In the 1990s, AOL Messenger transformed the early internet when it created one of the first examples of social media. Users could communicate with friends and strangers in real time through instant messaging, and also via email, discussion forums, and chat rooms. In the decades since, social media has grown and evolved to infiltrate nearly every aspect of our digital lives, influencing everything from how and what we buy to our professional networks to how we express ourselves.
What is social media?
Social media is any digital platform, application, or software that enables people to create and share a variety of content online, including text posts, videos, images, and articles. The most popular social media platforms in the US, such as Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook Messenger, are used by millions of people for social networking and communication. Social media networks revolve around people and organizations exchanging ideas and information online.
Ecommerce businesses often use social media channels to promote their products and services, engage existing and potential customers, and strengthen brand recognition and awareness—with hopes of gaining followers and more. This can be especially beneficial for small businesses looking to broaden reach in a cost-effective way. The information posted on social media networks may be anything from the date and time of an ecommerce product launch to a survey or poll on the latest merchandise idea to grow online sales. Given the different platforms and their functionality, businesses can use specific social media channels to share customer reviews, communicate with customers through messaging and post videos to increase brand awareness and get more followers.
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3 benefits of using social media for small businesses
With its wide reach and interactive nature, social media presents a significant opportunity to engage with existing customers, explore new customer bases, market goods and services, and build your brand. Three benefits of using social media for your small business include:
1. Cost-effective promotion
A key benefit of social media is that many platforms are free to use. This means you can easily join, promote your business, and build a following to help get potential customers through the door—at no cost. Paid promotional campaigns are also an option through social media advertising, and are often competitively priced when compared to more traditional advertising such as print media or television ads.
2. Real-time updates
Users flock to social media for the most current or live information. Similarly, most businesses turn to social media for immediate access to customers. You can use social media to quickly and easily inform customers about new products, store hours and closings, and other updates.
3. Relationship building
Social media is all about engagement. People love to interact with—and learn about—each other and the world around them. This includes their favorite brands and businesses. With a strong social media presence, you can receive and respond to feedback from existing customers, communicate directly with prospective customers interested in your business, and build business relationships with influencers and brand ambassadors—all steps that can help promote increased customer loyalty down the line.
4 ways a small business can use social media
Part of the beauty of social media is there is no single right or wrong way to use it. Here are four ways to incorporate social media and contribute to the success of your small business.
With more than 4.2 billion users globally, social media represents the single largest captive audience that you can target through your digital marketing efforts to gain interest in your company’s goods or services. While you won’t be able to reach every person, engaging even a fraction of social media users can attract prospective customers. Creating appealing social media content can help build your customer base by driving people through the (digital) door and boosting sales.
Using social media marketing can help you identify who to promote your products to, as well as connect and engage with your target audience. Consider incorporating branded hashtags, forum posts requesting customer feedback, and live video streams into your social media. Doing so can help you assess consumer behavior, including interests and dislikes, and even track market competition.
Leveraging social media for advertising can help cost-effectively promote your products or services to more of your ideal customers. There are numerous opportunities for free advertising—ideas include sites like Yelp and Craigslist. The most popular social media platforms offer paid promotional ad campaigns. YouTube, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and Pinterest are among those that you can pay to push your ad content in videos, photos, or text posts.
You can also partner with influencers, who are social media users with large followings. Collaborating with influencers to help publicize your offerings is an effective way to organically encourage customers to buy what you’re selling, as well as create positive associations with your brand.
Social selling is the practice of marketing and selling products on social media. Many social media platforms offer their own version of online shops where small businesses can sell their products directly to consumers. While you may prefer having control of your own website or digital storefront, social commerce can offer an additional revenue stream and help drive customers to your other platforms—or even a physical storefront.
In addition, many of the most popular social platforms—including Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and Pinterest—integrate with Shopify. This allows you to connect your social media channels to your online store, upload your product catalog to your social profile, and sell your offerings over multiple platforms simultaneously.
4. Growth and expansion
Social media is a strong tool for identifying demand through analytics and discovering new niches that you can fill in the marketplace. Social media monitoring tools—intelligence software that can track and analyze online conversations based on certain topics or keywords—can offer invaluable feedback to small business owners.
For example, imagine you run a small chain of jewelry stores in Chicago. You’re looking to open a new storefront, but aren’t sure exactly where to expand. Data from a social media monitoring tool can inform you that there are lots of conversations happening online about the lack of a good jewelry store in Naperville, Illinois. You lease a space for rent, open for business, and, sure enough, demand is high.
How to develop a social media strategy for your business
A strong social media marketing strategy includes your company’s goals (with metrics), target audience, and which platforms you plan to use to execute your vision. Developing a strategy and benchmarks you can use to check your progress along the way will help ensure your social media use is directed and effective. Here are a few steps you can take to get started building out your strategy.
1. Set clear goals and objectives
Start by determining exactly what it is you want to get out of your social media strategy. Do you want to increase sales by a certain amount? Do you want to curate customer feedback regarding your services? Or, do you want to build a comprehensive advertising campaign? Maybe, it’s all of the above. Communicating these objectives upfront can also help you prioritize and track whether or not you’ve been effective.
2. Create a content plan
A content plan lays out what social media platforms you intend to use, what type of content you will focus on and post, and the tone your brand will have on each channel. Making videos, curating posts and trying to keep up with every single social channel may spread you too thin—and provide diminishing returns. Focus on building a content strategy that’s right for you and your business, whether that’s multiple TikTok videos per day or a single Pinterest post a week.
3. Measure your progress
Monitor your progress through ecommerce metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs)—quantifiable measures that track the performance of your social posts. Most social media platforms offer valuable insights and granular data that can measure various audience engagement information including:
- Impressions. This is the number of times your social media content is displayed to users.
- Reach. The number of unique accounts (people) who see your post or other social media content.
- Audience growth rate. The number of social media followers your business gains on a platform over a given period of time.
- Return on investment (ROI). The value (sales) a company can expect compared to the cost of investing in social media.
These metrics can act as a measuring stick for your company’s social media goals.
4. Pivot if necessary
A big part of a social media strategy is repeating what works and tossing out what doesn’t. If you’re not meeting your goals or your plan isn’t working as anticipated, modify your approach. Maybe Pinterest isn’t the best platform for your flower shop and you would have more success investing your time on Instagram. Maybe your Facebook advertising campaign isn’t achieving the reach you expected and adding a Twitter campaign to the mix to target a different demographic would gain better results. Being flexible can go a long way toward helping you meet your original objectives.
Social media for business FAQ
How often should I post on social media for my small business?
The answer depends on your goals, industry, the effectiveness of your current posts, and how much time you have to commit to social media. Businesses often post multiple times per day on several different platforms. One good starting point is to always observe the strategy of competitors in your space.
Can social media help increase my website traffic and search engine optimization?
Yes. Social media posts with large reach and high engagement can drive traffic to your website, a metric (via page views) that most social media platforms can measure directly. While social media is not directly tied to SEO, increased brand awareness, popular keywords on your posts, and a regularly visited website can help your site rise in the search engine results page (SERP) rankings.
How do I measure the success of my social media efforts for my small business?
There are a wide range of metrics that can help measure the effectiveness of your social media presence. These include basics such as likes, retweets, and shares, as well as more complex ones like reach, traffic generated, click-through rate (CTR), or cost per click (CPC), among others.
What are some common mistakes to avoid when using social media for small businesses?
Overposting, which can lead to content fatigue and oversaturation, can decrease viewer engagement and potentially damage your brand. Another common error is using the wrong platform for your business type or industry. For example, a small shoe store would not want to focus the majority of its social media efforts on LinkedIn. That’s because customers looking to purchase new shoes would likely scroll on a more commerce-focused platform, such as Instagram.