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Starting social: An SMB’s guide to social media

Small businesses are the backbone of Britain’s economy. They are the country’s heartbeat, a collection of independently owned businesses run with passion. In many ways, these are the characteristics at the core of social media. Considering this, they should be at the forefront of platform, but many are lagging behind.

This is not to say that small businesses are not using social media, in fact 9 out of 10 are planning to or already making use of the technology. The issue though is that many are operating blind, uncertain of the best approach to social.

There is a huge amount of excitement in the field, but after the initial buzz of starting an account comes the realisation that social media is not an instant gratification play. Instead it requires forethought, patience and time to deliver the best benefits, something very different to traditional online marketing, such as banner ads.

27 per cent of small business owners consider themselves novices and 26 per cent have not even considered how social media can help their businesses thrive. The hunger is there, but the expertise is lacking. This need not be the case though, as, with a few simple tips, your business can soon be using social media to boost sales and build a loyal customer base.

Plan to succeed, succeed to plan

The first thing you need is a plan. It might sound like a cliché, but for the small business owner time and money are inextricably linked. Many SMB owners lack the former, having to balance the administration and running a shop, alongside social media accounts, as they are either unable or unwilling to pay a third party to run their online profiles.

To begin, you need to ask what you are hoping to achieve. Now many will state selling as the key concern, but there is more to social media than that. An active and engaging profile can build brand awareness, enhance customer support, collect data and create brand advocates. Decide which of these you want to focus on and begin building your strategy around it.

Next, it is vital to devote time to social media. Start with only one network and dedicate a portion of your day to it. There are huge numbers of tools that allow updates to be automatically posted, so draft several and queue them up to be distributed throughout the day/week. Hootsuite is what we use at ShopKeep.

It is also important to understand who exactly you want to reach with social media. Is it customers? Prospects? Are you targeting males or females? How old are they? Answer this and you can ensure posts are customised to attract the right people.

Walk the walk and talk the talk

There is no harm in using social media to showcase new products or services, but this must be an embellishment to your posts. Social media is not about direct selling, it is about building relationships. In other words, to sell, you have to not sell at all.

When you are engaging with people online, you must talk to them, not at them. This is no different to the generally accepted rules of conversation. Think of it this way, if someone walked into your shop, would you immediately start shouting your special offers at them? Or would you ask how they are and build up a rapport?

Responding to people is also vital. Working on the same logic, if someone came into your shop and complained, would you ignore them? Then do not do it on social media. With 45 per cent of customers sharing bad experiences on a social platform, a considered and respectful response to a complaint can sway someone’s opinion and make them view you in a more a positive light. Simply put, always be polite.

Selecting the network

There are a huge number of social networks out there and, as a small business owner, you should prioritise one at the beginning. Choosing the right network depends on who you want to target and why. Pinterest is terrific for sharing visual content and its user base is predominately women, so if that suits your strategy, it’s where you should focus.

Facebook is the largest social network site, with 96 per cent of UK internet accessing adults active on it. It is suitable for almost any business, but recent changes to Facebook’s algorithm have dramatically reduced how many users will ever see your posts - unless you’re willing to put budget behind them. Still, if a little bit of budget is put aside for promoting posts, it ranks as one of the most effective channels.

The final network we’ll look at is Twitter. The site is far more “real-time” than the previous two examples, something that your business needs to understand before taking the splash. This means that it’s more likely to be used a communication channel than other networks and requires more consistent updating. Still, it is easier to build strong relationships on Twitter, but you need to understand the time pressures before committing. One note: twitter is an absolute must for food trucks and other mobile businesses. It’s an amazing way to tell people where you’re going to be and when.

First pass the post

So, you’ve decided on your network and strategy, what’s next? The posts. It might seem daunting at first, but as a small business owner, you already have a direct line to what you should put online: your customers. During an average day, you will undoubtedly speak to a number of people entering your shop and should look to echo these conversations, as it will keep your online and offline personalities consistent.

A good rule to follow on social media is the 80-20 strategy. This should be 80 per cent of content is benefitting customers, with 20 per cent about the business generally. After you have been posting a few weeks you should then look at your most successful updates. Understand what made them popular and try and mimic that in further posts.

If you follow the above steps, it will put you on the path of social media success. Using these tips will help your small business stand out from the crowd and ensure that time dedicated to social channels is fruitful. It is important to start small correctly and build from there.

Relationships aren’t created overnight. Concentrate on nurturing your social communities with valuable posts and conversations. If you do that, sales will follow.

Jason Richelson, CEO and Founder of ShopKeep

Image source: Shutterstock/Bloomua