You know you’re supposed to be on social media—it seems to be recommended in every small business publication you read and event you attend. But it’s hard breaking out of the mindset that social media is a time waster (and frankly, it can be!).
However, social media can potentially open the door to a more direct connection with your customers, which can pay off not only in a higher number of customers, but in customers that are more loyal and care more about your brand.
As nice as that sounds, you don’t have much time to work with. If you’re going to use social media for your small business, you need to figure out how to make sure you’re not wasting your time. You need an efficient approach that actually gets results.
Here are twenty tips for making sure you don’t spend any more time on social media than you have to, and that the hours you do put in pay off.
4 Steps for Smarter Small Business Social Media Marketing
While it may sound counterintuitive, to make sure the time you spend on social media is efficient and worthwhile, you first need to devote some time to studying what works so you can create a plan that makes sense.
1. Decide which channels to prioritize.
First off: good news! You don’t have to be everywhere, and you don’t have to divide your time evenly between the platforms you do join. Just because you keep hearing about Snapchat or have that one friend who swears by Periscope doesn’t mean those channels are right for your business. The social media channels you want to be on are:
- The ones where your target audience spends the most time. Look at the demographic breakdown of who’s hanging out on which platforms. If your business sells clothing for middle-aged women, Pinterest is more important for you than Twitter and you can ignore Snapchat altogether.
- The ones that are a good fit for your products and strengths. Some channels are much more image than text heavy. Some move fast and thrive on shorter messages, while others allow you some room to take your time and make longer statements. There’s a chance you’ll have to stretch a little out of your comfort zone to be where your audience is, but figure out where that comfort zone is and which channels will be a better fit for your particular strengths. And of course, think about what’s best suited to your products or services. If you sell jewelry or run a gorgeous resort, image-focused sites like Instagram are a must. If you offer IT support, Instagram won’t be as important as the more text-centered channels like Facebook and Twitter.
As you research what each social media channel is and who uses it, work up a list of the ones you know you need to be on and the level of priority you should give each. The channel(s) on the top of your list will get more of your time, and you’ll increase efficiency by not stressing out too much over those lower on the list or left off altogether.
2. Analyze your competitors.
One of the frustrating things about social media is that it’s hard to know what will work until you try it. And learning by trial and error eats up a lot of your valuable time. But there’s a shortcut to getting an idea of what works with your audience: spy on your competitors.
Identify 4-5 main competitors in your space that are active on the social media channels you’ve decided to focus on and look at what they’re doing. Compare how well each of them is doing in terms of followers and engagement. And pay attention to which of their posts get the most engagement. Can you find any trends in what’s working and what’s falling flat?
3. Identify relevant influencers.
The best way to get more out of social media while doing less: use influencer marketing. Whatever your industry, you can find people on social media who have large followings and regularly spend time sharing useful information. Follow them. Pay attention to what they share. Interact with them and their community.
Following the lead of the top influencers in your industry is an efficient way to start finding the people you want to reach on the platform and connecting with them. Influencers will provide a good model of what works well with your audience.
If you share their stuff and interact with them enough over time, you could develop a relationship. If that happens and they share your stuff or signal boost one of your updates, that’s a quick path to new followers and higher visibility.
4. Create a (realistic) social media plan.
Your time on social media will be much more productive and effective if you’re strategic about it. Use what you learned in the first few steps to sit down and work up a social media calendar. Include:
- How often you intend to post on each platform – Make sure you keep this realistic. If you overextend yourself, you’re more likely to stop doing anything on social media. While posting frequently will get better results on many platforms (particularly fast-moving ones like Twitter and Pinterest), consistency is generally a better goal than frequency.
- The types of posts you’ll share – Think about the types of content formats to use, the mix of your content and other people’s, and how often to share questions, polls, videos, promotions, etc.
- A posting schedule – When do you plan to post on each platform? Create a calendar template now that provides an outline of the times you aim to share something on each platform throughout the typical week and fill in the actual updates that will go in each slot as you go. Keep in mind the times of day your audience is most active on each platform.
Your plan won’t be set in stone, you’ll likely make changes to it as you learn more about what your audience responds to. But having a plan to begin with will help you stick with updating your social media channels and make sure your overall approach is strategic and thought out.
11 Ways to Make Your Social Media Sharing Go Further
While the details of what works best on social media will vary for different businesses, there are some tips that are useful to everyone.
1. Make use of your bio.
Each social media site will allow you a space to describe who you are. The amount of space you have varies, but you should always use it to full effect. In your social media bio, include:
- Your unique value proposition – who are you and what makes your business special?
- Relevant details about your business – If you have a storefront, where are you located? How can people get in touch with you?
- A link back your website – A lot of your social media efforts will be about driving people back to your website, so get straight to the point in your bio with a link.
Crafting a good social media bio is a quick but important step to take for each platform you’re on.
2. Use a social scheduling tool.
If you’re intimidated by the idea of having to be on social media frequently throughout the day, don’t worry, the small businesses you see posting frequently aren’t actually on social media as often as you think.
Most businesses that do social media marketing use scheduling tools like Buffer or HootSuite to schedule updates in advance. Instead of logging on multiple times each day to post updates, you can devote a couple of hours each week to planning all your updates at once.
The most popular social media scheduling tools have a free version that will do as much as most small businesses will need, so you can take advantage social scheduling no matter your budget.
3. Identify relevant social communities.
On different social media platforms, people with common interests find ways to gather. You want to be a part of the communities on each of the platforms that are relevant to your audience. On Twitter, research Twitter chats in your industry or in topic areas relevant to you. On Facebook and LinkedIn, go looking for relevant groups.
If you own a pet store, look for communities of dog or cat lovers. If you’re an accountant, a small business Twitter chat could be a good way to connect with potential clients.
Find where on the channel your audience is hanging out, join, and start participating.
4. Share your own content.
If you’re doing content marketing, then social media is one of the best venues you have for promoting your content. And posting updates about the content you produce is an easy way to increase your sharing frequency. It’s win-win.
Don’t be afraid to create multiple updates about the same piece of content, especially on the high-volume sites like Twitter. Research shows that instead of annoying your followers, it vastly increases the likelihood that they’ll see and interact with it.
5. Use what you have.
What makes social media so intimidating from a time management perspective is the idea of having to continually find new things to say from scratch. You can probably save yourself a lot of time and trouble by doing a survey of everything you already have to work with.
Much of your content can be repurposed into short social media updates. You can easily use social media to highlight your employees—who they are and what they’re up to. The conversations around the office could yield useful social media ideas. And look around you and see if there are any interesting items or moments around the office that could make good social media images or posts.
6. Share the love.
Even if you’re doing content marketing, sharing your own stuff will only take you so far. And social media shouldn’t be all about you, it’s about interacting with other people. So fill your social media calendar more easily by finding content and updates from other people in your industry to share.
Those influencers you followed can help with this. So can your audience—pay attention to the things they share. And anytime you read something on your own that you know would be valuable to your audience, make a habit out of sharing it.
Be quick to retweet and share any social media updates you like, and respond to others on social media when you have something useful to add to the conversation. This will both get you on more people’s radars, and increase the frequency of your sharing without having to create more content.
7. Use hashtags (where relevant).
Hashtags aren’t just for Twitter anymore, many of the social media platforms now have hashtag functionality. Hashtags are useful because they group your post in with other posts on the same topic. Someone searching a social media site for posts about financial advice can quickly find a lot at once by searching or clicking on the #personalfinance hashtag and could see your post, even if they never followed you.
When you use hashtags, there are a few best practices to follow:
- Make sure you’re using hashtags others are using. If you try to make a hashtag out of a phrase that’s too long or specific, it won’t be worth much. Usually one or two word phrases that describe the category your tweet or content falls into work best.
- Make sure they’re relevant. Your hashtags should be directly related to the social media post they’re a part of. Otherwise you risk confusing people and creating a bad experience for them.
- Don’t overuse them. Stick to 1-3 hashtags. Overloading an update with hashtags makes your update look sloppy and means you risk including hashtags that are no longer relevant to your post.
Be careful about how you use them, but get in the habit of always adding a hashtag or two to your posts where it’s appropriate to do so.
8. Be social.
This one may seem obvious for something called “social media,” but too many small businesses start up social media accounts only to push out their own content and offers, without interacting with anyone else. You want to be a part of conversations on social media, and maybe even the one getting them started. So create polls, ask questions, and reply to other people’s posts.
In addition to the posts you schedule in advance, set aside a little time throughout the week to go onto the social media platforms and look for opportunities to interact with people. Retweet a post you really like with your own commentary, or reply to a poll with results you found surprising. People will care a lot more about you on social media if you devote just a little time to actually being social.
9. Use (good) images.
You could craft a line that’s as brilliant as anything written by Mark Twain but, when people are scrolling through their social media feeds, they’ll scroll right past it if it’s nothing but text. Images are one of the most important tools you have to stand out on social media and get people’s attention.
On platforms like Pinterest and Instagram, images are pretty much the entire point of the platform, so you better make them good. But even on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook, they make a big difference to how likely people are to stop and read your post and click through. Tweets with images receive 35% more retweets, and Facebook posts get 37% more engagement when they include an image.
As much as possible, include images with your social media updates. And try to make sure they’re good ones. Stock photography is easy, but it doesn’t work as well as using original images if you can make it work.
10. Invest in social advertising.
If you don’t have a budget to give to your social media efforts, this option will be out of reach. But if you can afford to spend a little money, you can make your social media efforts go further faster by using social advertising.
Social media platforms offer valuable targeting options that help you get your account in front of the right people faster. You can use ads to grow your followers so that your unpaid social updates will begin to be seen by a much larger audience.
For small businesses just starting out on social media in particular, social media advertising can give you the initial boost you need to start getting more traction and engagement on the platform.
11. Keep an eye on your analytics.
Social media platforms typically provide analytics both for all your updates on the platform, and for any advertising you do. In addition, your website analytics provide valuable information on how often people are coming to your website through social media channels.
At least once a month, do a review of all the analytics you have to better understand how your social media efforts are doing. Pay particular attention to the types of updates that are getting good engagement (shares, follows, replies) and driving traffic back to your website. Use this information to tweak your social media strategy as needed to improve your results.
5 Tips to Integrate Social Media with Your Overall Online Marketing
Social media marketing works best if you treat it as a part of your larger small business online marketing strategy. To make sure social media supports your other efforts (and vice versa), there are a few extra steps to take.
1. Add links to your social media channels on your homepage.
This is a quick and easy way to let your website visitors know where they can find you on social media. Add a few icons to the bottom of the page with links back to your social profiles.
2. Add social share buttons to your website.
Your content will go a lot further if your readers help you share it. You want to make it as easy as possible for every visitor to your website that likes your content to share it with their own networks. Install a social sharing plug-in that allows your visitors to share your stories with one simple click.
3. Promote your email list on social.
Social media followers are nice, but email subscribers are even better. As you work to grow your social media following, you can accomplish two goals at once by also using your social media efforts to grow your email list.
4. Promote your social channels to your email list.
Your email subscribers are people you already know like your brand and want to hear from you, so they’re some of the best people to promote your social media profiles to. In the same way that you can use social media to build your email list, you can include links to your social profiles in your emails to help grow your social media followings.
5. Share your promotions and sales on social media.
At the end of the day, all your marketing should lead back to sales. You definitely don’t want a majority of your social updates to be promotional, but any time you’re offering a good discount or an attractive sale, your followers will want to know. As long as you don’t overdo it, you can use social media to promote your deals and special offers to increase your sales.
Social Media Doesn’t Have to Be a Waste of Time
As long as you’re strategic and stick with tactics that are efficient, you can start getting real results from social media without spending hours a day. And as you go, make sure to continually analyze your efforts to see what’s working best. If a channel is taking more time than it’s worth, it’s okay to cut it and focus more of your efforts on the platforms that are working for you.
There aren’t clear rules for using social media for small business, it’s just what works for you. Figure out the approach that makes the most sense based on your unique audience and the time and resources you have available to you.
Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based freelance content writer and lifelong learner with an ongoing curiosity to learn new things. She uses that curiosity, combined with her experience as a freelance business owner, to write about subjects valuable to small business owners on the HostGator blog. You can find her on Twitter at @atxcopywriter.