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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Marketing for small business: Getting started with Pinterest

The Pinterest PhenomenonPinterest logo

For the last year or two, this social media phenomenon has been the buzz word on every marketer’s lips. It is already massive in the US and looks like set to take the UK and Europe by storm as well. So as a small business what does Pinterest mean for you? Should you be including it in your social media portfolio?

Impressive Pinterest Statistics

There is no doubt that Pinterest has seen meteoric growth since it launched in 2009. Here are a few statistics to give you a feel for the sort of growth it has experienced in the US  – a trend we are likely to see replicated in the UK:

Push pinSo what is Pinterest all about?

“Pinterest helps people collect and organize the things they love” Pinterest

The easiest way to think about Pinterest is as a sort of social media pin board or scrapbook.  People share their interests by ‘pinning’ them to ‘boards’. It is a social media platform with a strong emphasis on the visual and people connect to each other through feeds and by following boards that has content they find interesting.

Pinterest explains the ‘Pin Cycle’ as follows:

Pin

For example, lets say an unusual piece of jewellery on a website catches the eye of someone on Pinterest. The pinner pins the image onto their ‘unique accessories’ board

Repin

A follower of the pinner likes the pin and repins the jewellery onto their ‘stylish jewellery’ board.

 Discovery

Someone browsing their feed or searching for ‘stylish jewellery’ or ‘unique accessories’ will find the pin for the unusual piece of jewellery

Click through

As more people discover and repin, the more people click-through to the source of the pin – the original website

Benefits for small businesses

As we mentioned at the start of this post, statistics indicate that Pinterest is growing and is likely to be here to stay as a social media platform, so there is value to getting on-board. If you are concerned about time and resources, then perhaps a good starting point is to think about how easily you business lends itself to Pinterest.

If  you are in retail – particularly B2C you’ll probably find Pinterest is an easy step to make without too much effort. B2B can work well but it may require a little more creative thinking at the start. For example, if you are already generating content in the form of say a blog or video then these can work really well. In fact here at ShopIntegrator our first board was our Small Business Blog as it was an easy first step into Pinterest for us.

If you are able to commit some time to Pinterest then it offers an additional opportunity to engage with and learn about your customers. It also provides a good way to help build your brand and develop your brand’s personality.

A few useful tips for getting started

1. Get a feel for Pinterest

Before you dive in setting up your own presence, spend a bit of time getting a feel for how Pinterest works. What are other businesses doing? This way you’ll get an idea for what works and what makes a  pin popular (how many times a pin has been re-pinned is a good measure of popularity). Check out  your competitors and those businesses in a similar market that are popular and have a good following. Pinterest also has some interesting  case studies that are worth looking at for some inspiration.

2. Think about your target market

You should be thinking about your target market when you start creating your presence.  What are your customers likely to be interested in? If you sell kitchenware for example, you’d expect your audience to be interested in cooking and food so your pins could include recipes, seasonal produce and new food trends. Make yourself a bit of an expert in the areas associated with your industry or market. Look at your customers own pinboards – what are they pinning and who are they following. This will give you an insight into what it is your target market is likely to value and find interesting.

3. Create and organise boards

Once you have got a feel for who it is you are pinning and creating boards for, you can get started on generating ideas. There are all sorts of popular boards that you can create in addition to product boards. Here are some popular boards that could help get you started: client showcase boards (showcase your customers latest products), fan boards (customers can pin images to a board that show your brand off in real life environments) employee recommendation boards (get your employees to set up their own boards perhaps with employee recommendations or top tips)  how to boards (give your customers ideas and tips for using and getting the most out of your products), blog boards, seasonal boards and contest boards. Pinterest is a great way to get creative.

4. Follow other boards and repin

Like any social media Pinterest is all about interacting and engaging with the community – your customers. So, to make the most out of your presence be active – follow other people’s boards, repin, like and comment on pins that relate to your business area.

5. Promote your Pinterest presence

Promote your Pinterest presence on your website and emails by adding the Pinterest button. Don’t forget you can also use your other social media to help promote your boards.

Useful resources from Pinterest

The great thing about getting started with Pinterest is that it is all pretty straightforward to set up and use – we’ve put some useful support links from Pinterest below that will help you make the most of your Pinterest presence:

Pinterest Set up: http://uk.business.pinterest.com/setup/

Guides: Pinterest guide for Business http://business.pinterest.com/best-practices/

Useful Tools: Pinterest analytics, Pin It Button, rich text pins http://uk.business.pinterest.com/rich-pins/

Pinterest Business Blog:  http://businessblog.pinterest.com/

Happy pinning!

Image: Single pin image courtesy of  Master isolated images, freedigitalphotos.net
 

We would love to hear your own experiences and thoughts on this post, so please do leave a comment