One of the most important things a small business needs to do to ensure its success is market itself. Whether your customers are individual consumers, groups, or other businesses, they need to be reminded of who you are and what you can do for them.
Social media is a very important component of that effort—and fortunately, a relatively inexpensive one, as well. The other good news is you’re probably already pretty familiar with how to use it if you’ve got a Facebook page, a LinkedIn, Twitter or YouTube account, or even a Pinterest board.
With a few tweaks and pointers, you can use those tools and more to help promote and grow your business. There are actually so many social media options available for businesses today, it can seem a little overwhelming, so let’s start with the basics.
Where to Begin With Social Media for Your Business
First, don’t overextend yourself. Face it: there often aren’t enough hours in the day to take care of all the day-to-day demands of your business. How will you ever add social media to the equation? Start small, with just one platform.
According to the Pew Research Center, Facebook is the dominant social media network. It’s used by more than half of all Americans, and almost three-quarters of teens. Two-thirds of the adults on Facebook use the site daily, so it makes sense to start your effort there. You can use this Facebook business tutorial to help you get started.
Social Media Promotion
If you want to expand beyond Facebook, login to a few of the other major social networks and see which ones are best-suited for your business. Here is a summary of some of the most popular social media networks, and how they might help different kinds of businesses:
- If you have a very visual product line, perhaps it’s Instagram, which is a way to share photos.
- YouTube is a great place to demonstrate product usage or how-tos.
- Perhaps Pinterest, where you can create and share virtual bulletin boards of photos, videos and links.
- If you interact with customers and other businesses, Twitter will give you a way to get even more involved.
- Google+ is one of the newer players on the block, having been around for just about three years, but with the considerable power of Google behind it, it’s growing substantially.
- If you are primarily a business-to-business (B2B) business, LinkedIn is a great place to build your professional network.
Create a Social Media Routine
Once you’ve narrowed down the social networks you want to use, you have to actually find time to implement a plan. Your social media presence will begin to take hold and pay off when you are consistent, so schedule time for it just as you would any other business chore like paying your bills or sweeping out your store. Then include your social media routine in the sales and marketing section of your business plan to really ensure you will stick to it.
Plan your posts—don’t just wing it. Make a calendar for promotions you’re running, figure out which services or merchandise you’d like to focus on at different times, think about what your customers are doing in their lives at this point in time, and target your messages accordingly.
Eddie Patzsch, Senior Account Executive at Groupon, suggests that setting aside even just an hour each week to plan and update your social media postings will have a very positive effect on your business.
There are free online tools that you can use to schedule posts in advance, so that you don’t have to carve out time every day to remember to post. Hootsuite is one of the better ones. It allows you to post to more than one network at the same time, so you can cover both Facebook and Twitter simultaneously. Sit down first thing Monday morning and schedule a daily post for each day that week.
If you need help and can’t yet afford to hire a professional social media manager, Patzsch suggests going the intern route. It’s a win-win for both the business owner in need of social media help and the student who needs a resume-building experience.
How to Measure Your Return on Investment
Once you’re up and running on one or more social networks, how do you track and measure your progress?
Each network will have some sort of administrative page or dashboard that can provide you with a lot of information about how many people you’re reaching, who has “liked” and shared your content, and which posts are performing better than others.
Create a Coupon or Offer
One of the easiest ways to measure your success is to create some kind of trackable coupon or offer, and see what kind of response you get. Post a special on your Facebook page (but make it truly special or it’s not likely to have much impact), and see how your customers respond.
If you own a restaurant, offer a free glass of wine with dinner to anyone who mentions they saw the offer. A hair salon might offer a free product sample; an automotive service station might throw in a free car wash.
Remember that keeping good customers is as important as getting new ones, so extending offers to your current clients is a valuable use of social media.
Unique Phone Numbers or Email Addresses
You could also track the effectiveness of different social media offers by using a different phone number or email address for each platform, assigning separate contact information for Facebook, Twitter, etc.
Make a Landing Page
Groupon’s Patzsch suggests setting up a landing page on landingpages.net. He explains that a landing page looks almost identical to your website, but it allows you to track your leads. You can even integrate it with Facebook to help figure out which posts lead to more business, whether it be a membership signup, order, or reservation.
Google Analytics is a powerful (and free) tool that will also help you measure the traffic to your website from social media sites like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. As an added benefit, Google Analytics will also help you see which search terms are leading visitors to your site when they come from search engines.
As mentioned above, Facebook has tutorials and tools built right in, with many ways to measure how clicks on links and offers are turning into business. You can also run paid advertising on Facebook, which can help your reach expand even further.
The Investment Itself
It can be a frustrating proposition to try to reduce social media’s impact to dollars and cents, especially in the early stages of developing a presence for your business. Not every post will hit the mark, and even when they do, they might not always directly translate into sales.
Keep in mind that building an awareness, personality, and presence for your brand, store, or service will help complement your other sales and marketing efforts. So keep at it, continue to learn, and you will start to reap the benefits!