facebook, it’s vital to understand which kinds of posts get the best engagement. Posts that include photos generate 120 percent more engagement than those with just text. Posts that are shorter than 250 characters generate 60 percent more engagement than longer ones. The days on which you post also make a difference. For example, posts on Thursdays and Fridays get engagement rates 18 percent higher than other days of the week. The ideal post frequency is no more than once or twice a day.
Breaking News With Twitter
Twitter is a microblogging social site with over 300 million active users. Each post is limited to 280 characters and is called a "tweet." On average, there are 6,000 tweets per second on Twitter. It’s a good platform for sending out quick, short and direct updates to your followers. The use of hashtags is also prevalent on Twitter, making it easier for brands to target their audience. A hashtag is created by inserting a "#" symbol in front of a word, which makes the post associated with that tag searchable to those who click on the hashtag. It’s a way to identify that a message is about a particular topic.
Because Twitter relies on real-time updates, it’s an ideal venue for breaking news about your small business in addition to answering questions posed by your customers or replying to comments that require immediate response. For small businesses that want to make frequent, short connections with their followers, Twitter is a perfect spot.
Twitter users tweet several times a day, unlike Facebook. Click through rates generally dip during meal times and commute times, so if you’re planning on using Twitter for your business, it’s best to time your tweets carefully.
Getting Professional on LinkedIn
LinkedIn is a social network specifically for businesspeople and employed professionals. Around 38 percent of online users have an annual income of $75,000. The user demographics lean slightly older than Facebook and Twitter, with the majority of users age 35 and above. Because it’s a professional social network, the atmosphere is work related and more serious. Posts generally relate to industry or business topics, unlike Facebook or Twitter where you may find funny memes and cheeky videos. Businesses can set up groups and pages to promote their organization, but it’s not a place for a hard sell. It’s a place to share job postings, trade or industry materials and content that positions you as a thought leader. Organizations generally post between two and four times a week.
Looking at Other Top Social Media Sites
Pinterest is a social media platform that focuses on discovery through the use of images. What is important to note about this social media platform is that 80 percent of its users are female. If your business is in the home, travel, beauty, style or food sectors, Pinterest is a good choice.
Instagram is a social photo and video sharing app with over 700 million active users. Businesses can build a following by posting pictures and videos their fans can relate to and use hashtags in their comments to help others discover them.
If your target market is within the ages of 12 to 24, then Snapchat might be the best social media platform for your business. This is an app where users share videos and pictures that disappear after a few seconds of being viewed. There are over 10 billion video views daily on this platform, so there is a lot of competition.
Social Media Marketing Strategy for Small Businesses
Setting realistic goals is the first step to creating a social media marketing strategy for your business. For example, getting 2 million Instagram followers within a year is rarely a realistic goal for a small business. Instead, focus your goals around how to target your audience. For example, if your small business provides chiropractic services for children and adults, start by figuring out how you can build a loyal fan base. Ask your current customers to follow your business on social media, and ask them to share your page on their social channels. This gives you a following of people who know who you are and who trust you.
Next, figure out how you will measure your success. What are the metrics that matter to you on social media? Do you want to get lots of likes, comments, shares or followers? This will be directly tied to your ultimate goal. If you want to increase brand awareness for your chiropractic business, then getting more followers and shares will be the metrics on which to focus. If your ultimate goal is to build deeper relationships with your existing customers, then getting more likes and comments may be what matters most. Track your efforts on a weekly or monthly basis so you know where you stand and where you need to improve.
Building and curating engaging social media content is one of the most important aspects of social media marketing. It’s vital to know what your audience likes so you can cater to their needs. Don’t try to push posts that communicate a hard sell. Remember that social media platforms are about engagement and relationships, so try to create content that helps you further your relationship with your customers. For example, if your small business sells eco-friendly bath products, create content that gives your customers some information on why purchasing products that take the environment into account is important. Show them a video of how bath products affect the local lakes and rivers. Give them a few recipes for making their own shampoo and deodorant. Content can easily be scheduled to go out at frequent intervals using tools like Hootsuite.
One of the most important social media marketing strategies is to engage with and respond to your followers. Unlike traditional marketing, social media is not a one-way street. Your followers have a direct line to reach you, so take the time to respond when they do. If a follower posts a question or comment, reply within a reasonable time frame. This shows your customers that you’re attentive to their needs. Many small business owners worry that social media will take up all of their time because it requires constant monitoring. Luckily, there are several apps you can use to alert you when someone has posted to your account so you can provide a quick response.
What Are the Disadvantages of Social Media?
One of the biggest disadvantages of social media marketing for small businesses is that there is a delayed return on investment. For companies looking to increase their revenue quickly, social media marketing will not do the trick. Instead, businesses that put in the time and effort to build loyal followings and long-term relationships will be able to see an improvement in their brand image, which in turn will help increase their sales.
Social media marketing takes time, which many small business owners do not have in abundance. Time is required to create quality posts, research audience demographics and respond to comments within a timely manner. While there are several tools available to help small business owners optimize the time they spend on social media, they still need to allocate a certain part of each day and week to working on their social media marketing strategy.
Because consumers have the ability to talk directly with the company in a public forum, there is the potential for embarrassment on the business’s part. Followers can leave negative reviews on the company page or post on their own feeds about a negative experience. These posts can then be seen by all of the company’s followers and the individual’s followers. As a result, businesses that use social media marketing need to be completely transparent and know how to deal with potentially embarrassing situations.
What Are the Benefits of Social Media Marketing?
Social media marketing helps businesses build brand awareness and loyalty in ways that other promotional vehicles can’t, simply because social media allows consumers to talk to the business directly. Because social media is a two-way street, followers can reach the business to ask questions, share stories and provide feedback. When the business responds to these posts, they show their followers that they see value in their comments.
Showcasing expertise and thought leadership is also a benefit of social media marketing. Businesses can provide information on more than just their product or service. They can begin to dig into other areas that tie into the kinds of problems they solve. For example, if a local mechanic wants to use social media to promote his business, he can start posting content on how to best take care of your car during the winter months to avoid erosion from road salt or post a video of how to change a tire. These kinds of posts show the mechanic’s expertise in his area and at the same time help his followers with problems they may be facing. It’s not all about making the sale; it's about building trust and relationships.