Social media is a powerful tool for small businesses - if it's done correctly. According to HubSpot, 8 out of 10 small businesses use social media to drive growth, with a staggering 94% using social media for marketing.
To make the most of the opportunities that social media marketing has to offer, a small business owner needs to be focused and make the most of the tools at their disposal in order to maximize their ROI and the time they spend using networks like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to take their business to the next level.
We talked to Jim Belosic, co-founder and CEO of the social media marketing company ShortStack, to find out about effective social media for small businesses.
If a small business is just starting out, do you recommend they begin using social media before unveiling their services and products, or after?
It can work either way; the main point is to remember that social media is about building a community and being part of a conversation. Whether you have a 10-year-old business or you're launching in 6 months, the sooner you can start building your social audience, the better.
If your product isn't quite ready, social media can help you find people who might be interested in your company (including beta testers). Your social community can also help build conversations around your upcoming launch.
If you already have a product, you might be surprised to see that there are already conversations about it on social channels. You might have a loyal fan base and not even know it!
One of the biggest mistakes that I see small business owners make is neglecting their social channels after the initial "build." Keep the conversation going.
What if someone is still developing their idea? How can social media be used as a brainstorming technique to see what the market is like?
I would lean more towards using social media as a listening tool than as a brainstorming tool. Be careful about publicly soliciting feedback during your development stages. Everyone loves to give an opinion, but I find that the best advice is candid. How often have you had a so-so meal at a restaurant, but when the server comes by and asks, "How is everything?" you say "Great!"
Asking for feedback can be beneficial later on in your product's life; so at the beginning, focus on listening. You might find that your target market has some common problems or complaints about a competitor's product, which would give you a perfect opportunity to eliminate those problems in yours.
Communities are an important part of social media. How can a small business find communities on various social media networks that would be open to their business?
If you're starting a business, you should be well-versed in that industry and already know where the most engaged communities are. However, you can stay on top of new communities by using hashtags, joining relevant groups on Facebook and LinkedIn, and reading industry blogs. You can also ask other people in your industry or your existing community where they go to learn more and which blogs, forums, and communities they're a part of.
How can a small business make potential customers aware of their business without being pushy or coming off as "salesy"?
The easiest way is to just participate in the communities we've been talking about. My definition of participation is "Just being one of the guys (and gals)." You don't want to be the lame sales guy in the group.
Offer advice, provide useful information, and give constructive criticism - all without blatantly pushing your product. The most trusted people in social communities are the ones who offer help and advice without expecting anything in return. Emulate those people. Your goal should be to establish a long-term presence in the community and position yourself as an expert.
I suggest using a screen name, handle or signature line that mentions your product or website, but that's about it. For example, when I participate in social media marketing communities, my screen name is usually "Jim at ShortStack." That is the beginning and end of my product promotion. Sometimes I'll see a clear opportunity to push my company, but I avoid it. I'm more interested in being seen as part of the group than an outsider just trying to make a few bucks. The funny thing is, it works!
Which social media networks are most effective for generating actual sales?
It totally depends! LinkedIn can be very effective for B2B; Twitter is best for finding relevant news about your sector; YouTube is great for manufactured products because you can quickly show demonstrations, how-tos and even "unboxing" videos (it's a real thing, trust me);Instagram and Pinterest are ideal for niche products or services, and Facebook is a jack of all trades.
Facebook definitely has the best ad platform and tracking capabilities, but with the right knowledge (and Google Analytics), you can track your actual sales from any social network.
I recommend testing each network and monitoring sales performance or however you measure conversions. For us, the best network is Facebook; but I know plenty of businesses that drive a majority of their sales through Pinterest or Instagram.
Are there any particular days or times which are particularly good for engagement rates?
It's completely dependent on your audience, your posting strategy and the type of business you have. For a long time, we saw our best engagement from 2am-4am Pacific time (the time zone we're in). We have an international audience, so this is when our European users are online. Generally speaking, a local business will never see peak engagement from 2am-4am.
Once again, I recommend testing and keeping track of the type of content that gets engagement and which times of the day work best for your audience.
How should a small business combine their social media strategy with other marketing techniques, like inbound or content marketing? Why is it not enough to have one or the other?
Nowadays, everything is connected, and there is a lot of overlap in many channels. Social media is just another spoke in the wheel 'o marketing that businesses can use reach their goals.
The most important thing to remember is to focus on your end goal (maybe it's to get people to sign up for a newsletter, make a purchase, download a coupon or follow you on Twitter). Once you establish the goal, I suggest creating a landing page or microsite to serve as the "hub" of your campaign, then driving traffic to it using all appropriate channels. Link to your campaign hub from social media, email, your blog, etc.
Over time, you should be able to see what channels are sending you the most (or best) traffic. Focus on those channels more in future campaigns. Test, track, analyze and do it all over again.
In order to develop a brand identity, do you have any recommendations for creating original content vs. using other people's creations?
I believe in doing a mix of both. As I mentioned earlier, it's crucial to position yourself as an expert in your industry, and creating original content is a great way to achieve that. However, creating content from scratch can be time consuming and challenging, especially if you aren't a big fan of writing.
If you can't dedicate the time or resources to creating original content, do the next best thing: focus on becoming a source for great content. Just because you didn't write it doesn't mean you can't share it with your audience, especially if it can spark a conversation.
Original content or not, the key is to provide value to your audience so that when they need your service or product, they think of you first. Original or not, the content itself is most important! It's easy to create content that you want your audience to read, but it's a totally different ballgame to create or share content that your audience wants to read. Always remember that it's about them, not you.
When I first started ShortStack.com, we wrote mostly about our software, creating content that would help people learn the ins and outs of our platform. However, we quickly learned that our audience was more interested in general social media and marketing advice. Sure, they were interested in learning our software, but what they really wanted was to improve their marketing overall. That's why they were using us in the first place. Once we focused our content on helping our users become better social marketers, our efforts paid off. We went from about 6,000 blog readers per month to more than 80,000 in less than a year.
How often should a small business owner post to the most popular social networks?
We've tested everything from not posting at all to posting 12 times a day to find our comfortable spot. Even then, our posting strategy changes every few months because social media is changing. Never stop testing and adapting because what works today on social media may not work tomorrow!
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