Small businesses aren’t just the backbone of the U.S. economy. Many times they’re the face of American business, too. When people deal with a large corporation, they may get good customer service, but they rarely see the person who’s providing it. Walking through the door of a small business, customers have a good chance of being served by the owner. If they have a problem, the person who addresses it will be toward the top of the food chain.
Social media can be what truly sets small businesses apart from the stereotype of the large, faceless corporation. It’s also why social media marketing can be such a powerful tool for small businesses — they’re already more in touch with their customers than a big corporation ever could be. To successfully market through social media, a small business doesn’t need a huge, dedicated staff or representation by an agency. They only need to understand their customers and the basics of how good social media marketing works.
Start by choosing the right platform
Social media platforms abound, so how do you choose the right one? Even the most tech-challenged small business owner has probably heard of the biggies: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc. Big corporations may have a marketer dedicated to each platform, but if you’re a small business owner it can be difficult to do it all.
Instead of spreading your efforts too thin over more platforms than you can manage, start by identifying the platform that’s the best fit for your business. Here are the basics you should keep in mind:
- Choose the platform that is most likely to reach your target audience. This will be the one where your customers spend most of their social time online. It may be Facebook, Twitter or an industry-specific platform.
- Be sure you understand the purpose of the platform. Is it a social meeting place for people likely to be interested in your product or service? A professional forum? The platform’s purpose will direct how you market on it.
- How much time will you need to invest in building your presence on this platform in order to have the greatest impact?
For many small businesses, Facebook is the most approachable platform, as well as the easiest to use. If this happens to be your path, we created an in-depth Guide to Advertising on Facebook to help you get started.
Create your social media profile
In the stone age of marketing, companies used to create paper media kits that told the story of their business. Marketers would customize the kit with different tidbits of information based on who they were sending it to at the time — customers, an industry journalist, vendors, investors, etc. — but the bones remained the same. Your social media profile is the modern version of that media kit.
Creating a solid, engaging and personable profile is critical and if you’ll be working across multiple platforms, you should customize your profile for each. The basics that you include, however, should remain constant. Always include in your social media profile these essentials:
- Description of your company — Keep it concise yet creative, pithy yet witty. This should briefly explain who you are, what you do, where you’re located and the geographic area you serve.
- Hours of operation — Have you ever logged onto a really great-looking website full of impressive images and engaging copy that made you just want to rush out and go to that store or restaurant? What happened when you couldn’t find the hours of operation anywhere on the site? Did you take your business elsewhere? This is a very basic profile element that too often gets overlooked.
- Images — Include your logo and at least one image that’s representative of your business (but not a shot of employees boogieing during the office holiday party).
Remember, your social media profiles should be personable yet professional, informative yet friendly.
Quality content is king
Social media users may come to your page because they’ve found you through an online search, they’ve done business with you in the past, or someone recommended your small business to them. But in order to grow that initial contact into a vibrant, profitable online relationship, you need to continually offer quality content that will keep them coming back.
Keep these essential tips in mind to create content that’s king:
- You’re building your brand and relationships, not just selling products and services. Avoid too much salesmanship. It’s OK to use social media to alert people to special offers or sales, but if all you ever do is talk about yourself, they’ll soon grow bored.
- Social media is about having conversations. Remember, you’re not just on the social platform to tell customers about your business. You’re also there to hear what they think about it and what they want from you. Your content should encourage conversation and provide opportunities for commentary from your customers.
- Grammar and punctuation count. Read enough social media posts and you might begin to think that good English isn’t really necessary for online success. But your social media activity speaks directly to who you are as a small business; poor grammar and punctuation, or dull and dreary writing, create an image that’s less than polished and professional.
- Imagine your mother reading it. Run your social media activity through the ultimate litmus test — would you be embarrassed to have your mother read it? If you post content that’s fun, engaging, informative, useful and respectful, your mother will be proud of you. Never shame her by being discourteous to your customers, or by posting content that is embarrassingly dull or aggressively salesy.
Now that you know the basics of quality content, here are some ideas for the type of content that can help build your brand, engage your customers and drive sales:
- New product information. If you’re offering a new product or launching a new service, that’s legitimate news you can share with your customers online. Remember to be concise and accurate in your description, and make sure to help readers understand how this new product or service can benefit them.
- Announce promotions. Everyone likes a deal, and most people like a deal even more when they feel it’s exclusive. Social media is a great way to offer exclusive promotions or to publicize special sales. For example, offering to email a discount coupon to everyone who shares today’s post rewards them for their part in your ongoing social media conversation and makes them feel special and valued.
- Tips or advice. Just as people like a deal, they also want “news they can use.” Share the benefits of your expertise with your social media followers. For example, if you run a lawn care business, in spring share your expertise on what people should do now to help set up their lawns for a great summer. If you operate a dry cleaner, post stain-removal tips that people can use at home — and remind them at the end that you’re available to help with any laundry problems they can’t solve on their own.
- Customer surveys and feedback. People want to be heard, and this fundamental truth of human nature is one of the reasons why social media has experienced such phenomenal growth. Use your social media presence to solicit and gather valuable information and opinions from your customers. Conduct an online survey regarding how people use your product or service. Ask for feedback on a new product or for some guidance during product development. This approach not only gives you valuable insight into what your customers are thinking, it communicates to them that you care what they think.
What’s ahead in social media
It’s hard to imagine social media use will continue to grow since it’s so huge already, but all signs point in that direction. According to Pew Research, 65 percent of American adults currently use at least one social media platform, and many are on multiple platforms. Facebook alone topped more than 1.5 billion active users toward the end of 2015 — that’s nearly equal to the population of China!
Ninety percent of young adults use social media, Pew says, which is especially noteworthy when you consider that Millennials are the largest generation since the baby boomers. Social media use is about equal across race and increasing even in rural areas.
The power of social media to reach vast numbers of consumers, yet still allow marketers to target specific demographic groups, is impressive. When you consider that social media marketing is also one of the lowest-cost forms of marketing, its value to small businesses can’t be overstated. If your small business isn’t yet engaging in social media marketing, or if you feel you could be doing better at it, it’s time to create your social media marketing plan.
Get Started on Facebook Advertising
Ready to jump into the social ad space? We created an in-depth guide to help you get started!
Editor’s Note: This blog post was originally published in January 2016 and has been revamped and updated for accuracy and relevance.