Whether you sell routers, pillows, shared web hosting, or car washes, your customers — and potential customers — are on social media. Not only do you need to be there too, but you also need to be there in the right way.
Jumping into the world of likes, snaps, pins, and tweets can feel overwhelming. But if you know the basics, you can build a social media brand that supports your company the same way a loyal employee does. Follow these 10 rules as you start this journey.
1. Limit Your Platforms
From Twitter to Snapchat, there are a lot of social media sites and apps out there that everyone seems to be using — plus another dozen you’ve probably never used or even heard of. However, being active on social media doesn’t have to mean using every social media platform there is. Choose just two or three and learn to use them expertly, rather than floundering your way through them all.
To determine which two or three to pick, figure out where your business’ audience already is. One way to find out is by surveying your mailing list. You can also check Google Analytics to see which social media sites most readers use to find your website by looking under Acquisitions → Social. A third way would be to watch where your competitors and other influencers in your niche spend their digital free time.
Once you’ve narrowed down your social media targets, it’ll be a lot easier to focus on offering quality content for your audience. (Plus, since you’ve only got a few places in which to learn the ropes, you won’t have to worry as much about making embarrassing social media snafus! Not that you ever would. We believe in you.)
2. Plan Everything
Although many people are attached to their phones, they are hesitant to actually use them for calling a stranger. Nowadays it’s much easier, often preferable, to post a question to a company page or feed. And if your company is too slow to respond, it will most definitely make you look bad.
Social media, however, can suck up a lot of time for busy small business owners. That’s why we recommend picking one day a week to schedule all of your posts in advance and then checking in daily to review comments and answer questions. Schedulers like Hootsuite, Buffer and Sprout Social all allow you to sync multiple social media accounts and plan your posts in advance. You could also use If This Then That to apply a rule. (For example, “If I add a new item to my Etsy shop, automatically post a photo of it on my Instagram.”)
Also strategically choose when you’re going to post. Morning is better because then you’re on the clock when questions and comments come in — as opposed to when you’re driving home in the evening.
3. Curate Content
Scheduling a week’s worth of social media in advance might seem daunting if you’re worried about where all that content is going to come from. But you don’t have to do it alone.
Chances are you already see a lot of share-worthy content online that is extremely relevant to your business. For example, if you run a grocery for people with food allergies, you probably read a lot of articles about food and health in the news. Perhaps you’ve read relevant blog posts from chefs or health advocates. These types of content may come from other people, but as long as you give credit where it’s due, there’s no reason you can’t share these links.
Sharing other people’s work isn’t just a useful way to provide content to your audience — it’s also just a nice thing to do. When you promote other people’s work (with attribution) on your social media accounts, it’s likely they’ll notice and perhaps even return the favor. Get into the habit of bookmarking helpful missives from other people so you can schedule them into posts.
4. Be Pretty
Gone are the days in which you can use boring or low-quality pictures. People expect professional businesses — even small ones — to have a social media image to match.
While a slightly blurry photo may slide on Snapchat, that same picture will not translate well on Facebook viewed on a desktop, and it can subtly damage your reputation.
A couple of options: watch tutorials on how to take good shots with your smartphone. Or track down someone with a nice camera who can spend a few hours taking pictures of your office, candids of your employees, and stylized products.
If you decide to DIY, take multiple shots, pay attention to lighting (natural light is usually best), use the rule of thirds, and remember that a picture is worth a thousand words.
5. Write Killer Captions
As important as it is to have good images, a strong caption will take your photo to the next level. Review the following tips for making your captions captivating.
Tell a Little Story
You could introduce your new sales manager with a simple “Here is so-and-so” or you could share her experience selling Girl Scout cookies. Which one would make a lasting impression? Cookies. Always.
Watch out for Repetitive Info
You don’t have much space to capture readers’ attention, so carefully choose your words. Use the “location” tool if available so you don’t have to repeat that info. Avoid using the same word twice and be succinct.
Reading your captions slowly and out loud will catch a lot of embarrassing typos. You’re just one “s” away from turning “assess” into a social media blunder.
“And they’re off!” “We had so much fun today!” “We’re over the moon.” If you don’t see these phrases on social media posts every day, you’re not on it enough. Just kidding. But start to think of using clichés like filing your taxes — an annual event.
Captions Just Want to Have Pun
See what happened there? While you generally want to avoid clichés, you do have permission to take one, tweak it to make it relevant, and voila: you’ve just entered a whole new level of caption writing. Use this site to find the idiom that’s right for you.
Run Captions by Someone Else
Something that’s funny to one person could be offensive to another. And when social blunders happen online, people take note.
Quality Is Way Better Than Quantity
If you’re showing up too often in people’s feeds, you’ll look too eager and possibly annoying. Composing thoughtful posts or tweets twice a week will fare better than hastily sharing two every day.
6. Harness Hashtags
Who would have guessed that the symbol formerly known as the pound sign would have a mid-life crisis and rebrand itself as a hashtag?
These little guys are A-list characters now, and using them correctly can help your business reach a wider audience. Obsessed with the venture capital world? Search for #VC on Twitter, for example, and you will find hundreds of thousands of posts to peruse — and lots of infographics too. Instagram now lets users follow hashtags specifically instead of individual accounts.
Using popular hashtags for your field can help potential customers find you, but, like anything that should seem simple, there are a few dos and don’ts for this catchy form of communication.
- Use popular hashtags to garner a broader interest. Instagram, for example, quantifies how many others are using a particular hashtag (Search function > tag tab). Say you’re in the business of selling bow ties. The most-popular hashtags are #bowtie, followed obviously by #bowties. Scroll down, and #bowtiesarecool, #bowtietuesday, and #bowtieready are other top options. Using all these hashtags will help you reach people who are obsessed with this form of neckwear.
- Include your company’s name and nickname in your hashtag list.
- Jump on the #TBT bandwagon. #TBT, also known as Throwback Thursday, has more than 413 million TBT hashtags on Instagram. Read this article for more marketing tips related to this retro movement.
- Try using hashtags to make people smile. If you’re selling socks, try something like #nostinkyfeet or #happyfeet.
- Use too many. Unless someone is really patient — or married to an employee — he or she won’t read through a long list of hashtags. Put the most relevant ones at the beginning and the funniest ones at the end, the two places people are most likely to read.
- Create long hashtags. Since they are harder to read without spaces, limit them to four words.
- Use hashtags that beg for bots to follow you. Remember that quantity is nice, but real, live people are best. And begging for followers is not professional. Avoid hashtags like #followme, #like4like, or anything else that could be considered pandering.
- Forget to proofread. Some words without spaces can be read different ways.
7. Know — and Engage — your Audience
Figuring out your demographic is an important step as you understand your audience. The more specific details you know about your customers, the more effective your social media messages will be. An easy way to start is to review the questions and exercises presented here.
Another tip is to build suspense. Got a new product coming out soon? Tease it a few times before you introduce it at a specific time on your accounts. If your company is hosting a conference, highlight individual presenters via social media the weeks before registration goes live.
You could also try hosting a contest or a giveaway. We all love the idea of getting something for nothing. One popular contest strategy is to give people extra entries in exchange for tagging a friend, who may end up following you. Check out a few more tips here.
Be sure to take advantage of the polls functions on Instagram and Facebook. They offer quick and painless ways to get into the minds of your customers. Or flat out ask a question in one of your posts. If you haven’t noticed by now, people are more than willing to share their opinions online.
You can also get help from your fans. Gently encourage the people who already love your business to make it a point of discussion on social media. The easiest way to do this is to make your website effortlessly shareable. You can use the Social Bookmarks or Shareaholic plugin for WordPress to add one-click share buttons for a variety of different social media sites to each post and page. Since images improve shares, you can also use a plugin like WP Facebook Open Graph Protocol to ensure that your posts automatically include a featured image when posted on Facebook.
8. Keep a Social Eye on Competitors
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right? Obviously, copying everything your competition is posting is bad business. But looking at other accounts can also spark creativity. (And in reality, there isn’t a ton of originality on social media anymore, just everyone doing the same thing a little differently.)
Ask yourself these things about your competitors — and other top brands on social media. What hashtags are they using? What kinds of posts are generating lots of comments or shares? What pins are getting lots of saves?
You can also look at the people who are interacting the most with your competitors — and follow those people too. If they are taking the time to converse about the field, there’s a good chance they will engage with you too.
Beyond social media stalking, you could even try following or liking your competitors’ posts. Just because they’re rivals doesn’t mean you can’t be friends. Who knows? They may even like you back.
9. Show Personality
If you make people snooze, you’re going to lose — followers. Brainstorm with key people to conceptualize the image you want to present, but keep in mind that social media is all about fun. It’s an escape for people, and you want to be subtle as you promote your company — and even post things that aren’t self-serving.
To get your creative juices flowing, consider these ideas and read the success stories of some other bigger businesses.
Highlight Your Employees
That guy who wears flip-flops year round? The woman who brings in a new scented candle each month for her desk? Share their stories, and you’ve got an opportunity to connect with followers.
Showcase Your Customers
Same idea here. Who was your first customer? Who was your last? Who’s your youngest? Who comes to your store every day at 2:15? It doesn’t have to be super unique — it just has to make people smile. Then, as people start posting and tagging your company, you can share their posts (assuming they’re positive and have high-quality images), and you’ve just scored some extra content in minimal time.
Use Holidays to Your Advantage
You know the main ones: Halloween, April Fools, Christmas, etc., etc. But then there are hundreds of other, slightly unofficial holidays that people go crazy for, like Star Wars Day (May 4), National French Fry Day (July 13 this year), and there’s even a Programmers Day (September 13 this year). Use this list and start brainstorming how you can use these “hashtag holidays” to influence your social media accounts. Don’t forget to tag these posts with the correct holiday name to reach a wider audience.
Share Inspirational Quotes or Fun Facts
Creating a simply-designed quote or a meme is another way to connect with your audience. Sending out happy vibes is always a good idea, just make sure you’re sourcing the right person and sharing accurate stats.
10. Product Promotions
Always Link Up
The product you’re touting needs to be a tap or a click away or else people will lose interest quickly. Including links on some social media platforms can be a little trickier than others. Instagram, for example, relegates links to bios and stories, and Snapchat has only recently allowed clickable URLs. But the extra seconds that it takes will pay off in the long run.
Who isn’t hunting for a good deal nowadays? Sharing discount codes or free shipping for followers will keep them bonded to your business. Forbes reported that 72 percent of Millennials search for a coupon before making an online purchase. Another survey said 71 percent of consumers follow specific brands on social media with the purpose of getting coupons.
Connect with Influencers
Influencers — the lifestyle accounts with large social media circles — live up to their title, and most thrive off of collaborations too. By connecting with an influencer and offering a free product in exchange for social media promotion, you’ll not only get a personal endorsement (the marketing equivalent of gold), but you’ll also get a potential new audience from their followers. Here are more details on what to expect if you dabble in influencer marketing.
We know, we know. We’ve spent the last 2,000+ words talking about how you can do this yourself. But hear it out. A lot of these social media platforms can figure out who might be a potential follower/customer/friend based on things like bios, web and app usage, and other algorithms. (If you’re really interested, read this article on some ways Facebook collects data on its users — fascinating and a little creepy too.)
If you’re serious about taking this to the next level — and especially if your target audience is on the younger side — then spending money on social media ads can help. Chances are these ads will go much further than any email newsletter will.
Although social media is used all over the world, it doesn’t mean you have to have deep pockets to jump into the game. The ads can be targeted, and these platforms offer a variety of pricing options. Check out this detailed social media advertising guide — broken down by platform — complete with steps on how to buy and create your ads.
So now you’re armed and ready with enough information to make your head spin. But just remember: social media is an escape for most people. Enjoy the creative outlet and the ability to connect with your customers in a whole new way. There will be a little rush when you get that first retweet, guaranteed.