Small Business tips_ How to Use Social Media to Boost Business

small business tips

These days, standard advice to business owners is to make it a priority to buy a domain and claim the associated internet handles.  That’s how important it is to claim your place in cyberspace as soon as you possibly can.

Now, while you can, and probably should claim your name on all the major social media platforms of the time (and any promising newcomers), that doesn’t mean you should start posting away on all of them, in fact, that’s probably a very bad idea.  Instead, follow these tips.

Decide up front whether you want to create or curate (or mix both)

There are basically two approaches to sharing content on social media.  You can create your own content from scratch or you can curate other people’s content.

The advantage of creating content is that you have total control over the process, the disadvantage is that you carry all the costs involved in developing the content.  The advantage of curation is that someone else creates the content.

The disadvantage is that you have to find acceptable (i.e. relevant but non-competitive) content, which you can reasonably share and you have to be realistic about the fact that if you can find content easily, so can other people in your niche, which may reduce the value of your curation.  You may also choose to mix creation with curation, which is a perfectly reasonable approach.

It’s important to take this decision up front partly to so you can allocate a reasonable budget for your social media activities and partly because this decision may influence the platform you choose.

For example, Pinterest is all about curation, although you can use it as a place to create a public collection (or board) of your own original content.  Instagram, by contrast, is all about original creation and while it is currently possible to run curation-based accounts there, using third-party apps to repost content, there are risks involved in this, not least that Instagram clamps down on the use of the apps which make this possible.

Do one platform really well and then see if you want to expand

Even the average small business could probably create decent content for a variety of platforms, but for a business decent content isn’t good enough, you need great content and that’s just, to begin with, you also need to engage with the community as a whole and this will require time, quite possibly more time than it takes to create the content in the first place.

NB: Be clear that the average small-business blog is not a social media platform.  The defining feature of a social media platform is that it’s a place where people interact.  Many blogs have comments sections and where these are used actively for chat and discussion then the blog could be considered a social media platform but there are probably relatively few small-business blogs which fit this description.  There can certainly be great value in running a blog, not least because it demonstrates to Google that your website is being updated regularly, but this is separate from your social media strategy.

Choose a platform which reflects your talents and budget

Which do you enjoy most, writing, photography or video?  Do you prefer to commit to one form of expression or do you prefer to mix them up?  How much money can you afford to spend on equipment and props to create content?  These questions will all guide you to where you should be on social media.

If you enjoy writing, then Twitter may be the place for you, especially if you know how to be succinct.  If you’re into photography, then Instagram would be an obvious choice and if you want to make videos then YouTube is probably the place to be.  If you want to mix it up a bit, then Facebook or LinkedIn could be good options.

Learn the rules and etiquette of your choice of platform

This may seem like stating the blindingly obvious but it does catch companies out from time to time, even large ones which should really know better.  Each platform will have its own rules about what you can and can’t do and you absolutely need to know them and stick to them, since the social media giants are quite capable of shutting accounts down if they identify (or even suspect) a violation.  They may reopen them later (or they may not) but by then you could have suffered a whole lot of damage.

Learning the etiquette on your platform may not be a contractual requirement, but there are all kinds of reasons why you want to be seen to be showing good manners to those around you.  Above all, refrain from either displaying a negative attitude (e.g. getting involved in online spats) or doing anything which could be seen to be capitalizing on other people’s misery.  If you are unclear about this, then do an internet search on “newsjacking fails” and you’ll soon get the idea.

Educate yourself on how to get the most of your choice of platform

The chances are you’ve already used social media as a private individual, but if you’ve just been using it to keep in touch with family, friends and your favorite influencers, then you probably only have a very limited knowledge of what it can do.  Now is the time to get to grips with your choice of platform and work out how to get the most from it.  For example, up until now, you may have thought of Instagram as a photo site, but actually it’s a site for photos and captions, which you can use to tell your story and engage your followers, so you should really treat those captions as seriously as you treat your photos.

Keep your content to a consistent theme

Obviously you want to keep posting fresh content, but there needs to be some degree of consistency and generally, it’s best for there to be some connection with what you do.  For example, if you’re a home goods store, you don’t have to stick to posting content which is purely about the home goods you offer, you could show “behind-the-scenes” footage of your staff or quotes/memes about the home, but it’s really a good idea to stay with content which is related to your business in some way.

Learn how to make your content easily found

Social media platforms, like search engines, want to be relevant, which means they want to give users what they want to see.  That means they all, even Facebook, use some form of labeling to identify content, usually, it’s hashtags.

The key point to understand here, is that using appropriate hashtags is necessary to get your content found but it is not necessarily sufficient, I have extensive experience in this whilst I worked for a bathroom supply company named poshh and in short, when there is a lot of content for any given hashtag, the social media platforms will order it in what they see as the order of relevance and for practical purposes that means that big accounts have a far greater chance of getting to the top of the feed than small ones do.

So, for example, if you are a small business specializing in selling bathroom products and you are just starting on Instagram, then forget about targeting #bathroom, with over a million posts, you don’t stand a chance.  Don’t even bother with the likes of #bathroomdesign (about 600K posts).  At the start, there will be way out of your league.  Instead look for relevant hashtags which have between 500 and 10K posts, like #bathroomdesignideas (about 7K posts).

These are easier to target, they tend to be searched less often (there is usually a fairly high degree of correlation between the number of posts for any given term and how often it is searched), but you’ll have a far higher chance of getting into the top places when people do search on these terms and that is what matters.  As you grow your account, you’ll be able to target bigger hashtags.

Forget about “posting and running”

No matter how good your content is, you’re probably not going to do yourself any favors by just putting it out there and leaving it at that.  You need to be out there, going where your (potential) customers are, listening and commenting and liking and sharing and basically being sociable because that’s the key to social media.  Contrary to what is sometimes stated, you can sell on social media, but essentially, people have to like you first and it often functions more effectively as a promotional platform rather than a direct sales one.

Never try to buy followers, likes, shares, comments or anything else

Just don’t do it, ever.  Don’t do it by “black hat” means, such as going to certain websites and paying people to get X number of followers for your account and don’t do it by “white hat” means, by running lots of giveaways.  The odd giveaway is fine, especially if there’s a clear reason for it like you hit a certain milestone, otherwise, it’s just a variation of trying to buy friends, if you have to buy them, they aren’t worth buying.

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