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Choosing social media channels that are right for your business

By now, most small business owners realize that being active on social media should be an important part of their digital marketing strategy. But there are more social media channels than ever, and the landscape is constantly shifting – it can be hard to determine which channels are most important, and how to prioritize time spent on social media marketing. In this podcast, we’ll talk about how to evaluate the channels available as you develop a social media strategy that’s right for you.

Getting started

A lot of the “best-practices” social media articles out there seem to be written for bigger companies, and recommend a level of involvement in social media — both in terms of number of channels and posting schedule — that’s completely unrealistic for most small businesses. It’s no wonder that a lot of people throw up their hands in frustration.

We believe that it is far better to commit to one or one or two social media channels, rather than spread yourself too thin over several. (You can always add more later, if you wish). Before we discuss the social media that are available, let’s consider the following factors — your audience, what you want to say to them, and most importantly, what they might want to hear from you.

Where’s your audience?

Before you think about channels, think about your audience. If you’ve done any marketing planning, you’ve developed a basic demographic profile of your target audience. You should choose the social media that best represent the demographics of your audience, but the reality is that this can be pretty broad. If you’re a B2B, this question can be harder.

However, if you have social media channels established already, you may have more information than you realize about which ones are working best for you – if you have Google Analytics on your website, check Analytics – Social – Overview. You’ll see which have provided the most referrals to your site.

What do you want to say to your audience?

Then, think about what you want to communicate to your audience. What social media do the best job at that? Is your product or service visually oriented? Would videos make sense at all?

What does your audience want to hear from you?

Where your audience is and what you want to say to them are obvious considerations – but a lot of people don’t go beyond that in planning a social media strategy. The biggest question is, what do your customers and prospects want to hear and see from you? It’s not that you can’t promote sales, new products and services etc. on social media, but if that’s all you’re putting out there, you’re missing a big opportunity.

Think about it — people are on social media to be social, to see photos of their friends’ kids, talk about news, and interact with others. People generally don’t turn to social media to find out about sales and promotions — a soft sell is much more effective.

What can you post that will intrigue your customers, help them, engage them, show them that you share their values and interests, and make them care about your company? Think about what you like to see from businesses when you use social media yourself. How can you make your posts about your customers and their passions, rather than all about you?

Which social media should you be on?

A full 74% of Internet users use at least one form of social media. The younger you are, the more likely you are to use it — full 89 percent of people aged 18-29 use social media, and 82 percent of those 30-49. Here are some thoughts about the social media out there:

Facebook

Facebook is still pretty much still the king of social media for all age groups, with over a billion users worldwide. A full 71 percent of online adults use it, and many feel they can’t live without it. For a full discussion of Facebook for small business, check out this podcast.

  • Facebook’s organic reach is declining, but it’s still a worthwhile outlet for most companies. Organic reach refers to the number of people who see a Page’s post without any advertising or “sponsorship” dollars behind it. The organic reach of Page posts has been declining since Facebook’s IPO a few years ago — however, the more people engage with a post, the more people will see it. It’s not as valuable as an free promotional tool as it once was, but Facebook is still a worthwhile social media outlet for most businesses, especially B2C companies.
  • What to post: photos get lower reach, but tend to get more likes – which then boosts their reach. You should vary the types of posts you make — articles, photos, and text only — but photos tend to be popular.
  • How often to post: aim for a few times a week at least. You can schedule posts in advance, which is a great timesaver.
  • Download Pages app to manage your Page from your smartphone. This is different than your regular Facebook app that you may use for your personal Facebook profile, and makes it much easier to post, snap photos and upload them to your Page, and respond to any comments you might receive.
  • When to post: Mix it up in terms of posting time. Your Insights tab gives info on when your Page’s fans are online, but we’ve found that changing the times of posting can really help boost your reach. You should even experiment with posting in the evening, or on weekends — times many “best practices” articles say to avoid. Scheduling posts in advance makes experimentation easy.

Twitter

Twitter is a microblog, a much briefer format than Facebook. It’s more of a news-oriented social media, and is definitely a place to be funny and quirky. It’s still the king of mobile media. While just 23 percent of online adults use it as opposed to Facebook’s 71 percent, Twitter users tend to be very active and engaged. A full discussion of Twitter for small business can be accessed here.

Some key points:

  • There is no difference between business and personal presences on Twitter, and following is not reciprocal. Unlike most social media, Twitter does not have a separate type of profile for business use — businesses can do everything an individual can do, which is not only fun but useful.
  • That said, Twitter is probably less of a priority for many businesses. If you feel you’re pressed for time, Twitter is probably not a social medium you should prioritize.
  • To use it well, make lists. Twitter is the best social medium for keeping on top of what’s going on in your industry and the world in general, if you use it correctly. Categorize key people you follow into lists — for example, Prime Design Solutions maintains lists titled clients/partners, design news, social media experts, and so on — so we see the tweets of the entities that are most important to us, and don’t miss vital industry news, client updates, and other information.
  • Hootsuite is an invaluable tool for monitoring these lists, and for scheduling tweets. Hootsuite is a free social media management tool that allows you to arrange your Twitter feed into a dashboard that looks something like an Excel spreadsheet, so that you can see your main feed, tweets that mention you, and the different lists you’ve established. You can also use Hootsuite to schedule tweets in advance, which is really hard to do from the Twitter interface itself. (Hootsuite can also be used to schedule Facebook posts in advance, if you like).
  • Ideally, tweet a couple times a day. If you’re not retweeting others’ content, you’re doing it wrong – one of the key points about Twitter is that it is a conversation. You can use Twitter’s new “add comment” feature to get in on the conversation. Use hashtags to make your tweets searchable on topics that are relevant to your business.
  • Use the Twitter app on your smartphone to tweet, monitor your activity, and tweet photos. It’s really easy to post a quick tweet this way.
  • Do NOT link Twitter to Facebook or vice versa. It’s possible to link your Facebook Page to a Twitter feed, so that everything you post on Facebook goes out over Twitter (or vice versa). At first glance, this sounds like a terrific timesaver, and a great way to hit two audiences at once — but it’s a really bad idea. It’s against Twitter etiquette, for starters. Also, Facebook is not governed by Twitter’s 140-character limit, which means that any longer Facebook post will be truncated on Twitter. Again, for Twitter to be effective, you have to be actively responding to people, retweeting others’ content, and using Twitter the way it’s supposed to be used — not as a way to re-broadcast Facebook posts.

Google+

Google+ is a newer social media, and in some ways easy to ignore — but this is a mistake. It’s the second largest social network with 540 million active users. Further, even if you don’t post, anytime you’re logged into any Google product (including Gmail and YouTube), you’re logged into G+.

We recommend that all businesses claim their G+ Page (if you have a physical location, you almost certainly have one already, because of the very concrete search engine optimization benefits. If attracting people to your website is important to you, you need G+ — you can read more about how it works here. Some of the basics of G+:

  • Make sure your website and your G+ Page are linked to each other. This ensures you unlock the SEO benefits of your G+ Page (the podcast linked above has detailed information on how to do that).
  • Once you get it set up, you can post more infrequently to G+ and still get benefits. Most social media is like a muscle — the more you use it, the better it works. G+ is like that too, of course, but you can get away with pretty infrequent posts. You also don’t need to monitor your G+ on your phone.
  • G+ is probably the best social media on which to interact with experts on a shared interest. The communities on G+ are a really useful place to get information from people who know what they’re talking about.

YouTube

More and more businesses are unlocking the power of video to help them market their goods and services.

Here are a few notes about YouTube:

  • It’s easier than ever to produce videos. In this digital age, producing a professional-looking video is inexpensive, requiring only a simple camera and free or inexpensive editing software. For example, we have a client who asked us to produce an animated intro intro, and he produces content regularly.
  • Google owns YouTube – if you have a G+ Business Page, you should link it to your YouTube. This amplifies the search engine optimization benefits.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is the only social media that’s meant exclusively for business, and some 28 percent of online adults use it. Like Facebook or G+, you establish both a personal and a company page on LinkedIn.

  • You should establish your company page on LinkedIn, but these are less useful than company pages for many forms of social media. Company pages for smaller businesses on LinkedIn take forever to grow, and don’t get a lot of reach without paid promotion. We recommend establishing your page, but your updates can be infrequent.
  • LinkedIn is best used as a networking tool. Anyone in your company who’s involved in sales, prospecting, or customer service should use their personal LinkedIn profile to network with customers and prospects. Again, this is the only social media specifically for business, so people are in a business frame of mind when they use it. That’s invaluable.
  • There are a number of networking tools built into the interface. These can be useful for any salesperson who meets a lot of people, allowing you to take notes about prospects or customers you meet, when to follow up with them, and so on. (Click here for more.)
  • Publishing longer-form posts can be a great way to showcase your expertise. In the relatively recent past, LinkedIn has made it possible for all members to publish longer-form posts. This allows you to showcase your expertise to a highly qualified audience of customers and prospects, and the post will remain a permanent part of your LinkedIn profile.

Instagram

Instagram is one of the fastest-growing social networks, and as of now about 26 percent of online adults use it — its use is growing among teens, and in fact it’s the fastest-growing social network out there. There are 200 million active users, posting photos and videos.

  • Instagram is for products that are visually oriented. If your product or service isn’t visually interesting, this isn’t a good outlet for you.
  • You can create a feed on your website if you’re a business that is visually interesting. Increasingly, businesses are streaming their Instagram feeds on their websites — it’s a great way to get more followers, and an easy way to keep your website fresh with every-changing images related to your product or service.
  • The Instagram smartphone app makes it easy to snap, edit, and upload photos. 
  • Instagram is owned by Facebook, and it’s easy to share an Instagram photo to your business Page on Facebook. It’s also possible to share your Instagram shots to Twitter, but the Twitter interface will make people click on a link to see the image — so it’s better to post your photo directly to Twitter rather than through Instagram.

Pinterest

Pinterest is an online scrapbook, where people can “pin” images found all over the Internet. People pin images they find interesting, inspirational, or in some way worth saving for later reference — users can browse others’ accounts to see what they’ve pinned, and “repin” their content. About 28 percent of online adults use it.

  • Pinterest is similar to Instagram, but in some ways better – listing prices makes it easier for people to find and buy. People on Pinterest are often willing to buy directly, so if you have e-commerce on your site for a product that’s visually appealing, you should absolutely invest time in this social medium.
  • Pinterest can’t be all about you – for this to work well, you need to pin others’ content too. 
  • You can also place “pin it” buttons on your website next to appealing product images. This encourages people who are browsing your site to pin your images to their online scrapbook, where others can then discover them.

Email newsletter

No, an email newsletter is not social media, but we bring it up in this podcast to point out that email should still be a higher priority than social media. Whatever time you spend on social media will always be, as the saying goes, a house built on borrowed ground — these platforms could change at a moment’s notice. By contrast, your email list will belong to you forever and will always work, and email has one of the highest ROI of any form of marketing out there.

Conclusion

Social media can be a critical part of your digital marketing strategy, but it can also take an enormous amount of time. To make the most of your resources, prioritize the social media channels most likely to benefit you, and commit to them fully with a regular posting schedule. If you’re not active on social media yourself, this may be a task to delegate or share with someone in your company who is.