For businesses big and small, customers expect businesses to have a social media presence. In fact, 63% of customers expect customer service through social media. An online presence has gone from being the frontier to being the norm in a little over a decade. As such, small businesses, in order to compete, need to have a social media presence.

Setting up social media, in some ways, is very easy. Meeting the bare minimum requirements of being online and posting every once in a while is not hard. But how can a small business truly take advantage of the benefits social media has to offer? That is what we are going to discuss in this week’s article.

How Social Media Can Help Your Small Business

In our current time, the statement that “businesses should use social media” has been fully accepted by society at large as truth. Indeed, we largely agree with the statement. Nevertheless, it’s important to ask exactly why social media is beneficial for businesses.

As it turns out, there is no shortage of benefits that businesses can reap through using social media. Social media can increase brand awareness and bring in traffic. It’s good for SEO. It improves conversion rate, customer satisfaction, and brand loyalty. It’s pretty cheap to run too.

Mistaken Beliefs About Social Media for Small Business

Of course, social media is certainly not perfect. It’s no silver bullet for your marketing plan. There are many disadvantages as well, many of which stem from mistaken beliefs.

Many business owners think of social media marketing is free. It’s not. It takes time to create, and that means paying in labor and time. Not to mention, advertisements, which are a very important part of social media marketing, are not free in any sense of the word!

Friends, followers, and likes also don’t matter as much as many think. Sure, 21 likes on an Instagram photo, all things equal, is better than 20 likes on an Instagram photo. But the real goals are engagement and, ultimately, sales. Don’t forget that!

Social media marketing is also not a fad. Elderly people use social media. Small children use social media. People use social media in the US, Europe, Canada, Australia, India, China, and nearly anywhere else you can name.

Pitfalls of Social Media for Small Business

For all the benefits social media has brought us – ease of connection and rapid access to information – it’s also brought a lot of irritating problems into the world, too. It’s very much like Pandora’s Box.

So what pitfalls are small businesses likely to encounter when using social media? We can think of several.

First of all, you have to spend a lot of time and often money to do it correctly. Updating Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and so on…this all takes dedicated time. Even if you use time-saving tools like Buffer to plan content in advance. Creating content takes time. Responding to comments and messages takes time.

There’s a learning curve to social media for business, too. Don’t rely on your Gen Z nephew to manage social media for you. Don’t pass off the responsibility on an intern. As we are going to discuss in this article, social media marketing is not necessarily hard, but there are a lot of moving parts and there is a lot of strategy to it.

Then there the many disadvantages of having a very public presence online. Problems are more obvious. Competitors can watch you. Trolls will hassle you. Privacy and security become issues.

Last but not least, some people even say that social media has a low ROI. I don’t know if I personally buy that, because it depends on how you define “return” and “investment.” The fact still stands that many businesses do not pull in revenue from social media and are online merely because it is expected.

Setting up Social Media: Before You Begin

Do not take social media lightly. It’s time-consuming and you have to put in real emotional effort. The majority of brands that I see online make the same mistakes. They have a mediocre, bland presence on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. This is a shame since a truly excellent presence, even in the dullest industry, would take just a bit more strategic thinking.

Don’t let this scare you, though. You don’t have to be a social media pro to run your small business social media. You just need to come across as professional. As I said in an old, similar post on another blog of mine, “professionalism isn’t about the size of your team or your number of followers. It’s about clarity of purpose, attention to detail, and consistency.”

Commit to having a clear purpose, consistent branding, and a focus on customers. If you can honor these three commitments, you will eventually master social media.

12 Steps to Setting Up Social Media for Your Small Business

With all of the above in mind, we are now going to go over twelve evergreen steps that you can use to run any social media account. These will help you define your small business social media strategy so that when you’re done reading, all you have to worry about are the small, ever-changing details of different social media channels’ quirks. That is, the difference between a tweet and a pin, the size of images displayed as previews in the Facebook feed, and so on.

1. Figure out your intentions and set realistic expectations.

Stephen Covey said it best in his 1989 self-help book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Begin with the end in mind.

Ask yourself what your real goals are with social media. Do you just want to establish a presence so you can check boxes and not really worry too much about it? That’s fine. Spend two hours a week scheduling content on Buffer to automatically post to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Monitor the comments every once in a while. Boom, done!

If that describes you, don’t sweat how many followers or likes you have. Your goal is just to have a bare minimum online presence. That is often a perfectly acceptable approach to social media.

However, if you want to cast yourself, say, as a “very online” luxury brand, then your strategy will be different. You’ll want to invest in gorgeous photography and videography. You need to be online a lot more and respond to more comments. Additionally, you may want to spend money on advertising so that you can grow your social media channels quickly and extend your brand reach.

In another example, if your goal is revenue, you may not care how visible your brand is or how many followers you have. Rather, you may just care about having a presence that looks respectable while you boost highly effective ads that push people to dedicated landing pages on your website.

All of these examples, which are by no mean exhaustive, are perfectly fine approaches to social media. In each case, a different variable is optimized and expectations are set appropriately. In the first example, raw time-efficiency is most important and follower count and engagement don’t have to be great. The second example prioritizes sheer visibility, but at the cost of time and money. Finally, the third example uses social media as a lead generator at the expense of money and time spent community-building.

2. Know what you have to offer.

Before you start seriously using social media, you need to have a strong sense of what makes your business different from others. It is virtually impossible to engage your audience in a meaningful way without understanding what makes your brand unique.

If you haven’t already done so, take some time defining your niche and creating products or services that are perfect for your audience. This will help you understand what you have to offer. Unless you are meeting a need for your customers, they have no reason to read or watch your content, let alone respond to it or make a purchasing decision because of it.

3. Define your audience.

Once you know what you ultimately want to do and what you have to offer, it only makes sense to think about who you want to reach out to. Odds are, your target audience for social media will be the same as your target audience for your business as a whole. As such, when defining your audience, you to ask questions such as:

  • What are they interested in?
  • What media outlets do they read, watch, or listen to?
  • Which social media networks are they on?
  • How do they make decisions?
  • Are you selling to consumers or to businesses?

The act of asking these questions gives you insight into what your customers care about. This can then be used to create content that they want to interact with and to identify which social media networks they are already using.

4. Come up with core branding and messaging rules.

On social media, you need to be very cognizant of certain branding best practices such as:

  • Make sure your brand matches what people say about your brand.
  • Ensure that your brand is meaningful to your target audience.
  • Focus on your customers’ needs and how you can solve them.
  • Use your logos and colors as consistently as possible.
  • Define a certain tone of voice for each social media channel and stick to it.
  • Be clear and consistent.
5. Choose your platforms and learn them.

You can’t have a good presence on every single social media channel unless you have a very large organization. Ideally, you need to have at least a Facebook page and then pick 2-3 other social networks that are appropriate for your industry. Pay attention to what works for your industry by researching brands like yours and choose wisely.

6. Each platform has a different “language.” Learn to speak it.

To help you get started, though, let’s talk about 9 really common social media networks and how each one fills a different niche online. Descriptions below are largely borrowed from Tufts Unviersity.

  • Facebook: The de facto water cooler of the internet and one of the most versatile social networking sites. Facebook has one of the most effective advertising systems and also owns Instagram. Users create a personal profile, add other users as friends, and exchange messages, including status updates. Brands create pages and Facebook users can “like” brands’ pages.
  • YouTube: A video watching and hosting website. Very popular with Generation Z and Millennial age groups.
  • Instagram: A free photo and video sharing app that allows users to apply digital filters, frames and special effects to their photos and then share them on a variety of social networking sites. Owned by Facebook.
  • Twitter: A social networking/micro-blogging platform that allows groups and individuals to stay connected through the exchange of short status messages, 280 character limit.
  • Reddit: A website consisting of millions of communities known as subreddits, each of which covers a different topic.
  • Pinterest: A social networking site that lets users organize and share ideas with others in the form of “boards” (collections of content) and “pins” (the content itself).
  • LinkedIn: The default social networking site for professional contacts and job searching.
  • Snapchat: A mobile app that lets users send photos and videos to friends or to their “story.” Snaps disappear after viewing or after 24 hours
  • TikTok: A short-form, video-sharing app that allows users to create and share 15 or 60-second videos on any topic.
7. Build a backlog of content.

Once you have selected a handful of social media networks and have done the basic setup, just start posting. Do this for a couple of weeks and don’t worry about anything else. Don’t worry about finding followers, running ads, or closing sales. Just start posting.

8. Start talking to others.

Once you’ve been posting on your chosen social media sites for a couple of weeks, it’s time to start talking to people. How you do this specifically differs by platform, but you basically need to do two things:

  1. Be seen.
  2. Make someone’s life better.

You can do this by following people with similar interests or by commenting on posts. If you’re feeling especially bold, you might even send a direct message. The point is to start having real conversations with people in some way. Not just “check out my page” but real, meaningful conversations.

9. Schedule and outsource.

Keeping up with social media all the time can be a huge chore. One of the easiest ways you can manage social media while still keeping your sanity is to start scheduling.

I mean that in two senses of the word. Schedule content ahead of time for social media using tools such as Buffer, which automatically posts content that you make ahead of time on your behalf. You should also schedule dedicated times each day to check your social media so that you aren’t constantly monitoring it. Big companies can afford to constantly monitor social media. Small businesses can’t. Left unchecked, social media will drain you.

Next, once you have a feel for what your social media should look like, you may choose to outsource part or all of the responsibility associated with it. You may do this by passing the responsibility to a freelancer or an agency. This can free up lots of time, but do so with caution because it’s expensive and whoever has your social media passwords is the face of your brand. They need to be qualified.

10. Gather data.

Nearly every social media outlet creates detailed analytics for social media business users. Periodically go through the data and see which behaviors are leading to the desired effects and which ones are not. You’d be surprised what you can find out with some digging.

11. Tweak your messaging.

Use the data you gather and change your approach. Do more of what’s working and less of what’s not. Remember: data-driven tweaking isn’t always about optimizing the number of likes or retweets. You want to refer back to your goals and make sure the posts that you make help you achieve those goals.

12. Push people down the sales funnel.

Social media is quite possibly the greatest time sink ever created. You can waste a phenomenal amount of time on it, and many businesses fall into this trap just as individuals do.

You’re on a mission to make money. Don’t forget that. You need to close sales even if you run a purpose-driven organization. Social media may be a very new kind of tool, but it is a marketing tool nonetheless. Forgetting this means leaving money on the table.

If people are watching you, give them a reason to be interested. Once people are interested in you, give them a reason to want your products or services. When they show you that they want their products, give them a reason to buy today.

Final Thoughts

Social media can be extraordinarily useful in small business when handled correctly. At your fingertips, you have a way to connect with seemingly anyone in the world. Reach out to people, have real conversations, and give them a reason to care!