This is a two-part series on social media for small businesses in the age of COVID-19. In Part 1, we discussed the role social media is playing during the COVID-19 crisis, what that means for small businesses, and how you, as a merchant, can best approach your social media strategy.
Here in Part 2, we present a list of the mainstream social media platforms with tips and best practices, and a brief overview of three tools you can use to optimize your social media presence.
This might sound like blasphemy, but no, content isn’t king. Marketing strategy really rules the kingdom, and content is its fortress. It’s tempting to just dive right into content creation—and certainly much more fun. All those photo shoots on the beach… Equally mesmerizing are all those likes and followers. But these are just vanity metrics. They don’t guarantee action, sales, or, for that matter, a return on investment of your time or resources.
Marketing strategy requires a much deeper dive than any blog post could possibly offer; entire books—libraries—have been written about it, and about subsets of it (email marketing, content marketing, social media marketing…). Let it suffice to say that your first step, before you dive into the social media pool, is to arm yourself with strategic goals & objectives, and the metrics you’ll use to track those goals and objectives.
In other words, rather than worry about how many people are liking or following your content, we recommend making your business goals very clear. This will help drive your social media marketing strategy. For example, do you want your social media accounts to:
Next, define your target audience. Who are the people you feel would engage with your business the most? If you’re an established business, you no doubt already have a good sense of your customers. If you’re just starting out, you might need to do a little research—and here’s where social analytics, competitive analysis, and a little social listening can give you gold.
Another area that needs your attention is establishing the metrics that matter to you. Forget likes and yes, even followers. Look at reach—how many unique users are seeing your content? Are they sharing it? Clicks—how many people are interacting with your content, your brand? Hashtags—are people using following or using your hashtags? Which ones? Most critically, how does all this engagement translate for your bottom line?
Having considered all of the above, what kind of stories, narratives, or perspectives are likely to interest your audiences? Perhaps your content is already engaging them, but you want to take it to the next level.
You won’t be able to answer all of these questions straight away; a good marketing strategy is one that evolves over time, and is kept fresh as new data and observations come in. There is much more to a good strategy—so rather than reinvent the wheel, here are links to two organizations that have done the legwork for you:
Now let’s take a look at six of the mainstream social media platforms: Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Twitter, and YouTube.
In brief (source)
Facebook is the largest social network on the planet and needs no introduction. Despite all the recent controversy, small businesses can still leverage the power of this platform. A business can have a “page” or a “group”—or both. A page is simply your organization’s or company’s profile, complete with a description, web site, contact info and hours. According to Facebook, two thirds of users it surveyed say they visit the Facebook page of a business at least once a week.
A Facebook group, simply put, is a community. The nice thing about groups is that they notify users of new posts by default; on the other hand, they typically take more effort. Like any other online community, they’ll require your ongoing TLC and non marketing content and interaction. But the potential ROI is significant. Remember the power of relationships we covered in Part 1? A Facebook group can become your virtual village.
Pro tip: Consider using Facebook Live and Facebook Stories. Facebook Live is—you guessed it—a video broadcast live on Facebook. Great format to share your news or announcements in real time. You can even take people on a virtual tour of your restaurant, retail shop, or studio space. Facebook Stories are vertically formatted images or short videos that disappear after 24 hours. They’re seen by half a billion people daily and live at the top of the News Feed, which means they’re not affected by the infamous Facebook algorithm (which can kill your well-intentioned Facebook post). More on Facebook Stories here.
In brief (source)
Some social media channels lend themselves more naturally to visuals, and Instagram is certainly one of the most elegant. You might have read articles that wax poetic about Instagram’s soulmate-like connection to the creatives (artists, musicians, actors, and photographers) and their corporate counterparts (fashion and travel brands, restaurants, florists, beauty salons). So if you have a business that doesn’t sell gorgeous product, you should forget about Instagram, right?
Any business can find a way to present itself in a visually appealing way, and use Instagram to its advantage. Just as an image is worth a thousand words, so a story is worth a thousand likes. If you have a story to tell, you can use Instagram. Whether it’s your product, your space, your people, or your customers, you can tell many different kinds of stories. You can post a single image with or without text. A series of images up to 10. A grid of 3, 6, or 9 images that create a visually striking display. Videos (up to 1 minute). You can run an Instagram Story—that tells yours with images.
Pro tip: Make sure you set up—or switch to—a business profile. That makes it easy for your followers to contact you right from your Instagram page. You also gain the ability to run Instagram ads without relying on Facebook, and access Instagram’s analytics, called Insights. You can decide where to drive visitors, and determine the target audience—either a look-alike audience or a new one that you define.
In brief (source)
LinkedIn is the platform par excellence for professionals and business-to-business (B2B) interaction. As most social media networks, it’s free but also has a paid Premium version that allows you to connect with more people and send messages to people you’re not connected to. It’s a great tool if you’re looking to hire, or be hired. And for B2B marketers, LinkedIn is the absolute heavyweight.
That’s all great, you might be thinking. But should you use LinkedIn if you’re B2C? Say, a restaurant, bookshop, or clothing store. Certainly not the same way or for the same reasons you’d use Facebook or Twitter. Think of LinkedIn as your personal professional network—a great place to connect with other business owners, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders. Think of it as your online village of expertise and knowledge.
Pro tip: If you’re in sales or a small business owner who wants to increase or change their sales funnel, LinkedIn has another paid feature called Sales Navigator. It’s a sales prospecting tool that takes social selling to a new level with the power of LinkedIn’s database. What’s social selling? If you’ve ever posted a picture of your product or a message about your service on social media, you’ve done it. Social selling is leveraging social channels to sell products and services. Here’s more about Sales Navigator from the people who write the “For Dummies” series.
In brief (source)
Pinterest is best for businesses who thrive on visual media. Like YouTube, it’s a visual search engine, but instead of videos it uses “pins.” People who share their visual content are affectionately called “pinners.” Even the company’s stock symbol is “PINS.”
Pinterest is particularly popular with the art, design, and crafting communities, as well as food, furniture, and books. Your business not in any of these areas? Before you write Pinterest off, think about what story your product or service could tell visually. Pins don’t have to be professionally produced magazine-cover photography. You can pin photos of your lattes if you’re a coffee shop. Spa gift sets if you’re a beauty salon. Baskets of bread or pastries if you’re a bakery. You can create infographics that present data, facts, or stats about your industry in an engaging way. Try a series of inspirational quotes against a background, maybe even a wall or window at your store location.
People use Pinterest to shop, get inspired, and share ideas with their friends. So even if one pinner doesn’t click all the way through to your site, she might repin your content and share with her networks. Plus, Pinterest is the fourth most popular social media network in the United States. You heard that right. It ranks ahead of Twitter and LinkedIn, according to Hootsuite (and they should know). It’s also the only social platform that offers visual search—and 62% of millennials and Gen Zers say they want to be able to search by image (see this guide on marketing for Pinterest by Hootsuite).
Pro tip: Just like you can repost in Instagram and retweet in Twitter, you can repin in Pinterest—which helps enhance your boards (collections of pins) without the added effort of creating new content. And did you know about Promoted Pins, available only to businesses? Check out these and many other marketing tips in Buffer’s How to Use Pinterest: Insider Guide for Businesses, informed by Pinterest’s own inhouse team.
In brief (source)
In the words of our own social media expert, Twitter is “the closest social platform to a real-time conversation.” Twitter itself stresses that point—it’s not about the selfie or even the original post, but rather the thread, the exchange, the conversation that the original post galvanizes.
On this platform, visuals are not as critical; text-only tweets are perfectly fine. Twitter is great for news and announcements. For years, the maximum length of a tweet was 140 characters, which the company has now doubled. If that’s still not long enough, you can craft a series of tweets that roll up into a thread—just be sure to annotate each tweet appropriately. If you’ve got a series of five tweets, for example, you’d append “1/5” at the end of the first tweet, “2/5” at the end of the second, and so on.
You can also host Twitter Chats and organize your own collection of Twitter Moments. What are chats and moments? A Twitter chat is an online conversation hosted by a Twitter user (for our purposes, you). You choose a topic for the chat, set the time and date, and create a hashtag that users can use to participate in or simply follow the chat. Twitter Moments are collections of tweets on a theme (access them through the “More” menu just below “Profile.” Twitter has pre-set categories of moments that you can browse through, but you can put together your own and post those on your business profile. For example, you can organize your tweets according to topic: product announcements, events, customer stories, and the like.
And of course, what mature social platform wouldn’t allow its business users to advertise? On Twitter, you can do ads or promoted tweets.
Pro tip: Take advantage of Twitter’s search engine to uncover trending topics, research keywords, or check out how businesses similar to yours are using the platform.
Bonus pro tip: Twitter publishes an annual marketing calendar listing popular events and dates that you can download. The calendar includes tips for tweeting about these events, so don’t miss out on this resource.
In brief (source)
You might think of YouTube as the haven for silly animal vines, fail compilations, and alternate universes of teenage gamers, but that’s just one (ok, three) side of this quietly powerful platform. Not only is YouTube the third largest search engine in the world—not second, as marketing mythology would have it, and here’s more on that if you really want to get into it—nearly half of all marketers are thinking about adding YouTube to their mix, according to Hubspot.
You might also think, well that’s all good but my audience isn’t on YouTube. But consider this: according to HubSpot’s research, people spend a third of their online time watching videos, YouTube reaches more people in the 18-49 age range than any broadcast or cable network, and almost 60% of executives prefer video to text.
But we get it. Creating videos isn’t as easy or fast as typing up a tweet or snapping a photo. If you’re not on YouTube yet, it’s not the end of the world, but if you’ve got stories to tell that might really capture people’s hearts (and eyes and minds) better in video, you might want to consider brushing off that camcorder. The good news is, especially these days, that you don’t need a multi-million dollar production to tell a good story on video. As long as you’re clear on strategy, business goals, and what stories will help you achieve those goals, you can harness video more easily than you think. And yes, of course you can promote your videos.
Here’s more on marketing for YouTube from Neil Patel.
Pro tip: When you upload your videos, make sure to select the right thumbnail (the reduced-size image that represents your video in search results, suggestions, and other lists), and to add your logo to it. Thumbnails are what people see when they’re browsing through videos to watch—and the last thing you want representing you in an ocean of videos is a random frame from yours. And why the logo? Even if people don’t click on your video to watch it, they’ll have seen your brand. The next time they see your video, they might just remember that logo, and click on your video as opposed to someone else’s.
Now that you’ve gotten this far, how does it feel? It’s a lot to take in, especially if you’re just starting out on social, or if you’ve been active on some platforms but want to expand. Or maybe you’ve got all your accounts set up, just no time to produce content, engage, respond to people… whatever your specific situation, there are ways you can streamline social.
This is where applications like Hootsuite, Sprout, and Buffer can help. They’re called social media management tools, and they can turn your social media headaches into an enjoyable part of marketing your business. They enable you to set up and schedule posts on multiple platforms, determine optimal times for posting, and let you see how your posts are performing. Let’s dive right in, shall we?
Basic cost: $15 per month, billed monthly (single user)
Buffer is an easy-to-use social media management tool that helps you manage multiple social media accounts, schedule posts across multiple social accounts, and drill down into analytics. Its calendar view feature gives you a good overview of your posting schedule, and it has intuitive, efficient drag-and-drop publishing capabilities.
Buffer can get expensive as you add user accounts, and its scheduling, reporting, and analytics functions cannot, in the words of one review, “compare to those of Hootsuite.” But if you’re looking for a reasonably priced, clean, easy-to-use centralized interface for social media publishing, Buffer is a great option.
Basic cost: $29 per month, billed annually
One of the most recognizable names in the social media management space, Hootsuite is a powerful, highly customizable dashboard that allows multiple users (teams) to monitor social analytics, post, schedule future posts, and even manage social advertising.
On the down side (for some), Hootsuite’s most powerful features are available only in the higher-tier enterprise plans, and more advanced users may find the analytics not deep enough.
Overall however, Hootsuite is one of the most open, comprehensive, and integrated social media management tools on the market. It has a wide range of solutions for SMBs (small to midsize businesses), ranging from curation and posting to collaboration and scheduling. It works with over 250 apps and platforms (such as Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft business apps, and others). PC Mag calls Hootsuite “the Swiss-knife of social media management solutions.”
For more, check out this comparison of Hootsuite vs Buffer.
Basic cost: $99 per user, billed monthly
Moving on to Sprout. Sprout Social is Sprout’s social media management tool, a full-service mix of publishing, scheduling, and analytics. It offers strong CRM (customer relationship management, oriented specifically to social media) and reporting functionality, help desk features, as well as social listening and influencer identification.
As one of the first social media management solutions, Sprout has accumulated a deep well of data points and insights from over 25,000 clients, which in turn helps you as a small business user. The only drawback is that the social listening and keyword monitoring options are fairly limited in the Basic tier, which is already the most expensive of the three tools listed here.
Note that these are just three of the tools available to you. PC Mag has done an extensive comparison of social media management tools that you might want to check out.
We hope this two-part series on social media has been helpful to you. Remember to tag us on your social channels so we can tag you right back! #Clover is our main hashtag. See you on the social side!
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