As fast as social media arrived in the early 2000s, it continues to grow and evolve.
Today, social media dominates almost all marketing conversations and is leveraged by millions of companies to engage audiences, build loyalty, increase website traffic, and ultimately, sales. The numbers are staggering. Forecasters predict that in 2019, it is estimated that there will be around 2.77 billion social media users across the globe, up from 2.46 billion in 2017. Additionally, the average person spends nearly two hours on social media every day.
Given its influence on customers, most people would agree that every business should utilize social media in some capacity. If your customers use social media, it seems to follow that you would want your message to be there as well. Add in the fact social media provides the ability to precisely target your audience based on highly specific demographic information, and then immediately deliver powerful analytics showing you the reach of your message, it is hard to argue that social media shouldn’t be a part of your marketing strategy.
But, while most businesses have an opportunity to benefit from properly executed social media strategies, in certain situations, it might not always be the best solution.
Here are four questions to ask yourself when evaluating whether your business should have a social media presence. And if you’ve been using social media but struggle to connect with your customers, these questions will help you troubleshoot your strategy.
If your customers are only located in California, it wouldn’t make sense to place a newspaper advertisement in Connecticut. It is the same concept when you consider your social strategy. You need to confirm your customers are actually using social media and if they are, determine the platforms they are using.
How can you do this? First, identify your ideal customer. From there, ask them directly. Inquire when they are in your store, during a service call, or send out an email survey with a few basic questions. Additionally, do some research yourself. Given its reach and the impact it has had on our lives, there is a lot of data available related to social media usage and user habits. The Pew Research Center has a helpful breakdown of where audiences spend their time online, which will help you pinpoint your customer’s preferred platforms based on demographic information.
Once you find your customers and understand what platforms they most like to use, you will know where to focus your efforts. Don’t get hung up on the technology itself. Rather, focus on how you can use each platform to engage and connect with your target audience. It’s worth noting, while very rare, if you discover your target audience is in fact not utilizing social media, then you just saved yourself a lot of time and frustration by not launching a social strategy. Instead, you can utilize your resources to deliver messages via channels your customers are actually using.
Start by listing your goals. What is the catalyst for launching a social media strategy? What are you hoping to accomplish? Be as specific as possible. Once you have your ideas down, evaluate whether social media is a good vehicle to use, or whether there are better tactics you should consider to meet those goals. As a starting point, a few common, broad social media goals could include:
- Build credibility
- Increase brand awareness
- Attract new customers
- Improve ROI of marketing initiatives
- Increase in-person sales
- Increase inbound website traffic
- Increase website conversions
One common challenge that small business owners often face is finding the time to develop and execute their social media strategy. What do you need to consider?
Time to create engaging content
Creating content and creating content that engages your audience are two different things. As social media has become more and more competitive, and algorithms change giving higher rankings to more engaging content, the success of your strategy will hinge on your ability to create content that engages.
What do we mean by that? You want clicks, comments, likes, retweets, and shares. When just starting out, you’ll learn a lot from trial and error. By looking at analytics for each of your tweets, posts, videos or stories, you’ll be able to see what content is receiving the most engagement. The platforms you use will dictate the type of content you need to produce. Videos for YouTube, pictures and stories for Instagram, and a mix of content (think blogs, eBooks, white papers, podcasts, videos, links and pictures) for Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.
Time to post your content and respond to comments
Creating your content will likely take the most time, but you also need to consider how much time it will take to post that content. Videos, tweets and Facebook stories don’t post themselves. Someone within your organization will need to take responsibility for posting regularly.
There are a plethora of articles out there that talk about the sweet spot for the frequency of posting. Keep in mind that when you post on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, that content is posted in real-time, and the people who are on the site at that moment and connected to you may see it.
We believe frequency of posting depends on your audience. Analytic tools can help you understand when your fans and followers are most active. For example, Facebook’s Insights tool will show you the best day of the week and time of day to post based on when your specific fans are most likely logged on to their accounts. This information is valuable as you work to get your posts in front of as many people as possible. We could write an entire article on frequency of posting. Bottom line: Do your research and pay attention to your audience.
There are some great resources out there that allow you to schedule your posts across multiple channels. Let’s say you only have a few hours a week to devote to posting your content. Tools allow you to schedule multiple posts for your entire week at one time. They’ll be distributed on the appropriate channel on the date and time you entered into the system. Buffer, HootSuite, and SproutSocial are popular options. The only warning we’ll give with using a scheduling assistant: Don’t forget about your posts. Be sure you are still logging in to respond to comments and questions. If your content is engaging, you should be expecting comments that require a response. This is the whole point of social media — to engage your audience and increase interactions.
Time to grow your fan base
Build it and they will come? Not always with social media. Yes, if you have a post or video go viral, you’ll likely see a quick increase in the number of people connecting to you and your accounts, however, viral posts aren’t easy to come around. Here are some common strategies you can use to grow your fan base:
- Create great content. Content is king on social media.
- Tag other people, business partners, or organizations you are connected to, especially influencers.
- Share other people’s content that is associated with your brand or brand story.
- Invite current customers and stakeholders to connect with your accounts.
- Promote your social media accounts across all communications (e.g., letterhead, email signature, website, traditional print advertisements, and at trade shows).
- Consider paying to have posts or videos boosted. (We’ll talk more about this in a bit.)
- Leave genuine comments and questions on other posts that are connected to your brand.
- Use hashtags.
Time to analyze analytics
We’ve mentioned it earlier, but one of the advantages of using social media is the trove of data and analytics it provides. When we say “analytics” what we are referring to is the data gathered about user behaviors on social platforms. How do you make sure your social media efforts have the right impact on your target market? Data.
Consider the last print advertisement you ran in your local newspaper or national trade magazine. Did you know exactly how many people your ad reached? Was that reach broken down by age and location? The answer is no. Traditional advertising channels can’t offer us this type of insight. They can give you a breakdown of their readership, but you have no way of knowing if those readers actually engaged with your ad. With social media, you have these analytics, and for any marketer serious about their outcomes, this information is invaluable.
The majority of today’s most popular social media platforms have free analytic tools built into them. There are also a number of free or subscription-based services that will provide additional analytics. While the sky is the limit with what you can track, our favorite metrics include:
- Web traffic
And there is one more resource aside from time you need to consider: money. Great content rules on social media, but if you want to give your posts a boost in order to reach more of your target audience, you’ll want to consider investing some cash into your social strategy.
Those businesses that launch their social media strategy by shouting from the rooftops just how great their product or service is over and over — they will drive their audiences away. We can’t stress it enough: Social media users are using the platform to connect and become informed. As you think about the content you plan to share, make sure you do so with the customer in mind. Be authentic and use content that engages. A promotional post every now and then is acceptable, and strong social media strategies include them, but your focus should be more on content that educates, engages and positions your business as the expert in your market. Show how your employees, products or services help your customers — don’t tell.
It sounds like a lot of work. And a well-executed social strategy is. But if you are confident that a) your audience is using social media, b) your goals can be accomplished, and c) you have resources available to properly execute your strategy, then utilizing social media is indeed a no-brainer. Whether you embark on the journey yourself, or hire an agency to assist, the benefits you can receive are substantial:
- Increased brand awareness and loyalty
- Connection to and engagement with your current and future customers
- Increased traffic to your website and generation of new leads
- Positioning of your expertise in your community and industry
- Clear understanding of reach and ROI of your social marketing initiatives
For the majority of businesses, building your presence on social networks is important. As you consider launching your own social media business presence or as you evaluate your current strategy, remember the following:
- Make sure you understand your audience and where they spend their time on social media. That’s where you need to focus your efforts. Every platform may not be the perfect fit for your business.
- Outline your goals. Will social media allow you to reach them? If yes, determine how you will use it to meet these goals.
- Allocate appropriate resources to ensure you can properly execute your strategy. Consider time to not only create engaging content but also post it and interact with your followers.