Social Media 101 for Small Businesses
By Caitlyn Freitas, Leslie Emery, and Julie McLaughlin
An online social media presence is no longer an option. It is a must—even for small businesses. It is not enough, however, to create a social media account and then leave it to languish; an active, strategic presence must be maintained in order to reap the benefits social media offers. When a small contracting company, with limited employees, wants to have a social media presence, they should spend some time considering the following and creating a plan before creating an account.
“Anyone in charge of social media needs to have appropriate training in the area, and should have a strategy for communications. Moreover, it is important that the person in charge of your social media marketing—or members of their team—have sufficient knowledge of the company‘s products, services, and their particular segment of the market. If they fail to appreciate the intricacies of the industry, they will not be able to draw in the audience you are looking for.”
—Julie McLaughlin, Senior Director of Publications at NIA
The first part of establishing a social media strategy is deciding what your overall goal is. Companies may use social media to help define their brand, share information about new products, drive users to their websites, or to recruit new workers. Once you have established the overall goal, you can then establish benchmarks for measuring how effective your social media strategy is.
One mistake small businesses make is not having separate strategies for different platforms. If you are sharing identical content over multiple platforms, your audience—who is likely on all the same platforms—will lose interest. Instead, create different types of posts that take advantage of the characteristics of the platform you are using. While you want to create varying content, the one thing that should be consistent throughout different platforms is your branding—you want users to be able to easily identify and recognize your company. Additionally, in evaluating your social media strategy, it is important to define your audience. Write down as many relevant details about your intended audience as possible (age, location, career, interests, etc.), and use this to help guide your messaging and choose which type of social media will best reach your audience. A little research will help you determine who is on what platform and what they use it for. Determine if Pinterest and Snapchat are where your targets are and what they would be looking for while they use those sites. Not every platform is useful for every company and people may ignore work-related posts if they use that platform for recreation.
Selecting the Right Staff
Of course, the process of starting and maintaining a social media presence can present certain pitfalls that must be carefully negotiated. One of the biggest mistakes small companies can make is assigning social media to an intern or junior employee. While younger workers, such as those from the Millennial generation, are well known for their love of social media, personal use does not necessarily translate into professional social media expertise or an understanding of marketing and branding. Anyone in charge of social media needs to have appropriate training in the area, and should have a strategy for communications. Moreover, it is important that the person in charge of your social media marketing—or members of their team—have sufficient knowledge of the company‘s products, services, and their particular segment of the market. If they fail to appreciate the intricacies of the industry, they will not be able to draw in the audience you are looking for.
Once you have established a social media presence, it is important to commit to regular postings and interactions. Make sure you update your page regularly and engage with your users frequently. However, you also do not want to post excessively, which could cause users to block or unfollow you. Make sure you post at different times to see which posts times are most effective. Which platform you are posting on makes a difference—you can post more on Twitter than you can on Facebook since Twitter feeds tend to be updated more frequently than Facebook‘s newsfeed.
According to GRC Direct, a marketing and communications consulting company, the following times are ideal for social media programs:
- Facebook: Thursday to Sunday, 1:00–4:00 p.m.
- Twitter: Monday to Thursday, 12:00–5:00 p.m.
- LinkedIn: Tuesday to Thursday, 5:00–6:00 p.m.
- Pinterest: Saturday to Sunday, 8:00–11:00 p.m.
“The real key to success—and where most CEOs fail—is simple consistency. Set up a regular schedule that fits your calendar. This can be as minimal as allocating 5 minutes every Monday to chime in on breaking news, 5 minutes on Wednesday to shoot a 30-second leadership short with your phone, and 5 minutes on Friday for a company update.”
—Ryan Holmes, CEO of Hootsuite, “The Quick-Start Guide to Social Media for Time-Strapped Execs”
When you have a social media presence, it is important to be aware of the potential for negative interactions. Consumers complain about brands 879 million times a year on various social media sites. A business‘s response to a negative comment can make a huge difference—particularly for smaller businesses where the loss of customers is particularly impactful. Not responding to comments can be just as damaging as responding poorly; if a customer finds your business to be nonresponsive, they may look elsewhere. When someone is engaging with your company on social media, make sure you respond quickly and personably.
Another mistake is making your audience think you are only interested in promoting your company, but not engaging with customers. You should not view social media merely as an advertising venue, but rather, as a place to connect with your customers and give them an insight into your business. Correspondingly, make sure you are not just sharing advertising or self-promotional content—share content that is helpful, useful, or interesting to your targeted audience. However, do not take this to mean that you should not be attempting to sell or share your products at all—on the contrary, (for those who goal is to sell products or services), the underlying strategy of social media is to create positive feelings for your brand that will translate into more sales.
Streamline Your Social Media
One way to lessen the time cost of a social media strategy is to use some of the tools that can automate posting and help measure the effectiveness of your posts. One such tool is Hootsuite, a social media management system that can offer assistance with Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, WordPress, and other platforms. A user‘s main Hootsuite page presents a dashboard of all accounts, and allows users to schedule posts and track results.
While tools like Hootsuite and other similar services can help you save time by allowing you to share updates over multiple social media platforms simultaneously, it is important to stay on top of any scheduled posts to ensure they are still appropriate. Apple was criticized after a scheduled Facebook post about Joan Rivers purchasing the new iPhone appeared more than a week after she passed away. The post was quickly removed, but the incident served as a reminder that scheduled social media posts should always be reviewed to ensure they are still appropriate.
In some cases, the ease of posting on social media can unfortunately mean that posts do not undergo the proper review before they are sent out. US Airways learned that the hard way when they accidentally tweeted a graphic image when replying to a customer. They explained that the image had been sent to them and in trying to flag it, they accidentally pasted it into an outgoing message. Reviewing their tweet and all its content before sending it could have prevented this embarrassing error.
Another important thing to remember is ensuring that you are maintaining the appropriate tone when mentioning controversial or tragic news items. Many companies have made the mistake of trying to co-opt tragic events to promote their brand. While a message of support can be appropriate in the event of a natural disaster or other tragedy, it is important to not try to use negative events to plug your brand or products, or make light of serious matters. Fashion brand Kenneth Cole made this error in 2011 by tweeting out the following during the protests in Egypt:
There was a quick and intense backlash that led to the tweet being deleted and Kenneth Cole issuing an apology.
Another potential issue that companies might have to deal with is “trolling,” which refers to a person who may write inflammatory or inappropriate messages on social media platforms with the intention of mocking or creating negative attention for his or her target. How companies choose to deal with trolls can affect their reputation, so it must be dealt with intelligently and delicately. Trolls and a company‘s response to them can also go viral and are often featured on BuzzFeed—so be cautious with your response. First, it is important to not simply ignore a troll, particularly if they are complaining about your company or its products. If they are spreading false information, respond with the correct information. Apple had to address trolling when a news item came to light about the fact that the iPhone 6 could bend if stored in tight pants. Apple simply addressed the issue directly: bending was extremely rare and did not occur with normal use. Responding directly to the issue mitigated the negative response and lessened the negative press.
“The most effective social CEOs offer a window into their world—their company, passions, hobbies, etc. Once you‘ve nailed down the sort of conversation you‘d like to have, you can set a tone that feels right for you. That can range from off-the-cuff and funny (@levie) to hard-nosed and data-driven (@elonmusk), but authenticity is nonnegotiable.”
—Ryan Holmes, CEO of Hootsuite, “The Quick-Start Guide to Social Media for Time-Strapped Execs”
Ultimately, the best social media strategies successfully integrate social media efforts with a company‘s existing resources, like its website. There are a few relatively simple steps that can be taken to encourage interaction between a company‘s website and its social media pages. Social media icons should be prominently displayed on a company‘s website so that visitors can easily access social media pages. Another strategy for attracting web traffic is to publish a regular blog; this can help create a voice for your company and also share valuable information. It also offers an opportunity for additional engagement; consider asking readers to follow you on Twitter or like you on Facebook. Another option is to integrate live social media feeds directly on your website so visitors can see recent
posts. Sharing buttons can also be added to blog posts or press releases so that it is simple for site visitors to share content. Your platforms can be used for recruitment as well, and potential employees might review your platforms to learn more about your company‘s culture and communication tone before contacting you about available job opportunities.
Finally, once a social media presence has been established and maintained, metrics must be created to measure its effectiveness. This depends on the overall goal of your social media engagement—whether it be attracting employees, increasing sales, or other objectives—but it should be a central part of your social media efforts. Common metrics include keeping track of mentions of your company, shares of your content, and the number of followers who have engaged with your company in some form on social media. These can give you a sense of what is and is not working and help you refine your social media efforts.
While social media might seem intimidating, it can be an effective, inexpensive tool for connecting with customers, engaging with potential employees, and driving more traffic to your website. Using the aforementioned tools and strategies can help guide businesses to create a social media strategy that will meet their goals and benefit their bottom line.
This article was published in the June 2016 issue of Insulation Outlook magazine. Copyright © 2016 National Insulation Association. All rights reserved. The contents of this website and Insulation Outlook magazine may not be reproduced in any means, in whole or in part, without the prior written permission of the publisher and NIA. Any unauthorized duplication is strictly prohibited and would violate NIA’s copyright and may violate other copyright agreements that NIA has with authors and partners. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to reprint or reproduce this content.