Social Media for the Small Business

Amy McIlwain

By Amy McIlwain | August 8, 2017

We live in the era of social media. It pervades our lives, shaping it in ways we hardly recognize. Small business owners may hear “they need to be on social media,” but they often don’t know where to start or what to do. They end up going through a robotic exercise of simply posting content without really understanding what they’re trying to achieve first.

It’s important for small business owners to take a step back and put together a cohesive strategy. Social is just a piece of a bigger digital strategy, so it requires a look at all of the pieces and how they fit together. There’s no silver bullet to this.

I’ve heard people say, “I’ve tried that Facebook stuff and it doesn’t work.” Or, “I’ve tried a blog and it doesn’t work.” Well, doing just one of these activities is like trying to balance on a one-legged stool. You need to have a holistic strategy in place to help achieve your goals. It starts with your website, which should be the hub of your online marketing, while social focuses on turning strangers into consumers of your content, leading them back to your website. Once they’re at your website, that’s where they’re going to see all of this great content, learn more about you, download a whitepaper, sign up for a newsletter. They’ll go into your email marketing campaign, which nurtures them as they educate themselves on their needs, your offering and, ultimately, asking for an appointment.

You can even do the math on this. For example, take a financial advisor who has created a whitepaper around social security timing. He hosts it on his website and uses social media to drive traffic to it. If 1,000 people come to this landing page, and 20 percent of them sign up for more information, that’s 200 people or potential clients that are now signed up for his email campaign. He takes them through a nurture sequence over the next few weeks and months, and perhaps 10 percent of them eventually schedule an appointment. That’s 20 appointments. If he closes half of them, that’s 10 new clients.

The math should drive everything in social media. How much did it cost to drive traffic to your website, and what did it yield? That’s the biggest problem for a lot of small business owners, who fail to connect the dots by nurturing people through the entire funnel.

Social media is really just a way to position you as an expert and get your name known among your potential clients. When I was running my own business, I had a blog. The most important thing anyone with a small business can do is to start blogging. Simply get a regular cadence of putting content out there, once a month to start, ideally try to build up to once a week. For me, I didn’t stop at just putting my posts on my website, but I also sent them to my local newspapers and shared them on LinkedIn. The goal is to differentiate yourself from your competitors, positioning yourself as a subject matter expert and staying top of mind.

People don’t need to be good writers to do this. A whitepaper or a one-pager is great, but you can also publish shorter blog posts. You can share third-party content. You can do videos. You can create an offer. One simple tip: Take the five questions that customers ask you most often about your product or service, then write a three- to five-paragraph blog post to answer each question, or do a quick video on the topic. It can be as simple as that.

Here are five simple steps to getting started with social media:

Step one, what are you trying to achieve with your social activities? Are you trying to attract new clients, increase referrals, respond to customer service inquiries, or shape coverage in the media? Identify what you’re trying to achieve.

Step two, what is your target audience? If you are trying to reach prospective clients, what do you know about them? What do they want to know, who do they listen to, who are they influenced by, what networks are they on? You need to understand your target audience to be able to reach them online, as each social media platform has its own demographics. If you are trying to connect with other business owners or more professionals, attorneys, or doctors, LinkedIn is a network that you should highly consider. If you’re looking to connect with media, if you’re looking to connect with members of the tech scene, Twitter is a better platform. If you’re looking to target the baby boomer or Gen X audience, Facebook is a great place right now. If you’re looking to connect with moms and women, Pinterest is the platform. For millennials, try Instagram or Snapchat.

Step three, are there rules or regulations that govern the use of social in your industry? There are special restrictions for using social media in financial services and other highly regulated industries. You need to be up-to-date on the rules and regulations in your profession, particularly in how social media content is classified. Is it an advertisement, or is it communication? There are different rules involved here, such as maintaining an archive or getting pre-approval of certain types of content. Do your due diligence.

Step four, find technology that can support you along the way. There are tools that can help you get an integrated look at your social media campaigns and allow you to schedule posts at different times to different platforms. This will allow you to manage your social media from a central dashboard.

Step five, put metrics and key performance indicators in place to measure your progress in achieving your goals. For example, if you are trying to reach new clients on social, maybe one of your goals could be to schedule two phone calls a week as a result of a connection you make on LinkedIn.

One of the questions I often get is, “Where do you start?” It’s simple. You start by listening. Traditional advertising embodies one-to-many messaging. That is, your billboard sits by the side of the road, shouting your message to everyone who drives by. Social media is more of a dialogue. It’s a conversation, and we really need to listen first and talk second. Join a few social media sites, follow your customers, your competitors, your peers, and your fellow thought leaders. Then, listen to the conversation, only joining in when you feel you have something to add.

I remember when I started out on Twitter back in 2007; my first efforts were very robotic. I didn’t quite get it, until one day I was in Argentina and I wanted to find a place to watch the Cincinnati Bengals in the playoffs. I tried using Google to search for “sports bars Argentina,” but I wasn’t finding anything. So I turned to Twitter and searched for people within 30 miles of me who were tweeting about the Bengals. Sure enough, my search brought up some names, and I sent out tweets to these strangers, who invited me to join them at a sports bar where we could cheer on the Bengals. The Bengals ended up losing, but I ended up winning some new friends and gained a new understanding of the power of social media.

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