The Digital 2020 reports, published by We Are Social and Hootsuite earlier this year, found that 3.8 billion people around the world are active social media users. It's undeniable that social media is an extremely important tool for small businesses looking to establish themselves, build engagement, and reach new markets. Yet many businesses set about it with no strategy other than simply building a Facebook page or an Instagram account.
There is so much advice out there about how to approach social media, it can be hard to know where to begin. But there are some universally agreed rules about where to start if you want to make it a meaningful part of your marketing toolkit.
Here are some of the basic principles to follow:
What are you trying to achieve by building a presence on social media? Perhaps you want to increase brand awareness. Maybe you want to generate new leads, or are trying to present your offering to a different audience demographic. Whatever you're trying to do, you need to make your decisions with these goals in mind.
If you want to reach a strictly professional audience, for example, you'd be better off focusing more of your energies on LinkedIn than on Instagram. If you're looking to build an e-commerce brand, Facebook's ads platform and marketplace may be the best areas to look at. If you want to establish yourself as a community presence or thought leader within your particular field, Twitter can be the perfect platform for networking with others, and sharing your views and insights on the pressing issues of your industry.
A good campaign starts with listening. Now you've thought about who you're planning to speak to with your social strategy, take a look at the conversations they're having and how you can contribute. In their beginner's guide to social listening – the practice of monitoring and building content around these conversations – Sprout Socialsuggest that businesses start off by thinking about the following questions:
“Who is your audience? How do they feel not just about your organisation, but topics related to what you do? Which topics and trends are they passionate enough about to discuss online? What do they truly want, and how can you connect with them more effectively?”
Contributing to these conversations and getting your message out there effectively is about more than just posting text, too. Writing about their 2020 State of Marketing Report, Hubspot's Jesse Mawhinney noted that:
“The continued importance of visual content [was] emphasised by the changes that occurred across almost every major social network … Videos continued to grow as powerful tools for brands looking to communicate more easily with their readers, and virtual reality (VR) is finding its place as a marketing tool in numerous businesses.”
Though VR may be a stretch for small businesses, it's certainly essential to think about how you can make videos and images that showcase your offering and promote your ideas. Also, do not overestimate the importance of sharing third-party content: curation is just as important as creation, and sharing interesting third-party videos (with permission and attribution, of course) can be a great way of keeping followers engaged with visual content, especially if you don't yet have the budget or resources to look into producing bespoke videos.
Posting exclusively promotional content is a good way to get blocked quickly. Your goal should be to build engagement with content that people want to share. A good story, a strong image, and – particularly during the current situation – content that can help or inspire people will buy you far more engagement than any puff piece.
Even when posting more overtly promotional content, it's crucial to remember the “social” part of social media: appeal to your audience's humanity, and market your offering in a way that someone can engage with on an emotional level. Humour can be a great tool for this, but be careful with it. An academic study conducted by Caleb Warren and A. Peter McGraw found that:
“Attempting humour is risky [not just] because consumers may be offended by failed humour attempts. We propose another reason that attempting humour is risky: humorous advertisements can hurt brand attitudes by eliciting negative feelings – even when consumers find the ad funny.”
For this reason, when it comes to using humour: go back to those earlier thoughts about your messaging and your target audience. Think carefully about how it aligns with those, so you can be sure the joke will land smoothly, instead of crashing and burning.
Finally, don't go six months with a strategy that isn't working! Plan your posts and measure the response; doing more of what works, and less of what doesn't. This is where analytics tools play an essential role – and if you want to learn more about these, feel free to check out our beginner's guides for Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn analytics monitoring below:
Remember, social media is just another channel for reaching people. What's changed since traditional media dominated communication is that the users themselves are in charge and are resistant to being sold to.
Social media is a much more democratic, fast-changing medium where good ideas and rich content are quickly shared. The potential for firms to reach target audiences efficiently and effectively is enormous.
But like anything, unless you have a clear idea of your goals, your audience, and the content to engage them, you’ll be wasting your time.