Getting to grips with social media – 5 top tips for small businesses and start-ups

social media small businessThe rise of social media.

There is no doubt that since the arrival of Facebook in 2o04, social media has had a meteoric rise. It has altered the way we communicate and become an increasingly integral part of our everyday lives. So what does this mean for you as a small online business owner?

With so many social media platforms around it is easy to feel overwhelmed and unsure about how to get started tapping into all that social media has to offer. We take a look at the benefits of social media, its challenges and where, as a small online business, to best focus your time and effort.

Fascinating facts and figures

 

The benefits (and challenges) of social media for small online e-commerce

The statistics outlined above reinforces our belief that social media should have a place in your online businesses marketing strategy.  It’s no longer something that is the solely the domain 18-25 year olds that can be dismissed as a passing fad. Your business needs to take it seriously. If your customers are using social networks (and chances are they are) then you need to be communicating with them on the same platform. Indeed, 70% of marketers have used Facebook to successfully gain new customers. An effective social media presence can bring your business added value through:

  • Building relationships 
  • Directly engaging with customers on their preferred communication platform
  • Establishing relevant online communities
  • Driving new traffic and as a consequence increasing sales
  • Strengthening your brand presence
  • Providing a low-cost marketing channel
  • Offering valuable customer insight

Clock, 24 hours, 7 days a weekOf course having a social media presence does also bring challenges for small businesses – namely time and resources.  Time often feels like it is against you when you run your own business; you are constantly wearing multiple hats and juggling lots of balls. And since few small business owners have the luxury of  dedicated marketers or social media experts, it means it is down to you where you choose to commit your time and resources. Social media is a bit of a trade-off (a bit like SEO) your costs are low but you will need to invest time in it.

Social media can bring a number of benefits to your business but you need to be able to balance the time and effort you will need against your other commitments. And because measuring the value of you social media efforts isn’t always as easy as other marketing channels like PPC or email, small business owners can be hesitant about committing their time to it. However, social media is often a component part of a customer’s overall journey to purchase . This makes it difficult to accurately measure its influence in terms of last click attribution. In an interesting article by Hubspot, they note that the value of social media often comes at the beginning of the sales funnel through relationship building.

“When was the last time you bought something immediately after clicking through a Twitter or Facebook link? That’s not how it typically works, right? Most customers discover companies through social media, then take some time to get to know their products or services — subscribing to emails or returning again through another channel.” Hubspot 

5 Tips for getting the most out of your social media presence.

We’ve established that having a social media presence is a necessity for small businesses and if done well the benefits will outweigh the challenges. So where should you focus your time and effort?

spread too thinly1. Don’t spread yourself too thinly: Firstly it is really important not to spread yourself too thinly. Rather than signing your business up to every social media network out there, start with a couple of key platforms first. That way you will be better able to manage your presence effectively within the time constraints you face. Of course the best social media platforms for your business with will depend on your target market so spend a bit of time finding out which social media platforms your audience are using as these will be the best places to focus your time and resources.

In terms of size Facebook is still leading the way with nearly 1.4 billion monthly active users and for your interest,  the top 3 social networking sites used by marketers are Facebook, Google+ and Twitter . As a general guideline it is better to post a little regularly. Decide how much time you can realistically commit to social media and stick to it.  Planning it in to your schedule may help – even if at first it’s just 15-20 minutes each day.

Content Image2. Concentrate on content: Just as with your website, fresh, relevant, quality content is key. If  you want to your customers to engage with your business then your content needs to be up to scratch. The more interesting and relevant your content is to your audience the higher the likelihood you’ll get shares, recommendations and conversations starting up. Social media is not the place for hard sales messages,  it is for building communities, relationships and rapport between you and your customers. So don’t be overly ‘salesy’ or ‘self promoting’ – it will turn your audience off. Instead, widen your content with information your customers are going to find interesting, entertaining and informative – such as competitions, insider news, industry trends, polls, helpful tips, interesting posts or invitations to special events.

Your should be aiming to get audiences to start looking at you as a bit of an expert in your area. Think about starting a blog. This will not only help you get seen as an expert, it is also a great way of adding fresh, valuable content that invites comments and conversations. Remember, its quality over quantity every time. So slow down and think about what your audience would like to see and aim for less, higher quality content rather than churning out lots of ill thought out content that customers may find irrelevant.

social media conversation3. Engage in conversations:  Engaging in conversations is a great way to give your business a personality.  And,  as we all know people prefer to do business with other people. Social media is all about building relationships with customers. To do this successfully first spend a bit of time observing what your audience is saying to each other – what are they talking about?  As a tip, a good way to get a conversation started is by sharing interesting information such as a blog post.

In terms of etiquette, if someone takes the time to make a comment then make sure you respond politely, thanking people for taking the time to make a comment or recommendation. Of course this will open you up to dealing with negative comments as well so it is really important you respond to these quickly and professionally at all times.

If you are in the position to have other team members around then think about getting them involved in your social media presence as well. It will help with your own time constraints and add a different voice to the mix. Just remember if you are opening it up to colleagues make sure you have some clear business guidelines in place for everyone to adhere to.

social media sharing4. Encourage Sharing:  The more interesting and relevant your content,  the more likely it is to be shared. “The sharing of content through social media and email consistently outperforms both consumer ratings and consumer reviews. And, surprisingly, online sharing carries essentially the same weight as in-person recommendations.” Yahoo Small Business Advisor

Of course if you haven’t made it easy for people to share all your great content then your hard work may be wasted. Make sure you have your social media icons in prominent places to make it as simple as possible for customers to share your content. For example on your website display icons clearly in your sidebar or header, add them to your email newsletters (many of the email companies like Mail Chimp and Mad Mimi will do this automatically for you), include sharing buttons on all your blog posts and don’t forget to use call to actions asking people to follow you and like you on Facebook.

Remember people trust the recommendations of friends and family often above all other influences – so encouraging sharing is essential.  “The most influential element driving purchase decisions today is word of mouth.” WOMMA

 

social platforms should support one goal5. Take an integrated approach: Don’t look at social media in isolation, rather take a joined approach. By this I don’t just mean take an integrated approach to your presence on all your social media sites, rather that you make sure all your platforms are working in unison and supporting each other. Take a coordinated approach across your website, blog, social media platforms, email newsletters and so on to ensure they are all working together to your achieve your end goals. If you look at each platform in isolation then your messages will end up being disparate and confusing to your customers.

So the key to getting on board with social media is to start out picking a couple of key platforms to establish your business on, allocating a realistic (and manageable) amount of time on a daily basis and putting your energy and time into producing interesting, relevant and shareable content. Track your progress to see what is working well and not so well and then grow from there!

We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences on this post, so please do leave a comment. 

Social media is taking over the world image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Buttered bread image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Social network image courtesy of renjith krishnan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Click share button image courtesy of mater isolated images at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Succesful teamwork image courtesy of jesadaphorn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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One thought on “Getting to grips with social media – 5 top tips for small businesses and start-ups

  1. Pingback: ShopIntegrator | So How Much Does Social Media REALLY Matter to Your E-Commerce Site?

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