Social media has been a fast-growing phenomenon over the past decade. What is social media? Social media is information, ideas, or content created, shared, or traded by people or companies on a virtual community or network. These communities or networks are sometimes referred to as platforms. Some commonly known ones include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Pinterest.
Because social media is inherently based on the exchange of content, this creates a powerful opportunity for businesses to use it as a marketing tool for promotion and messaging. It offers a different way of providing reach and varies from traditional advertising and media in quality, permanence and tone.
While social media does offer a lot of opportunities, many small businesses owners might not fully understand how to properly navigate the space and how to maximize its value for their own business. The most important thing to understand with social media is that every business and industry should approach it differently. It may be a growing and hot trend for businesses, but it’s critical to first know if there is value in investing in a social strategy for your particular business.
Before spending a significant amount of time in social media, make sure you understand these points.
1. Know your customer.
This is the number one thing to keep in mind before making an effort towards an online social strategy. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Does your target demographic even use social media? Will your future customer demographic use social media? If the answer to these questions are no, then perhaps your efforts may be better invested towards other forms of promotion and outreach. If no one is using any social platforms to come across your business, product or industry, then you are shouting into an empty room.
Think about how a customer would use an online network to come across your business or service. If you are in the food and bev industry, there are social media users who are foodies and may follow your type of content. If you sell furniture or cars, there are enthusiasts who enjoy viewing home design ideas and pictures of automobiles. Fashion is a trendy topic with active followers looking for ideas. Now, how many people are truly passionate about Christmas trees and your farm? Or are passionate for your construction tools, use social media, and spend hours liking photos of backhoes on Facebook?
Knowing where your customers are and what their passions are should be a deciding factor as to if you should even invest in social media.
2. Why should the customer care about what you post?
Okay, so there actually are tons of people who spend hours liking construction tools online. John Deere for example, has nearly 2.6 million followers on Facebook. But John Deere spent years building a brand and customer loyalty. They have “likes” because customers already appreciate them and know their name. Building brand loyalty through proper customer service and quality products first makes it easy for one to build a social following.
Now, even if there’s not a tremendous current loyalty of your business, that doesn’t necessarily eliminate social media not potentially being a useful tool for you. It can be a voice for your already great service or product. You can build a successful social strategy if your customer does use social networks and does have passion for the type of product or service you offer. And you can potentially grow that audience and brand loyalty with social media by filling a niche other brands do not provide.
Finding that niche is key to a successful media strategy. How can you make your posts unique? What interests your customers and what makes them engaged? And, what would make them want to keep viewing your page?
LendingTree, for example, is in the financial services industry, and frankly for many, finance is generally a boring subject. We don’t want to think about our mortgages or car loans when we don’t have to for better or worse. But there is an audience of people who are genuinely interested in learning and understanding areas of personal finance they don’t know. There is a lack of transparency in the industry and many of us wish we had help understanding the system. So LendingTree provides free advice, educational content and tools to our customers.
Find what your customers value and provide that to them through your social media channels. Depending on your business, it could be information, stories, pictures and videos. Or it could be promotional discount announcements, education or even entertainment. Create and provide that value to your customers, and do it better than your competitors.
3. Sell your social media.
Many companies are now using social media, including small businesses. There is now an entire industry and marketing skillset based around social media with marketers and agencies being paid very well to help companies create campaigns and advertising specifically for online social channels. Social media companies additionally make money selling advertising space online, and they create complex algorithms that dictate who does and doesn’t see what pages.
Organic social media growth has therefore become more and more difficult. Organic means people who naturally come across your page online without a targeted search for your company or page. If you’re a small business and don’t have the cash to invest in an agency, or don’t have the assets to do paid online promotion, don’t worry, you can still grow your social media through traditional tried and true methods: word-of-mouth, print, and sales.
Let your customers know that you are on social media. Ask them directly if they could follow your pages. Put links to your social media pages from your website or blog. Put them on your other online sources, such as Yelp. Print links or social media icons on your advertisement copy or business cards. Make it apparent on your store front and have a call-to-action telling your customers to follow your pages.
You can create your own marketing campaigns and efforts to get people engaged and following your social media. Offer incentives for liking, sharing, or engaging your social sites. Finding creative ways to promote your social media is critical to building a long-term following and expanding your own network.
4. Make your customers your biggest promoters.
Creating better content that customers value increases the likelihood of that customer sharing your content to their own network. That increases the potential audience that could see your page, or reach, and can lead to a larger following for you. This in turn leads to more brand awareness. Make content that’s inherently sharable. If you’re a restaurant, post pictures of new menu items. If you’re in retail, showcase a product. If you’re a service industry, perhaps share something informational. Or try a combination of ideas.
Some social media sites now have a “check-in” feature which makes it even easier for businesses to get free promotion when they share their check-in. Customers can use their phone to tag their location and also tag your business when they are nearby or in your brick and mortar store. Be sure to have an active social media account so you can engage with these customers. Offering incentives to customers to use social media to check-in could help boost awareness of your store!
5. Have a different strategy for each social media platform.
Smart businesses know every social media platform is different. Each site has different types of active users with different preferences and behaviors. Also, different types of content work better on some platforms than others. If you plan to use social media, make sure you have a strategy for each medium.
Facebook: Facebook is the most robust and most trafficked of the networks. Here, consistency is key, but you don’t want to create an information overload for your users. Images, videos, and content all can do well on Facebook. Facebook additionally is an excellent way to promote special events and promotional incentives.
Instagram: Instagram is a very visual platform and places an emphasis on following and hashtags. Hashtags are labels you can tie to your posts and popular, trending hashtags may get a lot of organic public traffic. When using Instagram, use pictures that can help promote your business and find hashtags related to your business to boost following. Also remember, Instagram pictures are formatted to be square-shaped so keep that in mind when taking pictures so your subject focus isn’t cropped.
Twitter: Twitter is another popular network and is unique in that you are limited to 140-character messages called “tweets.” That doesn’t give you a lot of space to promote yourself, so maximize your use of hashtags in the message to reach a larger audience. Use it for informative updates or links to more engaging content. Kogi BBQ, a Korean food truck business in L.A., was able to successfully capitalize on using Twitter by tweeting out the locations of their trucks each day. They have currently have 143K followers.
Pinterest: Pinterest is also a very visual platform, but compared to Instagram, it’s more focused on discovery and curation of other user’s content. Users are able to pin pictures to subject boards for later reference or for other followers to see. Pinterest is a great platform to cater to hobbyists or enthusiasts. Pinterest images generally do better length-wise, so have your “pins” longer than they are wider.
LinkedIn: LinkedIn is a social media network intended for professionals. This platform is excellent for making new business and sales connections and used for B2B marketing, not so much for marketing to consumers. LinkedIn is a good tool for your HR department if you’re seeking new skilled talent.
6. What value is there to you?
This is up to you as a business owner to determine what ultimately your goals are and what you hope to achieve. Are you seeking brand awareness? Are you seeking increased sales and profits? Or are you just wanting to increase your potential field of outreach for future communication? Maybe, its a combination of these factors.
Be aware, using social media properly is a time commitment. It requires continuous management and content quality does matter. Poor content quality can actually have a negative effect towards your business image, as it may make it seem you are amateurish or not a reputable establishment. If it’s not an area you have the resources to dedicate both time and quality to, it may not be the best use of your efforts. Make a business decision to decide if the results you are seeking to achieve through social media are worth the return on investment.
Mike is a PR manager, writer, and content editor for LendingTree focused on creating informative and digestible financial content for the everyday consumer and reader. Mike graduated from College of Charleston and received his MBA from Winthrop University. Follow him on Twitter @MikeOuyangTweet
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