Social Media 101 for Small Businesses

Now, more than ever, is a great time for your small business to be on social media.

“Pivot” has been the theme of the past year, especially for small businesses. Most have had to rethink the ways they’ve operated, whether that’s experimenting with e-commerce, changing up marketing strategies or all of that and more. Social media is one of the most affordable marketing tools around and, as a bonus, it’s more than likely your customer base already uses it.

Here’s how to make it work for you.

Social media means business

When it comes to small businesses, having some degree of a social media presence is almost always a great idea. Just don’t expect to make a few posts and see hundreds of orders or inquiries immediately pour in. Realistically, the biggest benefits for small businesses on social media are things like:

  • Increased brand awareness
  • Growing your reach and audience
  • Staying competitive with other similar businesses
  • Letting your company’s ethos and personality shine

Whether potential new customers or future employees, chances are that they are going to do some research to determine what you’re about. This could mean checking out your website, looking at your online reviews or searching for your profiles across the main social media channels. By having an active presence on these platforms, people can get a feel for your business and learn more about you before they actually reach out.

As a bonus, staying active on social media is a relatively low-lift undertaking—and it doesn’t have to cost a dime.

The 3 key social media platforms

While this industry is constantly evolving, the top platforms worth considering when you’re just starting out include Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Facebook is one of the most popular social media platforms, with a reported 2.45 billion monthly active users according to Sprout Social. Facebook makes it easy for businesses to create what they call “Pages,” where businesses can add photos, link to their website and offer information on hours of operation, location and more (this is particularly helpful for brick-and-mortar businesses).

The downside: Because of how popular this channel is, its algorithm doesn’t favor non-paid business posts. This means that even if 300 people have “liked” your Page (which means they’re fans of your brand and want to stay in the loop about what you’re up to), analytics may show your posts have only reached a few sets of eyeballs. Unless you happen to have a post randomly go viral, you’ll need to pay to “boost” your organic posts if you want more visibility.

Instagram is owned by Facebook, and the two have plenty of differences. Instagram, which has more than 1 billion monthly active users according to Statista, is more visual-centric. The most successful posts are eye catching and visually appealing. It’s also quick and easy to set up a business profile on Instagram, and you get the added benefit of access to a few helpful metrics to see how people are engaging with your account.

On Instagram, users can post photos or videos with captions, as well as temporary “story” content (which could be text, GIFs, videos or photos) that will disappear within 24 hours unless you save them to a highlight on your profile. One drawback: Captions can’t include working hyperlinks (though hashtags can be clicked), and the only way to link elsewhere (like to your website) is via your profile page or via a story… if, that is, you have at least 10,000 followers.

Twitter is more about short, quippy verbiage. While videos and photos can also be posted, the most successful tweets are often concise word-only posts that are either witty or spark a conversation. Because of this, it can be harder for businesses to garner significant engagement or traction without investing a decent amount of time creating content, buying ads and engaging with other users.

Those who do find success on Twitter (which has around 145 million daily active users, according to Oberlo) often do so by sharing original content as well as the content of others (known as “retweeting”). Not only does this make your business seem more authentic and in-the-know, but it makes other companies more likely to interact with you (to thank you for sharing their work) and even to return the favor. As Melinda Emerson, the “Small Biz Lady,” recommends in Forbes, “Be sweet, retweet.”

Yes, there are other social media platforms like LinkedIn, Snapchat, Pinterest and TikTok, but the ones above are best for your first step in using social media.

Determining which platform is right for your business

Different small businesses will find different levels of success on each platform. It’s a good idea to create profiles on all the major channels. This way, you can leverage them more as your team grows, and you don’t risk a competitor or someone else taking your profile name (or worse, impersonating your brand).

Brands with visually pleasing products, including those available on e-commerce, are likely to do well on Instagram. Companies with a youthful, playful voice can have fun experimenting on Twitter. And nearly all small businesses can benefit from being on Facebook.

Best practices for small businesses on social media

Be prepared for trial and error. It takes time and experimenting to determine where your audience is most active and which posts resonate most. Sometimes, the most unexpected content is what performs best, so don’t be afraid to try new things and regularly monitor the results. Stay informed of any changes or upgrades to various platforms so you always take advantage of the latest features.

Visual content generally gets more engagement because it’s more eye-catching. But this doesn’t mean it’s all about the visuals—in fact, some experts say Instagram posts with longer captions, for example, do better than those with shorter captions.

Timing and frequency are important. If you’re managing multiple channels, it’s wise to create an account on a social media scheduling platform like Buffer or Sprout Social. Many of these sites offer free trials, and some offer free profiles with a limited number of posts allowed each month. As a bonus, some of these services can also tell you when your audience of followers is most active, so you can plan your post schedule accordingly.

Post at least once every week or two when you’re getting started, then increase your frequency as you get in the swing of things. If you’re running your business while also handling social, bookkeeping and everything else, this may be all you can do—and that’s fine! As long as you’re semi-consistent, you should see growth. If you’ve got a team, consider putting your marketing person in charge of creating a social strategy and post schedule

Let your personality shine via social. Have fun with each platform’s features (like Twitter polls and Instagram Stories) and experiment with different types of posts. Follow back those who follow you, like and comment on other people’s posts and don’t be afraid to start conversations. Once you’ve established your social presence, you can work on creating goals and strategizing with them in mind.

The bottom line

As with all organic marketing efforts, it may take time to see traction from your social media. But as long as you stay consistent, create posts that represent your business accurately and don’t take it too seriously, you’ll be on the right track.