Is your small business actively using social media? If the answer is yes, then you should be commended for utilizing one of the most affordable and effective tools available to modern entrepreneurs. If the answer is no, you need to remedy the situation immediately.
There’s plenty to dislike about social media. You have to deal with political diatribes from your uncle, uncomfortable beach photos from your 5th-grade teacher, and the whole “keeping up with the Joneses” sentiment that drives the braggy posts you encounter on a daily basis.
If you find these aspects weighing you down, that’s totally okay—most of us loathe them, too. The beauty of social media is that most channels have settings with which you can block, unfollow, and report the content you don’t want to see.
“Like it or not, it’s here to stay, and in these social distancing times, social media is more important than before to the success of your business,” says Entrepreneur. “Taking on the responsibility of managing your social media accounts can be both an exciting venture and a terrifying process, especially if you’re working from home like many throughout the world…The good news is that you don’t have to be a celebrity or a household name—even if you’re not a Kardashian, you can build a great following and get more attention for your posts…Many platforms have acknowledged the hardships that small businesses are facing during the COVID-19 crisis and have developed features to aid these users in expanding their reach across social media.”
Indeed, there’s never been a time in history when social media has more to offer small business owners. The biggest challenge: leveraging it in a way that engages your customers, rather than annoying them like a political diatribe from their uncle.
The Oversized Importance of Digital Strategies
Now that we’re moving beyond the initial shock of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s time to start laying out strategies that can carry your business through the next 12 months. We don’t know exactly what the coming year will look like, but it’s clear that successful businesses need to stop reacting and start thinking proactively.
“In the coming months, businesses are going to become more reliant than ever on their digital strategy,” says Forbes. “Without wanting to sound too alarmist, in many cases it will be the deciding factor in whether they make it through the tough times ahead. The unprecedented, almost-total disappearance of all channels related to live events and conferences, and the increasing barriers on face-to-face business, pose an enormous challenge. Key to resilience is the development of ongoing contingencies to mitigate against this loss.”
Social distancing, facility closures, and other pandemic-associated disruptions have made digital resources more crucial than ever. Online shopping was already on an upward trajectory pre-COVID, with 80% of consumers making purchases online in 2019. Crunching those numbers reveals that about 264 million Americans have been taking their shopping digital. The trend shows no sign of abating—it’s projected that total online shipping revenue will reach $4.8 billion by 2021.
Consumers are clearly gravitating to digital, so you should do the same. Your products need to be readily available online, and your conversations with customers should be happening there as well.
“Traditional marketing has become less mainstream due to cost and delay,” says a digital report from The Manifest. “While digital marketing has the advantage of sending at the click of a button, traditional marketing takes time to create and distribute…Digital marketing allows more direct interaction with consumers, as customers click advertisements and emails when they want to. Customers voluntarily engage with an ad, which demonstrates an initial level of interest.”
By actively participating online in the same places where your customers are, you’ll get the biggest impact from your efforts—and your customers will have more opportunities for positive experiences with your brand.
Strategizing Specifically for Social Media
While there are numerous valuable digital resources for your business, such as banner ads and advertorials, social media should remain one of your key initiatives.
“None of us have experienced a global pandemic on this scale, with so many businesses forced to shut down to help stop COVID-19 from spreading,” explains Forbes. “But from great adversity comes great opportunity. It’s time to adapt to survive, and social media marketing can help businesses withstand this storm. With so many people staying home, social media use is soaring, as are online searches in certain categories.”
In order to get the most from social media, you’ll need to develop a solid plan. Here are the steps to developing a strategy that can serve as your north star for through the next 12 months:
Identify Your Goals
Launching a social media campaign without establishing objectives is like setting out to sea in a boat without navigation tools or a destination. You’ll probably get somewhere, but there are no guarantees it’ll be a worthwhile journey.
“Start with your top 3 marketing objectives, then evaluate how social media may help you achieve them,” recommends marketing consultant John Jantsch. “Too often business owners buy into the idea that ‘I have to be there. I have to be in all these new places or I’ll be left behind.’ But social media has to help you reach your objectives or you’re just wasting time. Don’t think of social media as just a megaphone for your business, but think about how it can help you reach your goals.”
Possible goals include engaging more with your customers, collecting positive reviews, attracting more leads, building your brand’s reputation, or earning more conversions. These goals aren’t mutually exclusive, either: you might seek to get more conversions by engaging with your customers. Or you might feel that the best way to build your reputation is through positive reviews.
Set Up Tracking
Goals are great, but they lose their luster if you have no way of measuring your progress. It’s essential for you to put tracking mechanisms in place so you can know where you are and how far you need to go.
Most social media platforms have a suite of tracking tools included. You can also use third-party tools like Hootsuite to make it even easier to run your campaigns and keep close tabs on their performance and results.
Analyze the Competition
In order to stand out from your competitors, you’ll need a firm understanding of what they’re currently doing. To accomplish this, follow their various social media channels and see what type of content they’re sharing. If a post generates a lot of engagement, take note. You shouldn’t copy any of their content, but you can certainly incorporate similar elements into your own efforts.
On the flip side, also take note of any competitors’ content that bombs with customers. For example, if a couple of your competitors have shared quizzes on their Facebook pages and rarely get followers to engage, you should thank your lucky stars for the intel. You can now save your time and money by avoiding quizzes in the future.
Learn Your Audience
It’s important to know what your competition is doing, but the most important group of people in your professional life should be your customer base. Use surveys, conversations, and demographic information to understand the profile of your ideal customer.
“The most important thing about social media is that it’s not just about you,” says small business guru Brian Moran. “Social media is not a monologue where you tell the world about the awards you’ve won or the special deals on your products and services. It’s an opportunity for you to connect, in a meaningful way, with the people who have helped you and supported you in business. If you think about the 10 to 20 most important people in your business world, social media allows you to recognize and thank them for helping you along the way. You can thank them by giving recognition to their posts and tweets: like, follow, and share their messages. It’s your way of saying thank you. More importantly, they will appreciate the gesture and continue to support your efforts.”
When you know your people, you can effectively connect with them. So put time into understanding your customers. The closer you get to them, the closer you’ll be to reaching your business goals.
Choose Your Channels
As you create profiles for your customers, you’ll learn more about their social media habits. Perhaps you’ll discover that they’re Facebook fanatics—or maybe they’re more professional and prefer LinkedIn. The point is, you won’t know until you investigate.
There are a few schools of thought regarding your approach to social media channels. Some experts recommend focusing on dominating 1 channel, while others say to spread the love to many channels so you can cast the widest net possible.
The optimal solution usually lies in the middle. Target your efforts to the 2–3 most popular channels. Not only will this save you time and money, but it also shows your customers that you understand them. You’re meeting them in the places they frequent, showing how seriously you take your relationship with them.
Schedule Your Content
Consistency is crucial for a successful social media campaign. Think about the businesses you follow on social media. If they post something new every day, you appreciate the fresh content and are more likely to check in and see what’s happening. If their last post was from 5 weeks ago, you’re probably going to check out for the foreseeable future.
The problem with consistent posting: it’s time-consuming. You probably don’t want the daily burden of coming up with new content and posting it. Tools like Hootsuite solve this issue, however, by allowing you to schedule content in advance, putting your feed on autopilot.
If you’re wondering what kind of content to post, return to your audience analysis. Look at the posts they engage with most and double down on them. Possible ideas include:
- Sneak peeks
- User-generated content
- Funny national holidays
- Inspirational quotes
- Beautiful photos
You might want to correlate your posts with certain days of the week. For example, you could post a new quiz every Tuesday or an inspirational quote every Friday.
Putting your social media strategy into place is a thrilling experience, as your hard work and research translate into content that directly benefits your business. Just remember to avoid resting on your laurels—social media is an evolving beast. Constantly look for ways to improve your social presence and engage customers in surprising ways.
Take Your Social Efforts to the Next Level
How exactly do you improve upon your social media efforts? The same way you got started. Research your competitors. Research your customers. Analyze what’s working and figure out how to make it better.
A surefire way to enhance your efforts: build stronger connections with your customers. If they comment on a post, don’t let their participation go unnoticed. A simple “Thanks!” might be fine, but you should try to build on their original comment by asking a follow-up question. This is a great way to show that you value them, and it can lead to some interesting conversations.
“The key thing with Facebook is to remember that the algorithm they use rewards posts that have interaction,” says Forbes. “If a business posts something but no one responds, then Facebook won’t show it to anyone. They’re trying to keep people on their website, and they can only do that by showing posts and stories that people find interesting…The key is to ask questions and respond to the answers. A car dealer could post a picture of someone buying their first car and, sure, it’s interesting enough. But if they turn around and ask people, ‘What was your first car?’ they have a chance to get people to answer, and then they can respond. Now, to that person who answered the question, it’s not a car dealer, it’s a car dealer who knows his first car.”
Another benefit of highlighting the participation of your customers: it takes the spotlight off of you. It’s tempting to fall into the trap of constantly promoting yourself on social media. After all, the account is named for your business and bears your logo, so it could make sense to center yourself.
The problem with this approach: it becomes an exercise in horn-tooting. Your customers are likely interested in the things that make you great—otherwise, they wouldn’t follow you. But they’re even more interested in the experiences with which you can provide them.
As you look for ways to branch out from the standard social media content, remember to stay true to who you are. You’ve spent enormous time and resources building your brand, so post content that supports that equity.
If you have a brand voice established, use it. If you have brand guidelines, adhere to them. You’ll find that it’s possible to surprise your customers with innovative social content while still staying loyal to who your brand is.
Speaking of voice, make sure your message always gets through loud and clear. This is especially relevant for your call to action (CTA): the moment where you request the reader take an action, like clicking a button or filling out a form. When your social post is merely a chance to show the human side of your business or to build brand awareness, you might get away without directing the customer to somewhere specific. But in most situations, you should make it clear what you want your customers to do after reading your content. Is there a landing page you’d love for them to check out? A new product you think they’d be interested in? A white paper they should read?
Use concise language to convey the benefit of the action you’d like them to take, then explain to them how they can take it. Make sure you only include 1 CTA in each post, as multiple CTAs only muddy the water.
Finally, don’t be afraid of hashtags. If they don’t fit with your brand’s personality, that’s okay. But most small businesses will benefit from using this important part of social media communications.
Hashtags don’t need to be particularly long or clever. They should, however, be relevant and memorable. If you get engagement on a particular hashtag, the impact can be powerful. And by incorporating hashtags that are already generating buzz in other corners of a platform, you can draw your business into the conversation.
By enlisting all the social media tools and strategies at your disposal, you’ll put your business in prime position to succeed. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Linkedin are called social platforms for a reason. Don’t miss your chance to stand on top of them.