Using Social Media to Grow Your Small Business

November 2, 2019
Posted in: Uncategorized

Table of Contents

 

According to data collected by the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE), 77% of U.S. small businesses use social media to carry out key business functions like customer service, marketing, and sales. 

  • 59% use social media to easily resolve customer service issues.
  • 44% use social media to raise brand awareness. 
  • 41% depend on social media to stimulate revenue. 

Does your business fall within the 23% that have yet to establish a social media presence? If you don’t have a presence on the main social networks, you’re missing out on an audience that’s ready and willing to connect with your brand. 
 
 

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Reasons Why Small Businesses Don’t Use Social Media

 
SCORE also found that, as of 2018, 69% of U.S. adults regularly use at least one social media site so you’d be wise to jump on the social media bandwagon.  If you haven’t done so, which of the following reason(s) applies to you?

    • I don’t have time – As a business owner, a social media presence is one of the most important tools you can have. Establishing a social network is one of the most time-efficient ways to engage your customers and stay on top of what’s going on in your industry. The benefits to be realized are well worth the time.
    • My customers aren’t on social media – Have you surveyed customers and find that most of them don’t use social media? Or, are you projecting your own distaste for social media onto customers?  Consider this:  63% of customers expect companies to offer customer service via their social networks, and 90% of social media users have already used the networks to communicate with a company. Your customers are more than likely on social media.
    • I don’t see the return on investment – Whereas business owners used to focus on the short-term marketing and selling aspects of social media, more started to see the benefit of using social networks to inform and engage customers. When viewed this way, business owners now appreciate the long-term benefit. 
    • I don’t know what to post – Social media is about sharing information and experiences. Share your expertise and make a personal connection with customers. People buy from people they know and trust.
    • I’m confused by social media – Social networking is rapidly evolving and changing how we interact with one another. As more networking sites come onto the scene, each with its own idiosyncrasies, it’s easy to get confused. 
    • I’m not comfortable with online communication – If you operate an online business, some customers will check out your social media channels before deciding to purchase from you. If you’re uncomfortable connecting with your customers online, this could have dire consequences for your bottom line.

 
 

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How Social Media Can Help Your Small Business

 
If you’re ready to stop letting excuses hinder you, look at what a social media presence can help your business accomplish.
 

Build a Reputation of Credibility

Use social media to build brand awareness. The impression a brand gives off can be effectively showcased through social media. Your profile should be a reflection of who you are both online and offline. Share your passion to encourage your audience to support your brand; that’s the biggest impact social media has on most brands. 

Potential customers often visit a company’s social media to get a good idea of who a company truly is. They use social media as a tool to help them make sound purchase decisions. Considering this, potential customers will also get a chance to see how you’ve handled other customer interactions before and after you’ve made the sale. 

Since many customers will reach your social media accounts through links from your website, the visual experience (logo and graphic style) should be consistent. The look and feel of both should also be consistent with the image you want to project. This isn’t the time to cut corners. If you aren’t expert at graphic design, hire a professional to create graphics that best represent your business. Don’t feel the need to reinvent the wheel – take a cue from major brands’ social presence and adjust to suit your business and budget.
 

Attract Potential Customers

If you’re sending the right messages, you can effectively harness the power of social media and direct customers to your online or brick and mortar store. What are the right messages? 

You want to engage your audience through friendly conversations and relationship building. Offer helpful information or promotions that add value to your brand. Always respond to comments, both positive and negative. This shows your audience that you’re interested in making a connection with them and not just hard selling. Whatever you do, don’t overwhelm your audience by posting too frequently. This is a sure way to make them stop following you.

Although organic reach is wonderful (i.e. free), it’s getting harder and harder to be noticed. To reach more people outside of your “social circle”, you need to invest in paid reach. Paid reach will also give you results faster.  According to a study by HubSpot, Facebook users are now only seeing 2% of the organic pages they follow in their feeds. The rest are from paid reach.
 

Connect with Peers  

In the social media space, relationship-building is key. Whether you’re connecting with other business owners on LinkedIn or responding to Facebook comments, it’s important to set aside time to network. With a little planning, you can do this in as little as 30 minutes a day (or less).  

Dedicate a block of time each week to find or create the content you want to share in the upcoming week’s posts.  Use scheduling tools to post them automatically at the right time. Then, spend just 15 minutes each morning and 15 minutes each evening (Monday-Friday) to respond to comments and answer questions.  
 

Diversify Marketing Efforts

When investing any type of resource, be it time or money, you don’t want to “put all of your eggs in one basket”.  By diversifying your online marketing, you’ll expand the reach of your business. Cross-promote the content in your social networks with your other marketing content. 
 

Cost-Effective Marketing

According to Buffer’s 2019 State of Social Report, 73% of marketers believe that their efforts from social media marketing have been “somewhat effective” or “very effective” for their business.  It’s no surprise, then, that companies are continuing to include social media in their marketing strategies. Whether it’s influencer marketing or Instagram story ads, they’re testing it all. Companies have found that social media allows them to access cost-effective marketing while interacting with their audiences and building brand loyalty. 
 

Help You Better Understand Customers

If you don’t have a firm grasp on who your customers are, social media networks like Facebook and Instagram can help you aggregate data and better define your target market. Having a well-defined target market will help in other efforts to promote your products or services. 
 

Keep Up With Competitors

You should never aim to duplicate everything your competition does. You should, however, be mindful of what they’re up to. If your competition has an active social presence, you can bet they’re boasting about that presence. 

To up your business’s visibility on your chosen social media sites and have customers see you as the authority in your niche, regularly engage with them. By being active on these sites, you also increase the chances of your business appearing in search result pages.

 
 
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Connect with Customers in Real-Time

Having your mailing address, phone number, and email address on your website is helpful but what if a customer has a quick question and doesn’t want to ask over the phone? Social platforms allow your business to engage with customers in real-time (if your website doesn’t have chat capabilities) so you can provide answers in a timely manner. 

Customers are also more prone to share their experiences with your business through social media. It isn’t necessary to be on every platform; maintain an active account on a couple of platforms that make the most sense for your business. 
 

Increased Search Engine Visibility

Although Google has stated that social media likes, favorites, and shares don’t directly impact ranking, there is a correlation between social media activity and how it’s ranked by search engines. When others see your content on social media and follow quality backlinks to your company’s website, that will positively impact ranking. 

Social media also sends signals to search engines to ensure that popular content is easily found and shareable.
 

Types of Content to Post

 
Was lack of content ideas one of your reasons for foregoing social media as part of your business strategy? To resonate with your audience, everything you post should be relevant, engaging, valuable, and high quality. Posts with these attributes are more likely to be shared which will expand your business’s reach.

These content types generally receive a considerable amount of engagement:

  • Facts or statistics (amazing or related to your business)
  • Images
  • Quotes
  • Polls (work well on Facebook)
  • Humor (funny image or video)
  • Tips
  • Promotional (keep to less than 20% of total content)

 

Quick Ways to Create Content

You don’t have to actually create everything that you post. There are acceptable ways for you to quickly generate content to share with your audience:

  • Share content posted by other people. Remember to credit the person who wrote it by using their Twitter name, for example.
  • Perform a Google search for relevant articles and share the URL in your post. Getpocket.com is a tool that lets you save articles and find content to share.
  • Repurpose content produced for other business purposes (i.e. video, blog post).
  • When sharing other people’s content, 90% of the content can come from the originator but you should provide the remaining 10%.
  • Outsource content writing.
  • Outsource social media research. Have the hired person/company find quotes, facts, infographics, or blog posts related to your business or certain keywords.

 

Optimize Social Media Content

To get the attention of your target audience and search engines, try to include at least one keyword that’s related to your business/website in every post. Use hashtags to increase the odds of your content being found but don’t overuse them.

Use a spreadsheet or Google Drive to keep track of content you’ve created, content to be created, and posting status.

 

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Create a Social Media Plan

 
By now, you should be convinced that a social media presence can benefit your business in numerous ways. Hopefully, you’ve decided to set up accounts on relevant platforms and start connecting with customers and other business owners.  But, before you start randomly posting, develop a social media plan. Without one, you’re wasting your time. Using social media to connect with your audience and persuade them to take your desired action requires a plan and the resources to implement it.

Similar to how a business plan guides you through the stages of starting and managing your business, a social media plan will guide you through the stages of starting and managing your social media presence. Your plan doesn’t have to be complex or elaborate but it does need to include the following:

  1. The social media platform(s) that best fits your business
  2. Your social media goals. What are you looking to accomplish by being on social media?
  3. How you’ll measure the success of your social media plan
  4. Your budget. How much will you allocate to carrying out your social media plan?
  5. The person(s) responsible for implementing your social media plan

 

Which Platforms Best Fit Your Business?

 
As a small business starting out on social media, it’s best to focus on one or two platforms and learn the ropes before adding more platforms to your repertoire. Which one or two platforms should that be? The ones used by your target audience.

Each social media platform appeals to a distinctive demographic group:

  • Facebook – Equally divided gender base
  • Pinterest – Users are mostly women (81% in 2018)
  • Twitter – Equally divided gender base; high percentage of college users; users generally younger
  • Instagram – Most users are aged 18 – 34
  • LinkedIn – Users are mostly business professionals and B2B marketers

 

Finding Out Which Platforms Your Customers Use

To find out which social media platforms your customers and/or potential customers use, ask them. Create a survey using a web-based tool like SurveyMonkey and place it on your website. Use a raffle or other incentive to motivate site visitors to participate.

You could also hire a company like Demandforce to figure out who among your customers are on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other niche social networks. You provide the company with a list of your customers’ email addresses and they’ll provide the social network along with other important details.
 
 

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What Are Your Social Media Goals?

 
Now that you’ve decided which platform(s) you’re going to use, you need to decide what you want to accomplish there. Do you want to:

  • Drive traffic to your website or blog?
  • Provide customer service?
  • Become known as an authority in your niche?
  • Increase sales?
  • Increase brand awareness?
  • Increase referrals or leads?

Your goals should follow the SMART concept – they should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely. Base your goals on your overall business strategy and on metrics that will have an actual impact on your business. What’s the point of racking up likes and/or followers if it doesn’t result in a lead or purchase?

The way you implement your plan will depend on the goals you choose to pursue. For example, if you’ll use social media to drive traffic to your website or blog, the activities that you undertake and content you post will be different than if you’re using social media to provide customer service. Starting out, choose only one or two goals to pursue so that you can give them adequate attention.
 

How Will You Measure the Success of Your Social Media Plan?

 
Small business owners who are eager to get their social media plans underway often leave out this step. By doing so, they’re doing their plans a disservice because this is one of the most critical steps. How will you know if your efforts are paying off if you don’t have a way to measure your progress?

As with other marketing methods, return on investment (ROI) is the primary metric that you should use to determine if your social media plan is successful. Relative to the resources you expended (time, money), what kind of results did you get?  If one of your goals was to drive traffic to your website or blog, you’ll want to track the number of site visitors referred by a particular social media platform. 

Google Analytics is a free tool that lets you track and analyze website and social media data. Use the Goals feature within this tool to determine if your goal of driving a certain number of visitors to your website or blog is being met. You can then use that information to compare results across the social media channels you’re using to see which delivers the best ROI. For example, if you’re using Facebook and Twitter to achieve the same goal, which one is referring the most visitors relative to the investment of money and/or time? As a business owner, you should be used to performing such comparisons when measuring the ROI of traditional marketing methods like sponsorships, TV ads, public relations, and digital ads.  

What metrics will you use to measure your success on social media? The Manifest found that, of the 351 U.S small business owners and managers surveyed: 

  • 20% said the most important metric for tracking social media success is engagement because it shows that their followers are interested in their content and more likely to be brand ambassadors.
  • 19% — Audience growth
  • 16% — Clicks to website
  • 15% — Leads/ conversions
  • 13% — Number of posts
  • 12% — Reach

 

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What’s Your Social Media Budget?

 
Again, it’s getting harder and harder to be noticed on social media without spending money. If you don’t pay the platform to make your content more visible, you’ll have to pay someone to optimize your social media presence. Even if you decide to elevate your presence on your own, you’re still using a valuable resource — your time. And as the adage goes, “time is money”.

Because there’s no free ride when it comes to using social media to grow a business, you need a social media budget. What percentage of your overall marketing budget will you devote to social media?  What is your overall marketing budget? The Small Business Administration (SBA) recommends spending 7 to 8% of your gross revenue on marketing and advertising if your annual sales are less than $5 million and your net profit margin – after all expenses – is 10 to 12%.  

According to a study conducted by digital marketing firm, Blue Corona, 50% of small business owners spent less than $300 per month on online marketing in 2018. That doesn’t leave a lot for investing in a social media presence.

The study also found that 32% of business owners only used social media as a marketing strategy. Concentrating on just one marketing channel is NOT recommended because there’s no channel that will reach all of your potential customers. Your marketing strategy should always include a mix of channels.  What you decide to include in the mix will depend largely on your target market. After all, your aim is to place your offer where your potential customers are most likely to see it. If you’re selling internet-based products to millennials, then your marketing budget will likely be comprised mostly of digital advertising.
 
 

 

Who’s Going to Implement Your Social Media Plan?

 
The Blue Corona study also found that 47% of business owners handled marketing efforts on their own which likely explains the reported low overall monthly marketing budget. Again, time is money so take that into consideration when deciding to forego other business functions to work on your social media presence.

The Manifest’s survey found that small business owners use a variety of resources for help with their social media strategies. Most use in-house staff (53%), and many use social media management software (33%), freelancers or consultants (33%), and digital marketing or social media marketing agencies (24%).

Jeff Gibbard, chief social strategist at I’m From the Future, says “I generally advise that businesses use an outside resource for strategy, especially small businesses. The average small business simply does not have the time to keep up with the speed and complexity of social media and advertising changes while also running its business. An outside strategist can provide the right direction, ultimately saving the business time and money.”

In the Connect with Peers section above, it was suggested that you set aside a block of time (an hour or two) each week to find or create content for the upcoming week then spend 15 minutes each morning and 15 minutes each evening (Monday-Friday) interacting with and responding to peers (and/or customers). That’s a total of 3 ½ to 4 ½ hours per week. If you decide to embark on any social media campaigns, that will require additional chunks of time.

Are you able to make that kind of time commitment, week after week? Be honest with yourself. You could take advantage of the many automation tools available to schedule posts and monitor engagement, but it does take time to set them up.

You could enlist an in-house staff member to manage social media but keep in mind that doing so would take that person away from other tasks unless that person’s primary role is that of social media manager. If you don’t have a staff member to assign the role to, hire someone to put your social media plan into action. This is the most feasible route to social media success; amateur efforts could hurt your business and its reputation. 

If you decide to personally take on the task of handling your social media presence, decide which platforms make the most sense for your business and start familiarizing yourself with how they work. Once you do this, you can start working towards accomplishing the goals you set in your social media plan.  
 

Final Thoughts

 
A social media presence is one of the most powerful ways to differentiate your business, connect with customers and potential customers, increase brand loyalty, and share your vision. Growing your business with social media doesn’t have to be overwhelming; there are plenty of available tools and talent to help implement your plan. When it comes to a social media plan, don’t post without one. 
 

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