We live in the social media age. There are now almost three billion social media users worldwide, and businesses simply cannot ignore the importance of a strong, active social media presence. For large firms, this is a matter of overall branding, typically managed by a dedicated team and supported by specialist external consultants.
What about small businesses though? How can SMEs survive and thrive in today’s competitive online space? While there’s no single answer to these questions, there’s a lot that small businesses can do to set themselves apart from the crowd and harness the opportunities offered by social media. By the same token, of course, there are a lot of easy traps that small businesses can fall into, which can greatly reduce the benefits of using social media.
Quality over quantity
Choose your core networks
The first mistake many small businesses make is trying to establish and maintain an equal presence on every social channel. This results in duplicated, piecemeal content with little depth and, worse still, content that is ill-suited to the network it’s being shared on. An example might include Twitter-optimised posts that are too conversational and brief for, say, Instagram or Facebook. This doesn’t matter when managing your own personal accounts, but when it comes to social media for business purposes, it pays to focus on your core networks. That way, you can target optimal posting times, engage responsively in conversations with your customer base, and monitor in-depth analytics.
Look beyond vanity metrics
This leads us to another common error, though, which is focusing too closely on vanity metrics. Measuring likes, mentions and retweets is undoubtedly helpful, especially in terms of boosting brand awareness. However, when it comes to social media for startups and small businesses, it’s hard to connect these metrics to anything tangible. Instead, it’s worth looking at conversion rates and generated leads. These will typically be sales or subscriptions that result from a specific social media campaign, but could also be things like email list sign-ups or competition entries. By measuring these more solid metrics, you’ll have a much better idea of how well your brand’s social media strategy is working in terms of reaching your target audience.
Focus on your business
Indeed, a well thought-out and active social media strategy is vital for any small business, and it pays to engage in real-time with your followers and customers. However, it’s also all too easy to overdo social media, especially if you’re running an early-stage startup. There’s a temptation to see social media as the be all and end all of managing a modern business, but this is rarely the case. It’s a useful tool, but it’s far more important to focus on making your business everything it can be, and then let this speak for itself when it comes to your social media presence. For example, a well-designed, nicely photographed interior lends itself automatically to Instagram content, while focusing on customer service will lead to positive organic feedback on Twitter.
Use scheduling tools
On the flipside, trying to dazzle customers with a slick social media presence without a strong back-end business to support it will not work in this day and age; users are savvy and quick to see beneath the surface of an empty campaign. Instead, spend your energy running your business, and use tools such as Hootsuite and Hubspot to schedule posts and manage multiple accounts from a single dashboard.
Welcome to the dark side
Enter the conversation
One of the less well-known aspects of social media is what has come to be known as ‘dark social’, which refers to content shares and discussion that businesses are unable to monitor. Around 96% of people who discuss brands online do not actually follow those brands’ social media profiles, which means that the majority of organic buzz around your business is likely to fall under the dark social banner. In a way, this is an inevitable aspect of social media that you just have to accept, but there are ways to harness it too. The first and most important is to get into the thick of the conversation; engage in public social media discussions that concern your brand or industry. This gives you a chance to hone your brand’s voice and identity, but be careful not to squander the opportunity on aggressive plugs which will put people off.
Monitor dark analytics
It’s also worth thinking about the non-public conversation. Research by The Drum found that, despite the ubiquity of ‘share’ buttons for social media channels, 87% of online content shares are made by copying and pasting links from the address bar. This primarily relates to platforms such as Facebook Messenger, email, WhatsApp, and direct messages on public channels. Tools such as Amigo and GetSocial allow you to track such dark social shares, which could really help to direct your social media strategy in a responsive, customer-focused manner, giving you the edge on competitors still focused on public share analytics.