Any business can be present on social media—sign up for an account, send an occasional update, keep a constant eye on the follower count. But like so many other small businesses, it’s easy to fall into the trap of being on social media because businesses should be on social media.
What lacks here is strategy—the “why am I doing this?” question many seem to overlook. Interestingly enough, small businesses invest a significant amount of time on social media, spending more than six hours per week tending to their accounts. That’s six hours out of their round-the-clock work week allocated to towards a strategy that, for the most part, is unclear. The likely reason? They’re simply not social media marketers. But that’s okay.
With help from Bhupesh Shah, entrepreneur, social media guru and marketing professor at Seneca College in Toronto, we walk through the first steps to build your social strategy, plus outline the best platforms for your small business.
Before You Start, Ask Yourself These Two Questions
1. Why do I want to be on social media?
Bhupesh on why it matters: “The majority of consumers are using social media for brand awareness and to make purchasing decisions. They’re spending less time looking at print, looking at newspapers, listening to the radio or watching television. If you want to establish yourself to show that you’re in the business, you need to be where your consumers are.”
2. Who is my target audience?
Bhupesh on why it matters: “You have to look at your existing customer space, get a profile, and don’t be pigeonholed into using certain platforms. Have an open mind—If you look at the behavior of the next generation of consumers, they’re all growing up in the digital world and on social media. You may argue that your consumers are all part of an older demographic, but what are you going to do five years from now? Understand the changes, and adapt and adopt the technology that’s going to allow you to be successful going forward.”
Social Media Marketing Trends by Platform
Out with the old, in with the new. As a non-marketer it sounds daunting, but the way people consume social media is constantly changing. Bhupesh helps us out by outlining the social trends to forget and the ones to try out next.
The Old: “The idea that simply posting on your Facebook page with the thought that you’re reaching your audience is totally out the window now.”
The reason, according to Bhupesh, is because Facebook is pushing businesses towards paid advertising strategies in order to reach audiences. So, the subject matter text post that once worked with your followers is now being replaced by paid business ads. Since only two per cent of your followers see each organic message you post, sharing non-engaging content will make the two per cent of eyes feel like a much smaller number.
The New: “What’s new now is Facebook Live for video, and Facebook Messenger as a customer service tool.”
Consumers don’t only want to read about your brand, they want to be a part of it. Facebook Live is a way to connect with your audiences through a live video stream. To ensure your followers don’t miss out on the action, Facebook sends a notification to your followers as your live video begins. For small businesses, Bhupesh says this is a cost-effective way to make use of video as no trained talent or equipment is required.
Facebook Messenger goes beyond its traditional friend-to-friend personal messaging and is now designed for business to consumer interactions. According to Bhupesh, this feature will allow customers, fans and critics to directly message you through your company page on Facebook, rather than have to reach out through your website’s contact page.
Good for: Creatives, Health and Wellness, Catering and Events, Business Consulting
The Old: “Forget about vanity metrics.”
How many followers did you gain today on Twitter? Frankly, according to Bhupesh it is a “useless metric” that many businesses fall in love with.
The New: “Continue developing authentic relationships on Twitter and use visuals.”
Rather than focusing on your follower count, Bhupesh says to gain followers is to be human. To do this, he suggests to ask and answer questions and accompany text posts with compelling visuals to ensure the message won’t be lost when it’s retweeted.
Good for: Creatives, Catering and Events (live tweeting), Legal, Web Development, IT, Trades and Home Services
The Old: “An old practice would be to add people to extend your network without having any rational reason for connecting.”
Again with the vanity metrics, Bhupesh says an ineffective way to “connect” with professionals is by connecting with those you don’t know. Before sending LinkedIn invitations, ask yourself: “how will both sides benefit from this connection?”
The New: “Join groups related to the industry you’re in, position yourself as a thought-leader, answer questions and don’t be afraid to really volunteer your knowledge.”
LinkedIn is unique because it’s a platform built for professionals at all levels. And according to Bhupesh, it’s simple for novice users to join and start building their networks. To maximize the LinkedIn experience, he says professionals should use this platform to establish themselves as the subject matter experts in their professions. Share your expertise through LinkedIn groups, and even write and publish your own post on LinkedIn Pulse.
Good for: Legal, Business Consulting, Web Development, IT, Trades and Home Services
The Old: “When you overwhelm followers with hashtags.”
It’s still valuable to use hashtags (#) in your Instagram posts—particularly to draw eyes to your posts and gain followers. However, Bhupesh warns that it becomes hashtag-overload for your followers when you add a list of 20–30 relevant hashtags within the caption of your post. In this case for your followers, ignorance is bliss. So when you add hashtags to each post, Bhupesh suggests to add them in the post’s comments section, after it’s been published.
The New: “Post a message that’s engaging and speaks to the brand.”
It goes without being said: Instagram is all about the visuals first and the message second. But Bhupesh outlines that the message you share (and how you share it) on Instagram can change the way people will respond. Host an Instagram contest, share a promotion, be a brand ambassador and accompany each post with a compelling image. Bhupesh’s pro-tip: If you’re adding a website link specific to your post (like for a contest entry), write “link in profile” in the post’s caption and include it to your profile. This link can easily be removed once it’s no longer applicable.
Good for: Creatives, Health and Wellness, Catering and Events
The Old: “Overlooking Pinterest as a marketing tool.”
Pinterest is more recognized as an online pinboard for inspiration than a business marketing platform. And appropriately so—Pinterest yields little conversation between businesses and customers, according to Bhupesh.
The New: “On your website, if you have really nice videos or images, you can make it so people can easily share it on Pinterest to also help you expand your awareness.”
With the right practices, Bhupesh says Pinterest can be used for professionals who are visually savvy, like creatives or events and caterers. The trick to leveraging Pinterest as a social media marketing tool is how you share it. For instance, if you have a company website, Bhupesh suggests to link your best Pinterest images back to your website.
Good for: Creatives, Catering and Events
The New: “What you want to make sure is that if you are posting videos or images, there’s an opportunity to include text to promote your brand.”
There’s little that’s considered “old practice” on SnapChat. While Bhupesh does outline it’s not a platform for every type of business, there is an opportunity for others to build unique marketing strategies around the tricky 24-hour lifecycle of each post. For instance, on SnapChat you have the opportunity to tell a story through images and short videos. Additionally, you can give your “Snaps” a little flair by adding a preset filter or, for a cost, a geo filter.
Good for: Creatives, Catering and Events
Start with One Platform and Grow
Bhupesh encourages small business owners to stick to the basics for social media marketing—especially if you’re coming in with little experience. The best way is to dedicate your time by marketing on one platform and growing your presence from there.
“As soon as you know your target audience and why you want to be on there, you’ll know what platforms you should be on. Start with one platform and get really good at it. You don’t want to dip your toes in the water, get out and not go back in until next year. Once you manage it well, then you can think of the next platform your target is using.”
So which platform will you start with? Let us know in the comments section below.
About the author: Megan Santos is a Content Editor at FreshBooks. Before joining the team, Megan was the Editor of a national trade publication and was also a published writer for the National Post, Notable.ca, and Zoocasa.com. In her free time, you can find Megan in her empty, new home or Pinteresting “Home decor inspiration.” Follow her on Twitter @meganssantos.