Using social media for marketing is an effective way to advertise small businesses, and you can develop a low-cost social media strategy even if you're not particularly social media savvy. The most important thing to keep in mind is that social media for marketing is about engagement rather than sales. According to Sprout Social, 78% of customers will buy from a business after they've had a positive experience with that business on social media.
Here's how you can get started with social media marketing to drive that engagement.
Choose your social media platform(s)
Fortunately, you don't have to establish a social media presence on all the platforms available—or even half of them. The key is to choose one or two platforms where your customers hang out online.
“Base your choice on your target market," Margaret H. Geiger, the owner and founder of Twelve31 Media, says. “For example, if your business is B2B, LinkedIn is a great platform. But for lifestyle goods, Instagram or Pinterest will probably work better for you."
For local businesses, social media expert Yasmin Parsloe recommends listing yourself on Google Business Profiles, which helps customers find you through search. “All brick-and-mortar small businesses should be on Google Business," she says. “It's one of the most overlooked platforms, but it has a really strong reach."
The key is to choose one or two platforms where your customers hang out online.
Harbor Park Garage in Baltimore's Inner Harbor is one business that has found the Google profile incredibly effective. Owner Andrew Sachs notes that 92.87% of drivers who use his parking garage come through the garage's Google Business Profile. “Parking is not sexy," he says. “So if it works for us, then it will also work for lawyers, hair salons, dry cleaners, restaurants—you name it. Google Business Profile really does deliver for local businesses."
Make a social media marketing plan (consistency is key)
Once you've selected a platform, it's important to have a plan. “Many business owners start off really strong and then tail off as they become preoccupied with more pressing tasks," Parsloe says. “The No. 1 error I see all the time is a lack of consistency." She suggests creating a basic content plan first. “This lets you pre-plan your content in batches. You can then use social media scheduling software to schedule your posts in advance."
Robin D. Brackbill, the owner of Fabby-Do, a crafts cafe for kids, designates one day a week for creating content. “For four to five hours that day, we film all my TikToks, Instagram reels, and YouTube videos for the following week," she says. This gives her the content she needs for her daily posts on Instagram and TikTok, as well as the videos she posts twice weekly on YouTube.
Don't focus on going viral
Everyone talks about going viral, but it isn't a necessity. “One thing that has really helped me is learning early on that viral videos do not always equal success," Kate Smoothy of Web Hive Digital, who's used TikTok to triple her business' income, says. “I've known many great content creators who had viral videos that didn't generate leads. So it's best to focus on creating content for your target audience, and if a video goes viral, great, but it's not your end goal."
Engagement is the crucial thing. “To really up your social media marketing game," Parsloe suggests, “spend just five minutes a day engaging on your accounts, whether it's responding to likes and comments or following similar accounts."
Sachs agrees that engagement is key. For him, it's all about delivering excellent customer service. For example, he answers all customer reviews posted on his business's Google Business Profile, including negative ones. “Most of the time, we learn where we need to improve," he says. “For example, after a few reviews complaining about slow exit times for concert patrons, we reviewed our processes and figured out a solution. Now our customers are happy because they drive out much faster. And happy customers are more likely to be repeat customers."
Measure engagement and refine your strategy
Since social media is all about engagement, it can be difficult sometimes to know if what you're doing online is working. “Always check your insights and analytics," Geiger says. “Look at the insights on the platform(s) you are using to see what's working and what isn't, so you can continue to level up your messaging. It's important to review the analytics in order to plan for future content and focus on what specific tactics are generating the most engagement, clicks, or revenue."
“Always check your insights and analytics."
You can also measure the impact your social media presence has on your business in other ways. Brackbill, for example, always asks clients where they heard about Fabby-Do. “This is how I know that most of our clients who call for appointments or birthday parties have seen us on social media," she says.
Smoothy took a different approach when she decided to switch her focus from Instagram to TikTok. “I used a different landing page for my TikTok platform," she explains. “I hooked up a separate enquiry form and booking form, too. It became clear pretty quickly that TikTok was where the majority of my leads were coming from, which led me to [double] down on my efforts there."
Don't be afraid to experiment
While there's value in continuing to post content that's proven to work, what's trending on social media is always changing. So don't be afraid to experiment and switch things up.
For Jeff Moriarty, the marketing manager of Moriarty's Gem Art, a family-owned jewelry business located near Chicago, experimentation has meant branching out into live streams on YouTube and Facebook. “None of our competitors were doing this," he says. “And it was free—it just took time to implement."
Moriarty's live streams are both educational and commercial and allow visitors to view items, buy online, and ask questions. “We're now getting about 1,500+ viewers watching our show each time. Not only has it helped us to stay connected with our customers, it's also generated a ton of sales. About 10% of our annual sales now come from our live YouTube shows."
The main thing, Moriarty notes, is to be interesting. “We hardly ever post sales-focused items to our social media feeds. We do videos and talk about exciting things that are happening at our store or events. People tend to like that, and we get a ton of engagement because of it."
Geiger has a final tip for small business owners looking to up their social media marketing game: “Continue to stay up-to-date with trends and changes to the always evolving social media platforms—because they're always changing!"
“Pay attention to your competition," Parsloe adds. “I always like to tell my clients to work smarter, not harder. By researching and understanding your competitors' social media accounts, particularly the ones that inspire you, you'll be able to find content holes or opportunities that you can fill on your own social media feeds."