Social media is everywhere these days – and with developments in society such as the ongoing spread of smart devices, faster internet speeds, and greater community access to the internet, social media is only set to become even more widely used and thus even more valuable as a means to grow your small business. As a small business you should be actively using social media. Here’s why.
Why you need social media
It’s free. Setting up a profile on most social media sites is completely free. Using a social media platform is thus a great way to reach people and access useful features – such as a facebook page for example gives you the ability to post updates and photos and videos, receive customer messages, receive customer reviews and ratings, track insight data of who’s interacting with your page, and more. Social media can, however, take a lot of time to setup, understand, and stay current with, so be prepared to devote time to the role of using it for your business. The benefits to your business however can be worth it, keep reading for some of these.
It makes you reachable. Having a social media presence can make your business appear more open and reachable. For example, seeing that previous customers have had their questions and comments responded to can make someone feel more secure that if they were to have an issue to ask you about then they too would get their needs met from your business. Most social media platforms give you access to public comments or private messages that you customers can use to easily reach you. For some people or in some situations, people may prefer this online method of contacting you rather using the phone or coming into your physical location so it’s good to have it available.
It provides social proof. Having a social media presence for your business creates trustworthiness in your brand by showing social proof. Potential customers can click on your social media and see the amount of followers you have, the conversations taking place, the customer questions you responded to, the photos of happy customers you share, and so on. Seeing these interactions from real people can lead to a potential customer deciding that your business is indeed benefiting people and is trustworthy enough to purchase from. An issue, especially while growing a small business, is that your business can end up appearing to someone as just a phone number, or an impersonal ad, or a lifeless product image on a page of paper and the potential customer doesn’t know whether they can trust this business or product to actually be worth purchasing, but by showing real-life people interacting with your business on your social media you can perfectly show that your product or service is real and works and people are happily using it, thus leading to new customers deciding to use your business. Through the power of social media, you can keep doing this to create a snowball effect of new customers coming in.
It can target niche markets. If your business is setup to serve a niche, like many small businesses are, then social media can reach a niche very effectively, more so than most other media or advertising options can. Perhaps taking away much of the headache of needing to research and find your market is the fact that people organise themselves into niches on social media. Online communities, groups, hashtags and so on exist for pretty much every interest you can think of. By connecting with and posting your message in these groups you can directly reach people who’re already interested in your product or service. Further, you can also reach the people who’re consider influencers or power-users within a niche and who can give your business a valuable word-of-mouth boost if they share it to their own social media network of likeminded people.
Although, posting in groups in this manner can be fought with risk as, depending on the culture of the group, your message may potentially come across as barging into a friendly, community group with a loud-mouthed commercial message and have the negative effect of influencing people to not want to use your business. More about this sort of marketing can be found online, if you want to make sure to do it right.
Social media can also be used to run extremely targeted advertising. Because social media is based on people providing information about themselves, you can target people based on this information. For example, you can design an ad to be shown only to people who are within a 50km radius of your location, are the gender and age you want to serve, are not already connected to your social media presence, are already interested in your business’s industry, or are already connected to your competitors social media… and you can keep going until you’re guaranteed to be putting your money into only getting your message infront of people who’re already qualified to be interested in your business, and not showing it to people who couldn’t care less about the particular niche your product or service provides for. Many other forms of media and advertising, such as TV ads or newspaper ads or billboards, are based on a mass-media model of getting infront of a large number of people rather than a targeted model of reaching only who you want to.
Although, the starting point of this is that your customers are on social media to begin with. Depending on who you serve, you should make sure that your market is tech-savy enough to understand social media and makes regular use of it.
Your customers love it. Every post or piece of content you put up on social media can offer more value to your customers – and receiving value is, afterall, the fundamental reason why they use your business. For example, you could post exclusive news of upcoming actions from your business, allowing your customers to get in-the-know and become greater and more attached fans of your business; you could post replies to commonly asked questions, allowing your customers to easily find helpful information they may be seeking; or, you could stimulate discussion among your customers, allowing them to share their own knowledge and love for your brand, and basically leverage your customers to assist you by providing value to each other. Traditionally, the moment you interact with a customer is only during the sales process while they buy your product or use your service. However by doing things such as the above examples on social media, you can engage with your customers before, during, and after they’ve used your product – effectively continuing to provide them with value and potentially turning them into more satisfied or repeat customers.
Granted, when they consume the content you post they will, most likely, not be paying for it as social media is a free platform for people to use to interact with businesses. This means your business will not be earning direct income from its social media efforts – which is a large negative if your small business is geared to require a steady inflow of money to stay afloat. The plus-side is that posting updates, creating content, and replying to customers can only take a few minutes a day and so be a quick activity. Furthermore, posting quick useful content will very likely lead to indirect income for your business such as reaching new customers and turning existing customers into loyal fans or repeat customers. It can be used for marketing, customer service, research, and more. If you pursue social media right, the benefits to your small business can outweigh the effort put into it.
It improves your search engine ranking. Google, while the secrets of its algorithm are a constantly changing mystery, appears to rank sites which’re shared and engaged with on social media higher than those which aren’t. Hence to get your site displayed higher in search results and have more potential customers finding you, getting your site spread on social media is beneficial. One way to do this is to encourage visitors to share your site by providing easy options for them to do so. For example see the top and bottom of this post… you’ll find little buttons to easily share this post on different social media sites (which you should of course click right now). Other ways to encourage people to share your site on social media is to create content that is likely to be shared, and to clearly link to your social media presence from your site so that people know it exists and can easily find it.
Which social media platforms to use
There are dozens of social media platforms out there to use. And there seem to be even more appearing all the time. Among the more popular ones are facebook, twitter, google+, pinterest, and instagram – to name just a few. Guides to the ins and outs and best-practice of each particular site can be found online. However, putting your small business on all of these is not a recommended option, as it’s likely to be a waste of time and an ineffective way to reach your market. To get the benefits of social media, the key is to select the right ones to use.
There’re two key factors to understand when selecting a social media platform to establish your business presence on:
- Know your audience. If your audience predominantly uses facebook, then use facebook. If they predominantly use instagram, then use instagram. It’s not very likely that people will move over from their favourite social media platform to a new one just to follow your business, especially if none of their friends are using it. In most cases, the key to provide value to your audience is to go to where they’re already (virtually) hanging out.
- Know what you want to do. What do you want to use your social media presence for? Do you wish to share videos, then youtube may be the best option. Do you wish to hold regular chat sessions with your audience, then google+ with google hangouts may be the best option. Even if your audience is predominantly on one platform, it doesn’t make sense to use that platform if it’s not designed to be effective at sharing the type of content you want to give them. Figure out in advance what you want to use your social media presence for.
As a final thought, social media is a constantly changing environment in which new features are being added all the time, the rules of posts being displayed are always being adjusted, and people and experts are still struggling to understand how to market optimally though it. If you want an effective social media presence you will likely need to stay up to date with developments in social media platforms, the ways in which people interact with them, and the ways they can work for your small business or work against your small business.
It can take a lot of experimentation to understand how to use social media effectively, but as a small business it can be worth it as a low-cost and accessible way to grow your business and benefit your customers.
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Author Bio: Max Bell is the Father of two young children, a small business owners, and a student studying a Bachelor of Business Studies at Massey University. He also writes online at obstaclemethod.movementunleashed.com.
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