The essential guide to social media marketing for small business

Why your business needs social media

Social media has become a hugely popular venue for interaction among groups and individuals in recent years. It is distinguished from traditional media by the two-way exchange of information it offers. Instead of simply consuming media, social media allows individuals to also propagate their own content, whether in the form of tweets, blog posts, images, or videos.

As the social media has gained strength and become mainstream, many companies have capitalised on the ability of social media platforms to help increase awareness of their company and its products. This increased awareness can ultimately drive business to those companies successfully using social media.

The different types of social media can be used as a mouthpiece or marketing tool and have become an integral part of modern marketing strategy. It is important to understand and make the most of the sector.

First, the following questions need to be answered. In addressing them, you will be able to outline exactly how social media can work for you and your company. By learning the differences between the various social media platforms and how to best utilise them you can prepare yourself to make the most of what has become a huge new marketing avenue for many firms.

  1. What is social media?
  2. Should I use social media in my marketing?
  3. What type of social media should I use?
  4. Should I hire outside assistance for a social media campaign?
  5. What strategies work best for marketing with social media?
  6. What tools can I use to get the most out of social media?

What is Social Media?

A hallmark used to differentiate social media from other types of media is interactivity. In traditional media such as TV, radio, or newspapers, the message or image being delivered is typically one-way. Social media, on the other hand, commonly allows two-way messaging traffic. Blogs, for instance, generally have a comments section for readers. The short messaging app Twitter allows users to respond in real time to tweets made by other users, it is a conversation. The same holds true for photo sharing site Instagram, which allows viewers to post comments, or Facebook, where site users can post comments to and share posts, latest updates.

The power of interactivity has allowed users of social media platforms to build community in a way that traditional media did not. As a result, the growth in the popularity of social media has been stratospheric, with individuals increasingly preferring these platforms over traditional media for a variety of purposes.

Should I use Social Media in my Marketing?

There are many reasons to use social media in your marketing. While the practice will not necessarily offer the same level of success for every business, in most cases it can help increase awareness of your company and its products or services among a relevant audience. There are a number of questions to ask when it comes to deciding whether using social media will help your marketing efforts:

  • What are the demographic characteristics of my company’s customer base?
  • What portion of the audience my company appeals to is likely to use social media?
  • How much time or money will using social media take?

The benefits social media marketing can bring include:

  1. Improve search engine rankings: A number of social media sites allow links back to your website. This can help boost its search engine ranking, both via the links themselves and increased traffic from new visitors.
  2. Reduce overall marketing costs: Social media sources allow you to get the word out about your company and its products without incurring significant expenses. If you use the sources yourself it will take time, however, there are automation solutions you can use to cut down on the amount of time involved. There are also third party firms which will run your social media marketing efforts for you if necessary.
  3. Help build your brand: Social media provides an excellent means of spreading the word about your company and the products it offers. In doing so, you help build a brand identity for your firm across the social media platforms you utilise.
  4. Potential for viral marketing exposure: The ability to share content and information with others on social media allows for this material to propagate in a rapid manner. If your product catches the imagination of a relevant audience the word can spread much more rapidly via social media than would typically be the case through traditional advertising methods.
  5. Reputation management: The ability to respond to your relevant audience immediately allows you to answer questions and respond to comments, both positive and negative, in a timely fashion. By doing so you can personally influence your company’s reputation.
  6. Online lead generation: Social media’s interactivity allows you to attract potential customers via social media sources.  
  7. Audience interaction: Being able to interact with a relevant audience in real-time has a number of benefits. This interaction brings the potential for adding new customers, it also allows you to lead nurture and generate valuable feedback about your products.

What type of Social Media should I use?

With a wide variety of social media platforms to choose from, determining which one(s) to use can be difficult. Making the right choice is important, as successfully utilising social media can require a significant time investment. Spinning your wheels by selecting a lacklustre platform is not recommended. Following is an analysis of different types of social media and the circumstances in which their use is likely to prove most beneficial.

Some of the most prominent social media platforms are as follows:

Messaging platforms

Twitter: This hugely popular short messaging service allows you to address a wide audience on subjects relevant to your company. As with many social media sources, the hard sell approach is discouraged – seek to inform your audience and provide links to valuable content or to update them about developments at your company rather than constantly focusing on selling product.

Snapchat: a video messaging service very popular with millennials. It allows for photo or video messages to be shared with a selected list of recipients and viewed for a predetermined amount of time.

WhatsApp: A cross-platform instant messaging system for smartphones. Owned by Facebook, it allows users to send text messages, images, video and audio messages over the Internet to other users by cell phone number.

Social networks

Facebook: The most popular social network of them all. Facebook provides an excellent venue to update your company’s audience on developments at the company, including new products, major sales events and whatever else you believe would be of interest to them. It can help engender a community feel.

LinkedIn: This business networking site provides a great platform for disseminating more lengthy or detailed content about your company and its products and the industry as a whole. You can link to blog posts or other such content from the platform.

Google+: While not as popular as Facebook, this social network can also be used to provide company updates and to make content of interest available to your followers.

Image and video platforms

Instagram: This image sharing site is mainly used for personal photo sharing but can also be used by companies interested in using images in their outreach efforts. It is especially suited for companies in sectors where images can help drive sales or conversions such as firms in the luxury, travel, lodging and real estate sectors.

YouTube: The most popular video hosting site in the world, YouTube is used by many companies to host videos they would like their audience to have access to. The site’s broad audience makes it a good place to host product-demonstration and how-to videos using your company’s products.

Vine: A video hosting site for short videos.

Vimeo: This video hosting site is not as widely used as YouTube, but has more specialised appeal for certain types of videos.

Pinterest: Like Instagram, this is a photo sharing site appealing mainly to personal users but also available to companies. As with Instagram, firms that rely on the visual appeal of their products or location can benefit from the service.

Selecting the right platform depends to a great degree on the nature of your audience and where they spend the most time. Investigating the above sites to determine how they appeal to and are used by your relevant audience is suggested prior to launching any social media outreach effort.

Should I hire outside assistance for a social media campaign?

Given the interactive nature of social media, it is often best if you take part in at least some portion of the process, whether that is creating a messaging strategy or responding to feedback from your audience. At the same time, interacting on social media, especially across a variety of platforms, can be time consuming. If you want to launch a social media effort but lack the time to fully participate in all aspects of the endeavour, hiring expert assistance may be worth considering.

Ask yourself the following questions to determine if hiring outside help is appropriate:

  • Do you have the time to run social media marketing campaigns yourself?
  • Do you enjoy the process of posting on social media?
  • Does your staff have sufficient time to do it?
  • How easy is it to explain your business?

What strategies work best for marketing with social media?

There are a variety of strategies to pursue when launching a social media marketing campaign. You can purchase ads on social media sites such as Facebook, or use them for organic outreach efforts designed to drive sales and conversions, or use a mix of both methods. To be effective any strategy must be tailored to meet the specific situation applicable to your company, and to the industry it operates in.

Effective strategies for marketing with social media include:

  • Focus on quality content: Simply participating in social media is fine for interacting with your audience and answering questions about your products. Social media marketing, on the other hand, requires a more proactive strategy designed to attract the interest of new prospects. One of the best ways to do this is to produce a broad range of quality content. This can include blogs and infographics as well as videos demonstrating your products.
  • Avoid the “hard sell”: Seek to inform and educate your audience first, rather than bombarding them with sales pitches. A “softer” sell approach works best on social media: let your audience know about sales and other such events in conjunction with your overall outreach effort.
  • Measure your metrics: Services such as Google Analytics can provide data on how your outreach effort is doing in terms of bringing new visitors to your site and increasing conversions.
  • Link to outside sources when appropriate: While the main focus of a social media marketing campaign should be content created by your company, linking to relevant outside sources can help build trust. It demonstrates to your audience that your focus is not simply on selling your own products, but in sharing valuable information in your industry or field as well. It resents you as well connected and informed – a valuable source.
  • Monitor your competitors: Seeing what your competitors are doing in regards to social media marketing can be helpful in designing your own campaign. If you see that your competitors are taking an approach that pays off there is nothing stopping you from emulating it.
  • Know your audience: By using and monitoring the same social media channels as your audience, you can gain insights into what makes them tick: what they like and dislike, the main factors motivating their behaviour. Doing so allows you to more effectively target your SMM campaigns.
  • Determine metrics for success: Before launching a SMM campaign specify the metrics to be used in gauging success. This could be anything from a certain number of social shares to an increase in website traffic, conversions in the form of additions to your email list or some other metric along these lines.
  • Choose your channels: All social media platforms are not created equal. Make sure that you take some time to determine which channels are most likely to lead to a successful result for your outreach efforts.
  • Keep your ads focused and concise: When running ads on social media sites such as Facebook, design them to appeal to the viewing habits of social media users. The following features should be included where appropriate:
    • The ad should be visually appealing, with the use of a striking image or short video if possible.
    • Keep the text portion short and to the point, with the use of emotionally appealing words such as “win,” “free,” “now,” “cash,” etc.
    • Use social proof such as statistics to validate the product.
    • Include a prominently featured call to action which ideally takes a viewer to a landing page to complete a conversion when clicked.  

What tools can I use to get the most out of social media?

A multitude of tools exist to help you monitor and maximise your social media presence. Tools of this type include:

  • Google Analytics: This free tool helps evaluate visitor action on your website. It provides valuable information, however, more elaborate software packages also exist that can be used for greater precision in this area.
  • Clickable: All-in-one sales and marketing ROI reporting and automation.
  • Webtrends: Provides web, social and mobile analytics for digital marketing.
  • Quill Engage: Connects Google Analytics with your email and emails you a weekly summary of relevant data. Its AI interface comes up with a report putting the data in context for you.
  • Buffer and Bulkbuffer: These software solutions allow you to schedule tweets or a bulk amount of tweets in advance.
  • Post Planner: An app in Facebook allowing for scheduled updates.
  • KingSumo: Allows for testing of blog headlines to see which work best and helps build email lists through viral giveaways.
  • Inkybee: A blogger discovery and outreach tool that can monitor the progress of your social media campaign as well as help find influential bloggers.
  • Edgar: A content curation and scheduling tool for social media posts.
  • BuzzSumo: A content research tool for identifying trending topics and posts.
  • NOD3X: This tool analyses social media networks and identifies top influencers in your sector, trending topics and best times of day to post.
  • Followerwonk: Breaks your twitter followers down by demographics so you get a better idea of who is following your company.
  • Quintly: Social media analytics for brands. Benchmarking feature allows comparison of your social media footprint against industry averages.