But before you leap in feet first, remember: every good business strategy starts with a good plan. Yes, you can use social tools for free. But the time and effort involved still represent an investment in your business.
Without a plan, you have no clear goal for what you’re trying to achieve. That means there’s no way to know if you’re getting a return on that investment.
You’ve looked at what your competitors are doing online, but what about other businesses? Take inspiration from the success of businesses in all industries.
Where can you find these success stories? Head to the business section of most social networks’ websites and you’ll find useful case studies.
This blog can also be a great source of inspiration, since we always include lots of examples. And just pay attention to what your favorite brands are doing. What makes you want to click or follow or buy?
If you’re selling to baby boomers, social might not seem like a top priority. But it should be. Facebook and Pinterest are the top social networks for boomers. Adults over age 65 are Facebook’s fastest growing audience segment.
Maybe you think TikTok marketing is not the right fit for your brand. But even well-established brands with an audience well outside Gen Z are experimenting with this platform.
Once you’ve defined your audience, you can create buyer personas, which will help you understand the best ways to speak to your audience. We’ve got a free buyer persona template to help you get started.
4. Expand your audience
Once you have a clear picture of who your audience is, you can revisit your social media plan. It’s time to look for ways to reach more people just like them.
For example, when lockdown measures meant more people were looking for ways to fill their time at home, The Great Courses Plus switched up its Facebook advertising strategy to expand its audience quickly.
They created an extended free trial offer and advertised it to a broad audience in the United States. They then used lookalike audiences to reach new audiences in Canada, the UK, and Australia who were similar to their best existing customers.
This expanded audience strategy saw a more than 10 times increase in total average monthly subscriptions generated.
You can also use social media to expand the audience for your local business. For example, Hootsuite geo-search streams can help you monitor and respond to local conversations about your business. You can then reach new potential customers who are already in your geographic area.
5. Build relationships
The unique benefit of social media marketing for small business is that it allows you to talk directly to customers and followers. You can build relationships over time, rather than asking for a sale upfront.
That said, you certainly can use social to get a sale upfront, as we explain in Tip 7.
More than 44% of internet users use social networks to research brands. Part of that discovery is getting to know who you are as a brand and what you stand for.
When people engage with your organic content or ads, it’s a great idea to engage back. This helps to build trust and form a loyal following. As fans share and like your content, you rise in the social algorithms and gain new, free, exposure.
For most Facebook users, there are more than 1,000 potential Newsfeed posts at any one time. Engagement is one of the signals Facebook uses to help predict which of those posts users are likely to see. When you establish relationships with your followers, they are more likely to see your posts.
Nurturing relationships can also help you build a loyal community that will lead to ongoing sales over time. New customer acquisition is great, but don’t downplay the value of customer retention.
In Hootsuite’s Social Transformation survey, 69% of respondents said social media helped maintain customer relationships during the very different marketing era of COVID-19. And Twitter data shows 70% of people say it’s important for bands to help boost positivity right now.
So how do you build relationships, beyond responding to follower comments on your posts? Try these strategies:
Create a Facebook Group
Facebook Groups are another great way to build community and brand loyalty.
For example, Panera Bread launched a relationship-building campaign this summer to draw attention to its new coffee subscription. They announced they would give away free coffee all summer if 500,000 people voted Yes in in their Twitter poll.
Do you want free unlimited premium ☕ all summer? 500,000 votes for YES by 6/22 and it's yours, America. #FREECOFFEE4SUMMER
“We are a brand that is built on strong 1:1 relationships with our customers,” said Kelli Nicholson, Panera Bread’s Director of Brand Marketing. She told Twitter the campaign was an important way to evaluate whether the coffee subscription program was something customers would value.
6. Pay attention to trends
We’re not saying you should leap on every meme that goes viral. (Please don’t leap on every meme that goes viral.)
But it is a good idea to pay attention to trends in social media, so you understand what people are looking for when they sign into their social channels. This helps you create appropriate content that resonates over time.
State Farm insurance has an ongoing Pinterest campaign that provides informative content tied to major life changes like buying a car or having a child. Since these moments tend to impact insurance needs, it’s an obvious fit that has helped the insurance giant connect with millennials and Gen X.
Bonus: Get a free social media strategy templateto quickly and easily plan your own strategy. Also use it to track results and present the plan to your boss, teammates, and clients.
Last spring, as travel changed from a worldwide affair to a much more local experience, road trips were a hot topic of online research. State Farm created a series of Pins about road trips and how the company helped protect their customers in uncertain times.
The top five reasons people use social media now are:
Social media marketing has evolved in recent years to include social commerce: the ability to sell your products directly from social channels. And business is booming, with a global market value of $89.4 billion in 2020.
By June 2020, 18.3% of U.S. adults had made a purchase via Facebook, and another 11.1% via Instagram.
This was not true a couple of years ago, and Hootsuite would never have made this discovery if every Tweet contained an image.
Here’s another reason not to fall into a rut: The Facebook algorithm uses “content type diversity” to ensure a person’s newsfeed had a good mix of content types. Switching up your formats may boost your content’s reach.
When you do want to use images and don’t have a great photo library of your own, stock photo sites are a great source of free, high-quality photos to use in your social posts. Don’t use random images you find online. That is definitely not okay and can get you in some serious trouble.
Finally, be sure all your posts, regardless of the format, are inclusive and accessible. For a start: Add alt text to images and make sure videos have captions. And make sure your audience is fully represented in the images you share.
9. Focus on quality over quantity
The sheer number of social media marketing options for small business might seem overwhelming—but you don’t need to do it all. It’s more important to create quality content on a couple of key channels than it is to have a presence on every single network.
Above all, be sure that your social posts offer value. If all you do is pitch and sell, there’s very little motivation for people to follow you. Remember, social marketing is about building relationships.
Be human. Be honest. Post great content. This is important, and you can’t fake it.
You can’t do it all, and there’s no reason to try. Reach out to your audience in the places where they’re already spending time online.
Focus on using one or two social channels really well, at least to start. Once you’ve got those mastered, you can build from what you’ve learned and expand your efforts.
10. Use the right tools
The secret to using social media effectively is to take advantage of tools that automate or simplify much of the work.
There are loads of tools to help boost your productivity. That means you can start using social media for business without having a full-scale social media team.
Here are some of our favorites.
Social media is not a broadcasting system—it’s a way to engage with customers and fans.
Social media management tools like Hootsuite can help you centralize all mentions and messages directed at your company in one dashboard. Then you can respond and engage without having to log into each of your individual social media accounts.
Getting all of your analytics data in one place can help you get a better picture of your social efforts overall.
11. Use scheduling and automation to free up more time for engagement
We talked about creating a social content calendar way back at the beginning of this post.
Once you have that calendar in place, you can create your social posts in advance and use scheduling tools like Hootsuite to post them automatically at the right time.
This allows you to dedicate one block of time per day or even per week to creating your social content. It’s much more effective than letting social posting take you away from other tasks throughout the day.
Automation tools like chatbots can also help you cut down on the number of hours you spend working on social media marketing.
12. Track and refine your performance
As you implement your social strategy, it’s important to keep track of what works and what doesn’t. You can then fine-tune your efforts and improve results.
The analytics tools mentioned above give you a great picture of your social efforts and can help track whichever metrics matter most to you.
Once you have an idea of how your strategy is working, it’s time to start looking for ways to improve. Using A/B testing, you can make small changes that boost your success over time.
For example, the land development advertiser Newsome Interactive LLC used testing to discover that “Learn More” was the best call to action for their Facebook ads that clicked through to Messenger.
It was not that “Learn More” resulted in the most clicks. Instead, it best set people up to complete a full chat sequence and contact form so Newsome could collect qualified leads.
“Chat Now,” on the other hand, led people to ask specific questions and drop out of the chat sequence before it was complete.
No matter the size of your business, social tools can help you better connect with your audience, reach new potential customers, and increase awareness of your brand. If the possibilities seem overwhelming, just start small.
As you find what works, expand your efforts and your audience. One of the great advantages of social media for small business is you can use the tools in whatever way makes the most sense for your business and your budget at any given time.
Save time and grow your small business using Hootsuite. From a single dashboard you can publish and schedule messages to all your social media channels, engage your followers, and monitor what people are saying about your brand online. Try it free today.