Social media marketing isn’t as easy as you might think — but it’s a lot easier if you approach it effectively, rather than just improvising as you go along (a pretty much guaranteed path to social media failure).
If you’re ready to get serious about your small business’ social media marketing, it’s time to make a plan of approach.
Any one of these six steps will help improve your social media presence — taking all six steps (and following through consistently) will up the odds of your success.
Here’s your six-step plan:
#1 Research Potential Customers
Whether you’re building the first social media channels for your small business or looking to improve a floundering social media presence, researching your target audience is a crucial step that can save you time and resources in the long run.
The first thing you should do is explore all of the major social media channels — Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, Instagram, Pinterest, and LinkedIn — to get a real feel of the kind of users each has and how people interact with each.
It’s also a good idea to look at statistics, which can show you the most active social media channels, as well as demographics such as statistics on age, gender, and geographic location.
You might find that your initial social media plans were not properly targeting as many potential customers as possible. Facebook is still a must-have, just based on its sheer numbers, as you can see in the graph above.
But what about your second or third channels? You might be thinking tried-and-true Twitter is a natural choice, but if your products (or even just your brand) are highly visual, you might do better focusing on Instagram and/or Pinterest.
It’s a good idea to maintain at least 2-3 social media channels or more — keeping in mind that two strong, interactive, highly targeted channels are better than six so-so channels that are just there.
Where do you start researching the habits of potential new customers? Find companies that are similar to yours on the different social media channels.
#2 Relationship Build
It can’t be overstated: Social media is, first and foremost, social. If you’re struggling to gain traction in social media, chances are good that you’re not engaging enough.
Don’t confuse relationship building with following every random person you see in the hopes that they’ll follow you back. Every follow you give should have value.
Who should you follow? After your existing contacts, look for industry peers (yes, including competitors). After that, look for influencers in your industry (for example, people who blog about your industry and/or its products).
Once you’ve laid that foundation, look for potential customers to follow, but bear in mind, you want potential customers to follow you because you offer them something a value.
Most potential customers should be following you, not the other way around (on Facebook, it’s not even possible unless you’re B2B).
To really build relationships and increase your number of followers, you need to share your expertise in bite-sized chunks and links to more in-depth content on your website.
Don’t hold back too much — find a balance between giving your followers information they can actually use by itself and leaving them wanting more.
When you post, speak directly to your followers in a more informal voice than you would use in most business communications. Ask questions, respond to comments, and engage with peers on their own turf.
The more engaged you are, the more interest you’ll attract — never treat social media like a place to post promotional content and nothing more.
#3 Reputation Build
How do you build a reputation when there are likely many other voices with a similar authority? Find the gaps.
Listen to what people are saying about your industry. What’s missing from the conversation other industry authorities are having? What are your target audiences frustrations with your industry? What confuses or concerns them?
Hone in on these underserved topics and attack them. Interject yourself into social media discussions on these topics, offering advice. Create content that caters to these issues.
If you have a hard time finding topics that are underserved, ask. You can never have too much engagement, a straightforward question can do wonders for your insight.
Another way to find gaps while asserting your authority is to hold Question and answer sessions.
One common way to do this is by creating a unique Twitter hashtag and setting a time when people can tweet questions using it. When you go to the hashtag using the Search feature, you’ll see the questions and can reply to them for all to see.
When you’ve built up a following that gets excited when you offer to answer their questions, you’ve established yourself on social media. It may take a few sessions for it to catch on, but the impact on your reputation will be worth it.
Conversely, a bad attitude on social media, poor customer service, and other gaffes can seriously harm your reputation.
Search your brand name on social media regularly to see what people are saying about you. If you find negativity, try and nip it in the bud, as pleasantly and quickly as possible.
You probably have a social media comfort zone — maybe it’s blogging and sharing, maybe it’s creating tutorial videos, maybe it’s bantering with followers. As much as you should focus on what you know you’re good at, it’s vital to mix it up, too.
With social media, there are a couple of types of diversification: One is the diversification of channels, the other is diversification of media.
You may find that Twitter or Pinterest doesn’t work for you after trying them, but that’s part of what makes diversification so important.
It allows you to figure out what really works, and what doesn’t. If you start with assumptions of what you think will work without trying different channels, you could be committing to the wrong strategy.
Diversification of media can help you find out what works best for you, but it also helps to keep things fresh and exciting.
You might offer a blog post a couple of days a week, a weekly video, infographics, contests, and ebooks. The variety is engaging.
If it all sounds like too much, start with two things — say blogs and videos– and experiment with new things as appropriate.
When you combine your two types of diversification, you can really hit the bullseye in matching media to channel, and increasing social media engagement.
Your social media marketing strategy should be on a schedule, to allow for you to make the most out of your time (and to allow you time for the other parts of the business you need to attend to).
You may be tempted to just check Facebook throughout the day on your phone and engage as needed — and that’s not a bad use of time if you’re stuck in line at the post office for 20 minutes.
Usually, though, it’s a potential time eater that can suck you in and spit you out an hour later with nothing productive to show for it.
When you plan your social media time in an organized way, you’re on a mission. You will add and share content and respond to followers if needed.
The amount of time you schedule for social media will depend on your digital marketing plan, but, whatever it is, commit to sticking to it.
A successful social media approach adjusts as necessary. Without analytics, you’ll never know what adjustments might be needed.
Most social media platforms have some kind of analyzer, such as Facebook’s super useful Facebook Analytics for Pages.
This feature not only allows you to see how many people visit and interact with your page, it also lets you compare your activity to the competitors (or other pages) of your choosing.
You might find that you have a large following in a certain unexpected geographical area or that your page gets more activity at a certain time of day.
Whatever you learn, ask yourself if your current strategy is being implemented to get the most out of the metrics. Are you posting in the morning but people interact with your page in the evening?
Adjust your schedule (use a social media scheduler such as HootSuite if necessary). Is your main demographic older or younger than you expected? Keep that in mind as you develop your brand voice.
And, of course, you can see which of your posts excel — and which bomb. Chances are, you’ll find that the more visual and dynamic your posts are, the more effective. Your mileage may vary.
From research to analytics, this is a tried and true approach. Just don’t expect things to blow up overnight and get frustrated. A social media strategy is built up over time — give it time (and plenty of consistent work), and you’ll see the difference.
If you have your own social media tips to share, post them in the comment section!
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