Using social media to grow your business

Social media should be part of any marketing mix: it can be a cheap, effective and easy-to-use marketing tool. Don’t worry if you don’t know a retweet from a hashtag as the benefits of social media and choosing which to use and what to post is easily learnt or delegated.

Benefits of social media for business

Why has social media become a key marketing channel for so many businesses? Here are some of the benefits it can offer you:

  • Unlike traditional face-to-face media, social media allows you to communicate with a large number of people in a short space of time, with a few taps on the keyboard or your phone.
  • With a social media presence, you can listen to what customers are saying about your business, your competitors and your industry and can step in and join the conversation if necessary.
  • Unlike other marketing channels, it’s not just you are broadcasting your message to your target audience. With social media, you can ask questions, respond to comments and build a better relationship with your customers.
  • It can be a highly cost effective compared with traditional marketing channels.
  • It provides a means to publicise your business culture, staff and successes.
  • It’s accessible for business of all shapes and sizes across almost every industry.

Drawbacks of social media

Although it doesn’t cost anything to set up, don’t make the mistake of thinking that social media’s completely free. If you or one of your staff members is spending time updating social media channels, responding to posts and participating in group discussions, that’s time not spent doing other things. So, it’s important to determine how much time spent on social media is actually worth it in terms of return on investment.

And it’s not just the resource cost you’ll need to consider. Reaching a wider audience may mean you’ll need to invest money – that is, to pay for advertising on social media. For example, on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook you can pay to boost your posts so that more of your target audience see them.

Which social media should I use?

Research the options that appeal to your target customers.

Ask a few of your regular customers which social media sites they use – either in casual conversation or using more formal methods like a questionnaire or survey.

Also consider what platform would work best for your business. Here’s how businesses are using some of the most common forms of social media:

  • Networking – Facebook’s the most popular here. It’s useful for both social and business purposes, but it’s based on using a largely social tone. The Warehouse uses Facebook extensively to promote things like their New Season Clothing event and run competitions for their followers.

    LinkedIn’s another networking platform, and its focus is more business oriented. It connects people on a professional level and is a great way of exchanging information with partners and clients alike. Often professional services businesses such as accountants use LinkedIn to connect with clients and the wider market and to stay up to date with industry research and news.
  • Microblogging –The most popular of these choices, Twitter, and the messages you write are known as tweets. Think of it as a text message, but it’s reaching a wider audience. Supermarkets often use Twitter to promote not only specials, but community events they’re involved in.
  • Video and photo sharing – these are sites like YouTube, Instagram and Flickr. You can create how-to videos, product demonstrations – anything you think would be of interest to your audience.
  • Review sites – creating an account with Foursquare, Yelp or other sites where users check in to an establishment and can rate food, specials or entertainment is most useful for businesses in the food and entertainment industries.

What should I post on social media?

Your posts need to be attention-grabbing and relevant. Here are the top tips and a few common taboos when writing for social media:

  • Many businesses attract followers by offering incentives such as competitions, special offers and free samples.
  • You don’t always have to be promoting your latest offering – you can comment on other topics of interest to your audience. You can also follow businesses similar to yours to see what they’re doing well.
  • Try to avoid commenting on current events, disclosing political affiliation, or encouraging followers to like other pages unless you are certain it isn’t going to damage your reputation or offend followers.
  • Get your message across with simple but snappy posts, keeping in mind that you don’t want to overwhelm your readers by cluttering up their newsfeeds. Be concise and keep to the topic – but that doesn’t mean you need to stifle your personality.
  • Make meaningful connections – you need to build trust with your audience. Ask them questions and find out what makes them tick. They’re more likely to become regulars if they know you’re there to genuinely listen.
  • Don’t go for the ‘hard sell’ – on social media, people generally have less time for disruptive methods that push a sales agenda. The most effective business pages focus on building rapport and adding value to their offering.
  • Some better ways of showcasing your products include providing photos of new products, profiling a popular product for the month, mentioning a current offer, or giving a behind-the-scenes look into your company or boost customer service levels.

Paid advertising on social media

If you can afford it, paid advertising using social media is a great way to attract your target audience. You have some options:

  • Boosting some of your most popular posts, so that they reach a greater audience than people who follow your business profile.
  • You can write ads that appear either in people’s newsfeeds, or in the side bars of social media sits. This means you can pin-point your advertising to find potential customers within your target audience – from people of similar age to common interests and hobbies.

How do I know if it’s working?

You’ll be able to measure the effectiveness of your social media posts through feedback about the number of people who saw the post (the reach) and the number of clicks, likes, re-tweets and other engagements your posts get.

Facebook Insights lets you track interaction on your Facebook page.

LinkedIn has an Analytics tab that provides you with metrics and trends about your company page, as well data on the various interactions that readers have engaged with.

Summary

If you have a business website, you could use social media to drive traffic towards your site, so that you can more effectively promote new products, specials, competitions and incentives. Some of the ways of doing this are:

  • Add a ‘share’ button linked to your social media pages.
  • Add a ‘like’ button to written content on your website, such as blogs or updates.
  • Announce competition winners from social media competitions on your website to drive traffic or have website-specific content.