Are you on social media?
Of course you are! It’s 2018 — everyone and their grandma is on social media. After all, where else can you go to look at SpongeBob memes and tweet your opinions until the carpal tunnel sets in?
But small business owners, I’m talking to you in particular: Are you taking advantage of social media to grow your business? And better yet, are you doing it in the most effective way?
Three out of five businesses reported they use social media marketing to reach customers, according to Clutch’s 2018 Small Business Survey.
Whether you’re already using it to boost your business or you’re unsure of how to get started, you need to use the best practices.
Of course, you could hire an expert to run your social media campaigns, but that’s not always in the budget. Here are some tips on how to effectively #doityourself.
Make a Plan
When you venture into the world of social media, you might be tempted to set up an account on every platform you can. After all, more social media accounts means more exposure, right?
Not so much. If you try to be everywhere at once, you’re going to spread yourself thin and your content will suffer.
Emily Sidley, senior director of publicity at Three Girls Media, says you need to ask yourself some questions instead of diving headfirst into posting.
“How often will you post? What types of content will you share? Are there any hashtags you want to make sure you’re using?” Sidley writes in an email. “By answering these questions first, you can be intentional and strategic with your updates.”
Choosing the Right Platform
Not all social media sites are created equally. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Snapchat… the list goes on. Each platform has its own voice and culture.
Before you make an account, consider your product, brand and targeted clientele. Sidley suggests spending some time on each platform to get a feel for it and then choosing ones that fit your business.
If your product is extremely visual, consider Instagram or YouTube. But if your service doesn’t translate well through images, consider Twitter or LinkedIn. And if you’re using LinkedIn, focus your posts on the weekdays, when users are more likely to be browsing.
Facebook is great if you have brick-and-mortar locations, because you can easily upload information such as the address, contact info, store hours and link to your website all in one place.
Regardless of which platforms you choose, make sure your contact info is easily accessible. The less clicks it takes for a customer to find your information, the better.
Be True to Your Brand
When creating a social media presence, you need to establish your brand voice and stick to it — as long as it’s producing results, of course.
You might be tempted to see what’s working for others — that can be good for inspiration, but ultimately your accounts are there to represent you.
You’re more likely to build customer loyalty if you have a consistent brand, because the audience will know whether or not you share the same values. If you’re all over the place, why should they stick around?
A loyal following means more business for you: This Sprout Social survey from 2016 shows that 57% of people are more likely to buy from a brand they follow on social media.
Determine the characteristics that really drive your business and share them with your followers. Show them who you are in a fun, informative way so they’ll be compelled to choose you over the competition.
Establish some core values if you haven’t already. This will help make your brand more clear.
Consistency is Key
Remember the story of the tortoise and the hare? Slow and steady wins the social media race, too.
Flooding your page with content then disappearing for days or weeks at a time is a surefire way to lose followers. With news feeds refreshing literally every second, your content will quickly be forgotten if it’s not consistently showcased.
You might be tempted to put all your eggs in one basket and hope for a viral post. But that’s not the way to go, unless being a one-hit wonder is your goal. And besides, there’s no magic formula that will guarantee your post goes viral, so focusing your efforts on that would be futile.
Instead, you want to build a loyal following that looks forward to your content, and the only way to get that is by posting consistently.
And by that I don’t mean spamming your followers with non-stop posts. Michael Kawula, a digital marketer who previously owned a service that helps users target audiences on Twitter, says it’s important to be respectful of the unspoken but understood rules of each channel.
“For instance, posting 20-plus times a day on Twitter is acceptable and needed, but Instagram, you shouldn’t post more than two to three times a day,” says Kawula.
Promotion Is Good; Overpromotion… Not So Much
While, yes, you’re using social media as a mode of advertising, that shouldn’t be its sole purpose. Users typically go to social media for entertainment purposes, so bombarding them with blatant ads will drive people away.
Don’t believe me? The Sprout Social survey shows that 46% of surveyed users will unfollow a brand because of too many promotional posts. Coming in right behind that, 41% will unfollow a brand if it doesn’t share enough relevant information.
Sidley suggests following the 80/20 rule: About 80% of your posts should focus on providing value to your followers, and the rest can be promotional. Valuable content can mean sharing interesting articles and news relevant to your industry, retweeting your followers, posting polls, etc.
And don’t be scared to have fun with it! It has become pretty common for brands to show their silly side on social media.
But amid Twitter takedowns and meme retweets, you’ll see Wendy’s standard promotional content. The key is to find the right balance.
Social Media Isn’t One-Sided
It’s important to remember the “social” in social media.
People don’t go to social media to just view; they want to engage and take part. If you want to build a following, you have to drive conversation.
With user-generated content, you can engage with potential customers and rely on them for indirect promotion or inspiration.
You can prompt users to share a story with a hashtag you made up. When relevant, tag other users to reach an audience that might not follow you. Post an Instagram story with a poll, inviting people to indulge in their favorite internet pastime: sharing their opinions.
Monitor your mentions and comments and reply to followers — even if they said something negative. But don’t reply defensively or pick a fight; do it with empathy and the intention of de-escalating a situation.
Liking, retweeting, replying and commenting not only broaden your reach but also play a major role in the algorithms these platforms adhere to.
“Each channel has an algorithm that punishes those who aren’t consistent and rewards those who have high engagement,” says Kawula.
Creating High-Quality Content on a Penny
A major problem that small businesses run into on social media nowadays is the dominance of paid advertising, otherwise known as “pay to play.”
In a perfect world, a business could entirely depend on organic content, but the shift in algorithms over the years has made that pretty tough.
If you have the budget for it, consider running some paid ads. But before you start paying to generate traffic, you need to build a strong organic foundation. Otherwise, you’ll just end up throwing your money away on ads that aren’t effective.
Say a user clicks on a paid ad for your business only to find nothing worthwhile on the other end. What are the chances they’ll stick around, let alone come back?
One way to better ensure you’ll get your money’s worth is by using analytics to monitor your content.
“Once a month of so, pull up your analytics and review which posts are receiving the highest engagement.” says Sidley. “Think about ways you can tweak your strategy to share updates that are even more likely to resonate with followers.”
Rather than taking a stab in the dark and hoping for the best, use the data to plan your posts.
An efficient way to do so is to set up a social media calendar. If it’s just you running the show, constantly posting content can quickly become a chore. A structured calendar will make your life easier.
Set aside time at the beginning of each month to come up with post ideas and map out when they’ll go live.
Consider using a tool such as Hootsuite to better plan your social media tactics. Such tools not only allow you to manage all of your social media accounts from one place but also to create a schedule. They’ll even upload your posts automatically, based on the schedule you set.
Remember, it’s not necessarily about the size of your budget, but how you use it. So use it wisely by making informed and strategic decisions.
Kaitlyn Blount is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. Only follow her on Twitter if you can get past the overuse of GIFs and way too many tweets about Jeff Goldblum.
This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.