Social Media for Business 101

Come on in - the Water's Fine!

Many businesses struggle with how to supplement their web presence with social media. Let's talk about the what, where, how, and when of building a social media presence.

Unless you’re a digital native like my fourteen-year-old daughter and her Gen Z cohorts, it can be hard to keep up with social media. After all, there are quite a few platforms - from Twitter to Snapchat and everything in between - and not all of them are a fit for every user and every audience. For example, I tend to use Facebook quite a bit, but my daughter joined and promptly quit because it was “too boring.” I have Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn accounts, but I don’t use them as much as I imagined I would when I first set up those accounts. My daughter uses Snapchat and a variety of other apps for which I am not the "right demographic." 

As individuals, we have to decide where and how we want to invest our time. Businesses and organizations have to make those same decisions. Which social media platforms (if any) are of value to a business and what is the best strategy for managing that outlet?

Where Do I Start?

Over the years, clients have asked me how to incorporate social media into their overall business presence. They’ve seen social media icons on their competitors’ websites and assume that they should take the same path. My initial response is usually something along the lines of, “How much time can you spare to keep your social media outlets up to date?” Much like a blog or a newsletter, there’s little point in signing up for something that you don’t have time to manage. A barren Facebook page is no more helpful to your business than a blog that hasn’t been updated since Obama was in office.

Let’s say that you do have the bandwidth to fit social media into your schedule (or perhaps you’ve hired a digital marketer to handle it). The next question you might ask is: which social media platforms should I use?

Here are a few of the main ones available:

  • Facebook
  • YouTube
  • Instagram
  • Pinterest
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Snapchat

There are, of course, messaging apps like Messenger and WhatsApp but today we’ll focus on the outlets listed above.

The answer to “which ones should I use?” is certainly not “all of them.” It’s impractical and you’re likely to see very little return on the huge time/effort investment you’d need to make. You’ll definitely want to focus your efforts on the platform(s) that are the best fit, and you’ll probably want to limit your outlets to two or three at the most. Don't bite off more than you can chew.

Depending on what your business or organization offers, you may quickly learn that some platforms are clearly a better fit than others. If you're a florist, for example, some of the more visual outlets like Instagram and Pinterest might work well for you (assuming that you have some splashy photos that you can use). Before you decide, however, let's give some thought to your audience. 

Who am I Trying to Reach?

Before pulling the trigger and setting up those accounts, you’ll want to give some thought to your target audience. If your audience is the under 30 crowd, it’s wise to focus on platforms where those prospects spend their time (more Snapchat, less Facebook, in other words). You might also take a look at similar businesses and see how they are faring on social media. Visit Spredfast’s visual guide to social media demographics to learn more about the virtual worlds where people congregate. When courting your target audience, it’s helpful to learn more about income levels, age, and gender (and you may be able to glean some of this information from your website analytics). Some of the statistics may surprise you. For example, did you know that YouTube has more male than female users? The Spredfast guide also includes some recommendations by industry (as you can probably guess, healthcare providers shouldn’t bother with Snapchat, but retailers certainly should!).

In addition to taking your target audience into account, you also need to keep in mind what you are offering. If you own a restaurant, it makes sense to build a social media following. After all, you can share menus, promote specials, and give diners a chance to leave reviews (for better or worse). However, if you are a B2B entity that sells widgets to other companies, social media may not hold much value for you. For companies that fall into that category, sometimes it still makes sense to set up a LinkedIn page, which adds legitimacy and can be helpful in recruiting efforts.

Take it from the Pizza Guy

When it comes to finding those pathways that will bring you the best return on your investment, don’t be afraid to get creative. More and more businesses are using video (and it’s helpful to note that most consumers are not expecting a high degree of production and editing). The owner of a pizza restaurant in my area recently added some vegan options to the menu. As he sought to expand this segment of his business, he joined a vegan group on Facebook in order to find out more about what the members seek in plant-based food options. He also makes heavy use of video in order to highlight specials like a featured ice cream. To top it off, he uses email marketing to send coupons and news. Free pizza on your birthday! My informal analysis is that these efforts are successful because when I think of pizza, guess which restaurant pops into my mind first?

The Finer Points of Sharing Content

Once you’ve decided which social media channels to use, the next step is to decide what type(s) of content to push and how often. Sometimes it’s a fine line between “give me more!” and “stop dominating my news feed.” It’s not a bad idea to create a content calendar and stick with a plan for engagement. How many times you post per day/week/month will vary by platform. This article from Louise Myers provides some good guidelines. In cases where there is no consensus (Twitter recommendations seem to vary depending on who you ask), your best bet is to round down. If you post too much and lose followers, the odds of getting them back are not great. As far as WHAT to post, there are lots of options. Though we all love a good meme, some flavors of content are more effective than others. 

A few examples of content types:

  • Polls and interactive questions (“What’s your favorite pizza topping?”)
  • Infographics - highly shareable!
  • Video
  • How-to posts 
  • Lists (“5 Ways to Make a Splash on Social Media!”)

Once you know who your audience is, which platform(s) you will use to reach them, and what content you want to share, then you can start playing around with some variables such as what time to post. The good news is that most social media outlets allow you to schedule posts. If you know you’ll be in a meeting at 10 a.m., but your research tells you that 10 a.m. is the best time to post, you can schedule it accordingly. Check out this article from Sprout Social that offers some persuasive data on the best times to post on social media.

Like most aspects of the digital world, building a social media presence is not an “if you build it, they will come” scenario. Instead, you’ll need to meet people where they are. It takes a bit of legwork but once you hit your stride, you’ll wonder why you ever hesitated to dive in.

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