Social media isn't just a fun toy for connecting with friends, following celebrities and showing off your hobbies. Businesses are now starting to see its potential as a marketing tool too. Social media is a relatively new invention, but we are now starting to get an idea of the rules that lead to successful and engaging content. For those companies just getting started with social media, here are some of the key things you need to know to get the best out of these platforms and win over new clientele.
The amount of social media sites out there is dizzying. However, there are a select few that really matter when it comes to making an impact. These are Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube and LinkedIn. All of these social media sites have different purposes and not all may be appropriate to every type of business. Here's a brief description of what each one's best catered to.
Facebook is a site every business can benefit from. By setting up a Facebook business page, you can encourage people to follow you and keep them updated with news in the form of posts. Facebook is also great for local businesses and targeting local communities. There are many community pages that you can get involved with to help target your niche.
Much like Facebook, every business can benefit from Twitter. Twitter can be much greater for reaching out to strangers, as you don't just have to rely on interaction from your followers. Local businesses may find Twitter less effective than Facebook, but it's still a social media channel worth having.
Instagram focuses on photo sharing. A cake decorator may be able to display their work on it through photographs, whilst a card dealer may be able to show the vehicles on their premises. It may not be much use to businesses without a physical product to take picture of (e.g. accountants, insurance companies). However, you may be able to get creative and still find things to snap.
For video sharing, nothing beats Youtube. Almost any company can use Youtube, either as a means of sharing content or building their own content. Custom content could include business advice videos, product tutorials, product advertisements or even behind the scenes footage of their company.
LinkedIn has more of a business-to-business application. It allows you connect with other professionals, which could lead to new business partnerships. You can also use LinkedIn to hire new employees.
Creating social media pages for your company isn't enough. You then need to create consistent and engaging content that attracts more followers (and consequently more interest in your business). There are certain methods that can make your content more engaging, whether it be racking up Youtube views or gaining Facebook likes.
One of the most important rules is the '80/20 rule' - essentially your social media content should only be 20% promotional, and 80% non-promotional. Social media's main purpose is to be fun and whilst you do need some promotional stuff to keep people informed of your business, you won't attract as many followers or maintain an audience if all your content is sales talk.
Non-promotional content should of course still be professional, but that doesn't mean it can't be fun. Give friendly advice on matters related to your business, share news stories and don't be afraid to use a touch of humour. Companies are now going so far as to using memes. You should however aim to avoid matters of politics and religion - this can be polarising and could divide your audience.
On Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, hashtags are a way of labelling your posts so that people interested in those labels can find you more easily. For example adding '#guitars' might attract people who are interested in guitars. On Twitter, adding one or two hashtags (but no more) can dramatically increase the impact of your content.
If a hashtag is used enough it starts to 'trend'. It's possible to see which topics are trending and try to centre your posts around these trending hashtags where appropriate. Don't abuse hashtags - adding #NationalReadingDay on the end of an unrelated tweet will look spammy and will only lose you followers.
Instagram is of course the best suited site for sharing images, but you can also share photos on Facebook and Twitter. Photos can get 39% more interaction than standard text posts and are 104% more likely to get comments.
It's important that your images give off a sense of professionalism. Also make sure that if you're taking pictures of clients or employees that you get their consent to publicly use these images first.
Youtube is used for creating video content, whilst Facebook and Twitter can be used to share it. Like images, videos can make your content much more engaging, although should be relevant.
For creating content, make sure that you've got a decent quality microphone and camera. The bar for quality is high nowadays on Youtube and no-one will respect you or your business if you're using low-quality recording equipment. Learning a few video editing techniques could also help.
The best way to make a post engaging is to make it interactive. Posing a question can get 100% more comments, although you may get less likes and shares/retweets. You can also now create surveys which can offer a more sleek way of getting your audience to interact. They may even generate healthy debate.
Competitions meanwhile are a fun promotional tactic. Everyone loves a freebie and by getting people to interact with your post and then offering the winner a prize, you could make up for any profit lost by potentially generating more leads.
Puzzles meanwhile can test your followers' know-how. This could be a quiz or a game - the more creative the better.
There are popular times in which more people are likely to respond to your content. This depends on the type of business you run. If you're a business-to-business company, your ideal client base are likely to be interactive during working hours nine to five, Monday to Friday. For a business-to-consumer company, your ideal clients are more likely to be interactive outside of these hours when not at work, particularly early morning and evenings before 8pm.
Studies have also found that Thursday and Friday are better for social media engagement, although Friday afternoon can be poor for business-to-business interaction as some employees may go home early or busy handling the Friday rush.
If you have a business website, it's worth using your social media to promote this. All social media platforms have a bio section where you can put a link to your business website. If you have a blog, there are also automation tools that can automatically post links to each blog piece on Facebook and Twitter the moment you publish them (or alternatively you can set them to be published at a certain time).
You can also use your website to promote your social media. Plug-ins can be used for Facebook, Twitter and Instagram that allow users visiting your website to follow you on these social media platforms without exiting your site.
Social media can also be used to both promote and strengthen real life business events that you attend and host.
For example, if you have a stall at a Trade Fair, you can promote the lead up to this on social media with a hashtag to the event to let everyone know. You could even create an event page on Facebook.
Then when you're at the event, you can live broadcast via video either using Youtube or Facebook live. You can take pictures of the event and post these on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. You can even hire a Twitter wall that will display any Twitter conversation surrounding the event.
Doing this will not just attract more people to the event, but make it more interactive for them when they're there - particularly if you're giving a speech or conference in which audience participation may be limited or not allowed.
Whilst there are lots of natural ways to increase engagement, sometimes a little more action may be required. This could involve paying a little bit of money or using business influence.
Engaging content will get you more followers, but you may need a slight push in the beginning. It's worth inviting all your friends and family to like your business pages - having no followers at all will damage your reputation. After getting your friends and family to follow you, you can then as any previous happy clients. Buying followers is an option but should be done with caution - many social media sites are trying to crack down on this behaviour.
On Facebook and Twitter, you can pay to promote your posts. This allows more people to see your post and could result in more interaction and potentially more leads. Many businesses choose to promote posts offering deals and new products, but really you can promote any post you wish if you think it will generate leads.
It's possible to also pay to create video ads that get played before Youtube videos. This is a little more costly, but might allow you to create something more detailed and elaborate.
Social media is a good opportunity for cross promoting. This involves two companies both promoting one another's products. By finding a company similar to you, you could persuade them promote your service on Facebook in exchange that you do the same for them. Both of you will benefit from this without having to spend a penny.
Alternatively, it's possible to pay certain people for social media influence. You may be able to find someone with thousands of followers who would be willing to post content promoting your business or retweet one of your posts in exchange for a payment. Such a tactic has proven to be highly effective at gaining new leads.
Just as you may get a website professionally designed, it's possible to pay a graphics company to create a stylish cover photo for your Facebook page or a banner for your Twitter page. This could make your page look more official and entice more people to follow. You may be able to find someone on Fiverr or Gumtree to do this affordably.
Alternatively, when it comes to video content, you may want to invest in a stylish Youtube thumbnail or even an animated introduction to your videos. In fact, animation can often be a cheap way to create promotional content rather than getting actors and filming a scene. It could help elevate your vlogging to the next level.
On a related note, you can also pay a professional photographer to take some snaps of your products or services to be put on social media. This could make your business more credible than simple snaps captured on your phone.
One downside to social media is that it opens you up to criticism. People may leave complaints via Twitter which you'll need to diffuse or leave negative comments which you need to reply to. Whilst you can take action such as disabling comments, this can often suggest you have something to hide. Distinguish the real unhappy customers from the trolls and reply accordingly - it's alright to reply humorously to the latter, whilst the former may require a more sincere apology.