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How to make social media marketing work for your small business

How to make social media marketing work for your small business

Carl Reader, author of The Start Up Coach, co-owner of 

Social media is a big buzz in many marketing circles, and with a huge captive audience, it’s easy to see its appeal. However, many small businesses still lack confidence in knowing how to access this massive resource. Here’s my advice on how to get social media marketing right.

I expect you may have or at least had some experience of using some of the following platforms:

Facebook – the most well-known social media platform, allowing visitors to connect with friends and family, and share a variety of media.

YouTube – a video sharing site, with comment and subscribing functionality

Twitter – a ‘micro-blogging’ site which allows users to share updates of 140 characters or less

Instagram – a photo sharing site, similar to Twitter but for images rather than text

LinkedIn – a corporate social media site, hosting a ‘directory’ of individuals and corporates in business

There are many other applications, such as Snapchat, Pinterest, Google Plus and Tumblr. Each platform has its own community, and the content that may be appropriate for LinkedIn may not be for Facebook, and vice versa. It’s free to set up on social media – though be prepared for it to take up your time, especially when you’re starting out. Social media marketing is a lucrative marketing field of its own, with various experts promoting their services to help your business take advantage of these platforms. Whilst these services are undoubtedly of benefit for some businesses, my advice is that it is possible to manage this successfully yourself.

Despite the range of social media platforms available, I would suggest NOT trying to tackle all of the social channels at once. Start small, and work up to more as you learn. Spend time observing and learning about the networks you don’t know about, so that you can ascertain the culture of each network.

Figure out who your target market is, and find out where they are. What platform are they most likely to be on? Once you’ve narrowed it down, you can think about what you’re going to share. What content will engage them? Put a plan in place, and monitor your success (e.g. track the number of clickthroughs to the website, look at the engagement rate to see how successful your posts are). What are you hoping to achieve? Decide realistic and measurable aims to keep you focused and track your progress.

It’s also important to keep up to date with the changes on each platform. For example, on Twitter it once was commonplace to receive an automated message (DM) every time you followed a new business. Nowadays, this practice is frowned upon. Many platforms have also moved towards paid advertising, which allows you to either sponsor posts or place adverts in your contacts’ newsfeeds. The targeting available through these platforms, using the information entered by the users themselves, is very specific and can be used with fantastic impact.

A question that I’m commonly asked at workshops is whether a business owner should post on social media sites as themselves or as a business. Personally, I’ve adopted the view that people engage with people, and as such I have an active personal profile alongside my business profiles. Many brands have successfully introduced personality into their corporate feeds, with Tesco and Sainsbury’s being two examples of companies that have a human feel to their Twitter feeds.

Another common question I am asked surrounds the volume of posts, and the types of posts. Each platform has a different level of acceptability in terms of post volume. For example, Twitter tends to be rather fast-paced, and to be visible it is best to post several times per day. Conversely, the newsfeed on LinkedIn is far slower and this volume of posting would be frowned upon. Broadly speaking, I look towards a simple rule of thirds when it comes to posting – one third being my own original content / updates, one third being replies and interaction, and one third being the sharing of other material (e.g. through retweets) that I believe my followers would appreciate.

Building relationships with key influencers is another good way to establish a presence and credibility on a social media platform. Join in industry-related conversations, respond to key figures in your sector, share content from other people (with their permission of course). For example, my Startup Coach Facebook group allows business owners to discuss and explore a variety of relevant topics.

In conclusion, I strongly believe that an active social media presence is a great positive addition to any business’s marketing. Costing only time, it grants you direct continual access to customers and prospective customers. It isn’t as simple as setting up a profile and letting it “roll” – it takes effort, trial and error to see what works and what doesn’t with YOUR target audience. However, once you’ve got to grips, the benefits are most definitely worth the time investment.

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