Social media tips for small businesses

Lots of small businesses – and business owners – are on social media, but there’s a big difference between sharing pictures and chatting with friends versus using social media effectively for low–cost marketing. So, where do you start?

You can use social media to meet several different objectives, such as building your brand, establishing credibility, generating good word-of-mouth or forming a stronger bond with existing customers and other businesses. Or, you might just want to use social media to drive people to your website, where they'll potentially become your customers.

In this article, we'll provide social media tips for small business owners and give you some real-world examples. We hope these tips will be inspiring and help you generate engaging ideas so your posts and updates have genuine appeal.

Use social media as a low-cost way to market a new business.

Gemma Whates, founder of online retail shop ALL by MAMA, used social media to kick off early-stage marketing for her business.

"ALL by MAMA is an online marketplace for businesses run by mums working around their family lives. It launched in November 2014 and its vision was to become the world's best marketplace for parent-run businesses. Coming from a marketing background, and worrying about long hours after maternity leave, I was looking for ways to work more flexibly around my son and support others to do the same."

Gemma also started collaborating with influencers to engage new audiences and boost brand credibility. "Building traction is hard, but once consumers can see that others are engaged, they begin to take an interest."

Don't be afraid to think outside the box.

On social media, a creative idea can carry the name of your business to more people than you might otherwise expect – but it needs to be a good idea. The Wild Detectives, a hybrid bookshop/bar/café, wanted to raise its profile, so it took to Facebook. The owners wanted to draw awareness to the time people spend online reading (usually procrastinating) and put this into perspective against all the great books they could otherwise be reading.

The plan was to post engaging headlines on Facebook but link them to thematically-similar plots from classic literature. So, ‘British guy dies after selfie gone wrong’ linked to a piece on Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Grey, while ‘Teenage girl tricked boyfriend into killing himself’ was about Romeo and Juliet.

The Wild Detectives used Facebook as an instrument to reach out to their audience and then direct them to 'Medium', the blogging website on which the articles are posted. This campaign kicked off on 'National Read a Book Day' and has since gone viral – the shop saw a 600% increase in followers.

As Andrés de la Casa-Huertas, Creative Director at The Wild Detectives, says, “Ideas go further than money.”

Find the network that's best for your small business.

The major social networks each have different strengths, so it’s important that you market your business on the platforms that are most suitable.

Twitter, for instance, is best for short, written messages – think: sharing links, starting conversations and responding to threads. It helps people stay in touch with your business and get updates about new offers, specials or alterations to normal service.

Instagram is a network for inspiring visuals and can also be a shoppable platform – when you post a photo of a product, you can add a link to that product's page on your website. All customers need to do is tap to shop!

When you're posting photos on Instagram, choose images that reinforce your brand or product and connect with customers in the comments. You can also use Instagram Stories to give followers a more unfiltered look at your business – this is a great place to do a Q&A, give a tour of your studio or repost customer testimonials.

Facebook does lots of things other networks do, but in a single place. You can post pictures and videos, have conversations, provide updates about your business and share promotions. Facebook is a great place to create a buzz around your business – ask customers to leave reviews and 'Like' your page. This will give you exposure to their Facebook friends and potentially send new clients your way. You can also add a 'Shop' section on your page and link to products on your website through Facebook posts.

SOCIAL INSPO

Sally’s Cottages, a family-run holiday rentals business, uses Facebook to post pictures of its cottages and Cumbria's Lake District to encourage people to share them. Sally’s Cottages also likes to get into conversations with customers to find out more about them and answer any questions. Actively engaging with followers is a great way to connect with people who might later come back and book a holiday.

Like Instagram, Pinterest is a highly visual platform. According to Shopify, over 90% of Pinterest users plan purchases using the platform. Many people flock to Pinterest for inspiration when redecorating a home, looking for new recipes, researching hair and beauty trends or planning a wedding – so if your business relates to any of these categories (catering, florists, interior decorators, hair stylists), you should definitely start pinning.

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TikTok is a relatively new social platform that lets users get creative with videos, music and sound effects. If you want to give customers a behind-the-scenes look at your business or film a tutorial, TikTok could be a perfect platform for you. Right now, we're seeing a lot of calligraphers, hair stylists and boutiques showcase their skills and products on TikTok.

Connect with the rest of the small business community.

One of the other great benefits of social media is how it can facilitate online networking – especially with LinkedIn. LinkedIn is aimed at professionals and it can be used to build contacts with other business owners. It’s also particularly useful for thought leadership, an approach that positions a business as a significant voice in its field. You can blog, create discussion groups and post updates that could help establish you as an expert.

As with any social media platform, think about the audience you want to connect with on LinkedIn and target them with information they’ll find useful and relevant – this will also reinforce your brand and position you as an expert. One of the great benefits of LinkedIn is that it lets you see where everyone works and their job titles. When you see who's responding to the content you share, you'll be able to get a clearer picture of who's engaging with your posts. These people could potentially make great business partners or customers.

Attract (and engage with) followers.

When you create a new social media account, start by following your family and friends and ask them to share your posts or accounts with their social circles. You should also think about the audience you want to connect with and target them with information they’ll find useful and inspirational.

Make sure to include links to your social media accounts on your website or blog and include your social handles on any communications you send out – email newsletters, postcards, take-away menus etc.

And you'll need to do more than just post static images on your Instagram grid – there are small things you can do to make your post engagement soar. The simplest way to continue growing your following is to stay active. Create exciting updates, run giveaways and offer exclusive access or discounts to your followers. Ideally, your followers will like, share, retweet or repost content from your account, thereby increasing your reach. Also, consider asking questions and soliciting feedback from your audience – people love to participate in contests or polls and share their opinions.

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It can also be useful to seek out key accounts to follow. Engage with influencers who are prominent in your industry, businesses in your area or bloggers you admire. If these types of accounts follow you back, it can help grow your audience even more.

Sally’s Cottages runs a 'Cottage Giveaway' on Facebook each month, offering a free stay at one of their cottages. To enter the giveaway, they ask followers to answer a question in the comments section and they then randomly select a winner. A promotion like this keeps interest up on their Facebook page and draws new followers to their business every month.

In addition to asking questions, experiment with emojis and weave them into your social media posts. When used correctly, people respond well to emojis and posts with emojis generate more interaction and dialogue than text alone. Emojis are usually used in informal conversations between friends and, by adding them to your social media strategy, your communications will come across as warm, friendly and authentic... the perfect recipe for customer engagement.

Pay attention to posting times.

Social media is only effective if your posting times are aligned with your audience’s platform activity. (Have you heard the famous quote, “If a tree falls in a forest and there's no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?” Apply this rationale to your social media posts!) If no one is online to see your posts, do they have an impact? They might, but you’ll miss the opportunity to harness the maximum level of engagement and interaction.

It's not enough to post when you remember to do so, or when you have a spare minute. A social calendar should be part of your marketing plan, as posting frequency is almost as important as quality. So, aim to post several times a week and think about varying what you post. Why not mix in retweets alongside news about your business and general chit-chat with your customers?

Use your platform-specific analytics and insight tools to monitor when your audience is most active and tailor your posting schedule to those times. If new content is published when your followers are on the platform, they’ll be more likely to engage, comment, like or share it than when they see it hours or days after its original publish date. Integrate these specific times into your social media editorial calendar and social media marketing tool to develop posting consistency.

Real-time updates are more exciting for followers as they want to be the first to ‘like’, comment or share an update with their network. Timing is everything on social media and paying attention to activity times will enhance your customer engagement.

Find your voice, then keep talking.

When you feel you’ve found your ‘voice’ for social media – and decided which platform works best for you – it’s important to keep the conversation going... and keep your followers engaged.

Hopefully, you now have a better idea of how to use social media to connect with customers and reinforce your brand. Remember, customer engagement is all about communication and showing your clients that you care about them, their time and their interests. Use your brand voice to attract and retain their attention, while sprinkling in outstanding images, creative text and light-hearted emojis to really bring your business to life and build long-term loyalty.

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