Small high-street businesses have traditionally been slow to adopt social media and other digital marketing channels, largely due to the time and effort involved in the constantly expanding discipline. While everyone's heard of Facebook, social media marketing goes far beyond the world's most popular social network, and there are numerous platforms with each one having a specific purpose.
There's no point in trying to get your small business listed on as many social networks and other online forums as possible. Success with any form of digital marketing comes with finding your focus and committing to a carefully planned strategy. As you make your foray into the increasingly complex world of social media, one of the first steps to take is to choose the right social platforms.
A blog often serves as the very heart of a company's social and content marketing efforts, particularly in the case of exclusively Web-based businesses. For small businesses, blogging can still be highly beneficial, since it provides you with a platform to share your thoughts and ideas and raise awareness about your business. It gives you a voice over which you have complete control and, thanks to the possibility of enabling on-site comments, it can also provide a valuable social experience allowing you to form meaningful connections with your target audience.
On the other hand, blogging takes time and effort, and not everyone is capable of writing original and engaging content on a regular basis. As such, blogging might not be the most suitable choice for every type of small business, many of which will want to prioritize more valuable and influential social platforms. Nonetheless, the blog is an extremely versatile platform. For example, if you own a restaurant, you could publish a food blog on your website to reach out to a wider audience as well as keep your existing customers entertained and aware of your business.
If for no other reason other than the fact that it's by far the world's largest social network, almost any small business should have a Facebook page. It is ubiquitous in the western world, and it's a powerful advertising platform in its own right. Creating a Facebook page for your business is a fairly straightforward process, and it doesn't cost anything either. However, the leading social network also provides a wealth of targeted advertising options allowing you to specify your goals and your target audience all for a daily budget that you can set yourself.
A small business Facebook page will be most effective if you provide a steady stream of updates and, while there is no one-size-fits-all approach, two to four daily updates tends to work best for most businesses, provided you get your timing right. After all, people will often find you on Facebook before they find your website. Most importantly, in the case of local businesses, is to ensure your contact and address information is correct and completely consistent with any other online listings you maintain.
Twitter is the world's leading microblogging network, providing both businesses and individuals with a platform to post short messages with the possibility of attaching rich-media content such as images, videos and product descriptions. Like Facebook, Twitter also provides a range of paid targeted advertising features, and it's constantly refining its marketing tools to better appeal to small local businesses. Most notably, all posts on Twitter are restricted to a 140-character limit, making features like URL shorteners and hashtags particularly important for saving space.
While Twitter is generally seen as more promotional in nature than most other social networks, it is important to keep your content interesting and low on self-promotion. Approximately two thirds of your Tweets (Twitter posts) should be focussed on engagement with other people's content, provided it is relevant to your target audience. The remainder can involve some self-promotion, but if you're not providing enough genuine value to your target audience, you'll start losing followers. Finally, Twitter is also a great platform for getting connected with other local influencers.
LinkedIn is the world's most popular professional social network, making it the most important platform for business-to-business industries and seeking professional connections. Far away from the inane content that many individuals post on Facebook and Twitter, LinkedIn encourages a very different approach, and it's not particularly suitable for certain types of businesses. From a small business marketing point of view, LinkedIn is less about reaching out to consumers and more about establishing valuable business connections with other local influencers.
A LinkedIn profile is primarily an online résumé for either an individual or a business. As such, businesses of all sizes use it for recruiting new employees and finding business partners. As a small business, you're not likely to find a great deal of new customers directly through LinkedIn, but it can still be extremely useful for the aforementioned reasons. LinkedIn Groups can also provide many useful insights into your industry and the consumer habits connected to it. It's ideal for exchanging your thoughts and discussing the challenges your business faces.
One of the smaller niche social networks, Pinterest nonetheless maintains a growing audience of 70 million users worldwide, although content published on the network is also available to the general public. The discovery-based platform features a pinboard design and is highly orientated towards visual content such as images and infographics. Users pin their favourite images to virtual pinboards that are typically dedicated to specific subjects such as food, travel or interior design. For certain small businesses, it provides an engaging way to spread word about new products.
Due to its exclusively visual nature, Pinterest is not suitable for every small business, but for others, it is invaluable. For example, a high-street bakery might use the platform for sharing images of its latest confections, which followers can share on their own pinboards. Other small businesses can use it for posting graphical coupons to promote upcoming events and sales. Pinterest tends to work best when it is used as a part of a greater cross-platform strategy, with many companies leveraging their Pinterest posts by promoting them on Facebook and Twitter among other networks.
Another of the world's leading visual social platforms, Instagram is even bigger than Pinterest with 150 million worldwide users. Its stylized visuals and wide range of image filters and special effects make it particularly popular with a younger crowd, and it provides a great opportunity for small businesses to humanize their brands. Companies often use the network for publishing behind-the-scenes pictures of their employees, allowing customers to become engaged with the brand on a more personal level.
Like Pinterest, Instagram is best suited to industries that rely heavily on visual appeal, such as travel, catering and fashion. For businesses that aren't visual in nature, such as legal firms, Instagram is probably not going to be of much use. Using Instagram for marketing purposes tends to work best as part of a cross-platform strategy whereby users leverage their visual content by sharing it on the mainstream social networks. Instagram also supports hashtags, allowing users to find your images there and on other social networks when looking for specific topics.
Yelp is an online review site and social network catering towards local high-street businesses. Receiving around 150 million monthly visitors and sporting over 80 million reviews, it has grown to become one of the most important platforms of its kind. After all, consumers are more likely than ever before to seek out reviews before trying out a new venue. However, while you won't have control over what other people are saying about you when they leave reviews on the site, you can and should claim your Yelp listing.
Small businesses can create profiles on Yelp complete with high-resolution photos, business hour listings, contact information and directions. Since Yelp is primarily a review site rather than a social network, maintaining an active presence on the platform also gives you the opportunity to garner invaluable insights into your customer base. You'll also have a chance to respond to negative reviews to help maintain your reputation when things inevitably go wrong on occasion. Many other similar platforms exist as well, such as Foursquare, TripAdvisor and Google+ Local.
The above list is by no means complete, but it does highlight some of the most important social platforms. You probably won't want to use them all, but you should now be better prepared to choose the right channels for marketing your small business. Stepping into the highly active world of social media might be a daunting undertaking but, with the right approach, you'll enjoy significant rewards.