Ten years ago, promoting your small business on social media was a fairly new practice. A lot of business owners gave it a try, with most efforts revolving around Twitter or Facebook and their ever-changing algorithms.
These days, while Facebook and Twitter are still major social platforms for small businesses, there are so many other options to spread the word about your business – from Instagram and Snapchat to YouTube and TikTok. Many business owners have been successful at using these social media networks to gain customers on social channels and build brand loyalty.
So what’s the key? What separates the entrepreneurs who know how to leverage social media from those who can’t seem to figure it out?
With help from a couple of experts, we came up with tips on using social channels effectively to spread awareness of your small business and boost engagement with potential customers, plus how to choose the best platform to reach your customers.
7 Proven Social Media Marketing Strategies for Small Businesses
1. Walk Before You Run
In other words, understand the basics of social media before you dive into the deep end.
Ameera Masud, a social media manager at Clearlink – a media company based in Salt Lake City, Utah, and owner of The Penny Hoarder – calls this “social media optimization” or SMO.
Some of her top tips include:
- Park your usernames. For example, if you’re setting up accounts for Sweet Treats ice cream shop, go ahead and secure that username on every platform you think you might use, even if you’re not using them yet. “Even if you don’t plan to be active on a social media platform, you have the option to pivot or prioritize another social platform in the future with the same or similar brand username,” she says. “You never know when your social media strategy may change.”
- Use the same email addresses across all platforms. “A huge issue I see with small businesses is a scattering of emails connected to social media accounts that can literally lock people out and make it difficult to connect platforms later on,” Masud says. “If you have an intern or a part-timer, make sure they utilize a brand email account for setup.”
- Cross-promote by ensuring your social media platforms are connected & highlighted across platforms. This expands your audience and allows you to save time so you don’t have to make multiple posts across all social platforms. For example, your TikTok is connected to your Instagram, which also posts to Facebook and so on. “This makes a huge difference when you’re growing a social media presence,” Masud says. “Make sure that all of your accounts are cross promoted, whether that be on your social media channels or on your website as well.”
- Start with organic, not paid. Before you start putting down your hard-earned dollars, you want to know what will work for you. Seeing what your target audience naturally gravitates toward will help you down the road when you may begin doing paid social media posts and marketing campaigns.
2. Choose the Right Social Media Platforms
You have plenty of options: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, SnapChat, Pinterest, with more becoming popular every year. But one size doesn’t fit all. The social channels that work for one small business might not work for yours. And different audiences may prefer different content.
“Put yourself in your audience’s shoes,” Masud says. Identify factors like their age, income, gender, where they live and general interests. “Then go to the social media platforms that cater most closely to that demographic. So if your target audience is women between the ages of 25 to 34 . . . you may want to consider spending more resources on Pinterest and Instagram.”
That said, who’s using each platform? Here’s some nuggets from a 2021 Pew Research Survey:
- YouTube (81% of those surveyed said they had used this platform in 2021) and Facebook (69%) are the most popular networks, and receive fairly consistent usage across age groups.
- The 18-29 age group loves Instagram (71%), SnapChat (65%) and TikTok (48%).
- There’s a large disparity between men (16%) and women (46%) who said they have used Pinterest.
- Only 12% of people surveyed who make less than $30,000 per year use LinkedIn, while 50% of those who make more than $75,000 per year use this network.
The point being, by looking at demographic information, you’ll begin to pick up on how you can best use social media for your small business.
Masud also says to also think about the social platforms you’re naturally drawn to. “If you’re doing this yourself, you want to enjoy spending time on that platform,” she adds. Spend some time surfing the different social media channels, analyzing the posts in your feed and identifying the pros and cons.
“Figure out how much time you actually want to spend on nurturing that platform, because that can help influence which platforms you choose. Some platforms are definitely going to require more posting and content curation than others,” she says.
Some other social media tips for small businesses Masud offers:
- Identify your why. Why are you here and why should someone follow you?
- Where are your competitors active? Look at similar brands or social accounts you admire in terms of social presence and offerings. Getting a lay of the land will help you decide where you can stand out.
- Where ideally would you want to drive social media followers in the user journey? Examples: Your website, email subscriptions, other channels (such as YouTube).
- What is the most important goal for you as a small business brand when it comes to social media strategy?
3. Make a Content Strategy
One of the essentials in effective social media marketing is having a content strategy. That starts with identifying “content pillars” to determine the focus you want to have on any given platform.
Think of it this way. “Let’s say you own a local juice store,” Masud says. “Your pillars or content buckets could be menu item spotlights and weekly deals. That’s your product promo pillar. You could spotlight local events and customer shoutouts. That’s a community pillar. Then you could use high-quality photos and videos of ingredient shots for foodies and lifestylers. That’s your entertainment pillar.” Masud says to start by choosing at least two pillars and nailing them down before taking on more.
Your social media strategy should also involve an idea of posting frequency, the specifics of each post, and relevant hashtags you want to use. Set up a social media calendar to remind yourself to post on a schedule.
4. Be Consistent
“I do think that it’s good to have a daily post on at least one platform,” says Ann Fryer, owner of Green Tails Market, a pet store in Farmington, Connecticut. “I like to get in front of my followers in one way or another. For example, my dog Chester is always doing fun and cute things, so I’ll take a quick video of him and tag a product we sell in the background.”
Even if you can’t post every day, it’s still a good idea to get into a regular rhythm. “All social media algorithms have one thing in common,” Masud says. “They favor consistency and pattern.”
She adds, “If daily posting isn’t in your bandwidth that’s fine — it’s more important to commit to a realistic schedule and spend time interacting on the platform versus being inconsistent with your presence.” You may consider scheduling posts on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, then using a few hours a week to interact with your followers, other social media accounts, and other brands.
Masud also suggests creating a content library of evergreen posts. That way, you have something to fall back on when you simply don’t have time to come up with a new idea. Examples of these may include seasonal quotes or product imagery.
5. Be Yourself
Authenticity on social media is incredibly important. It’s pretty easy to spot a fake, so don’t let anything get in the way of you simply being yourself.
For Fryer, that means allowing her audience into the sometimes chaotic nature of being a small business owner. “During the pandemic, I was tearing my hair out trying to run my business with my 5-year-old in the store all the time,” she says.
“So, to fill time, I got him to start decorating some brown paper bags, and I’d take a picture of each one of them and make a Facebook post. It became a thing. People would come to the store and want to know when the ‘little artist’ would make his next picture.”
Fryer says it gave her customers a glimpse into her life at that time. “We’re just like everyone else, going through the trials and tribulations of a parent during the pandemic running a small business. We’re offering a slice of our life, just showing our personhood, versus simply showing pictures of products all the time.”
Masud says that these types of posts build brand awareness and loyalty. “It’s just likability,” she says. “When you bring your personality in, that just creates really great brand content.”
6. Entertain and Inform (But Mostly Entertain)
Information certainly has its place in social media strategy. But the posts that boost engagement have a high entertainment element with a little information peppered in.
“I did a lot of informational posts early on and found very quickly that people get bored,” Fryer says. “The best performing posts for me are just short, sweet and cute, with a little blip of information in there.”
Use the mundane to your advantage, Masud says. “You always should have content that either entertains or emotionally resonates. You have the opportunity to show someone your day-to-day life and your day-to-day struggles.”
“Big corporations have to work really hard to create brand personas,” she says. For small business owners, it’s an advantage to be able to naturally show your authenticity. TikTok has shown itself as a great vehicle for doing just that.
Fryer’s dog, Chester, has become quite the social media star. She uses her posts with Chester to show off his cuteness while also providing a small amount of information, like a new or featured product at the store.
“I was making a snack one morning for the dogs when I got into the shop,” Fryer says. “I quickly made a video and posted it, and the response was super. I just took a really mundane moment, put some fun music behind it, and that was just a quick and easy way for somebody to connect with us.”
7. Remember: Video, Video, Video
Short-form video is a growing trend on social media, and with good reason. A few stats:
The biggest myth about videos on social media? “There’s a misconception that it takes a lot of resources to create a video,” Masud says. That’s just not true.
“It actually has a really low barrier to entry because most phones are perfect tools for a short-form video. And if you look at the ideal aspect ratio that TikTok favors, it’s all a selfie oriented video. So it’s something that you can pop up and do wherever you are.”
“Videos always get the most attention for me,” Fryer says. During Christmas, she had a doggy advent calendar that she posted about daily. Each day there was a different treat for Chester to “review.”
“Customers would come in and ask about a particular Buffalo treat that Chester tried and talk about how cute the advent calendar was,” she adds. They would end up asking about other products at the store. “That became a nice way to start the conversation.”
But what if you simply aren’t comfortable on camera?
“Choose a different video format,” Masud says. “You could create high-quality photos and videos of ingredients. Maybe do a reel once a week where you’re showing a product video or product tutorial, like a ‘smoothie of the week’ at a juice store, where you don’t have to be in the video.”
Voiceovers are another option. “Voiceovers are a great way to personify your video content without being in it,” Masud says. “A lot of brands have their social media managers run their TikTok, and that’s even more prevalent since Covid started because so many teams are remote.”
Even if you don’t have a team member dedicated to social media, you might have someone on your team more social media savvy who might be happy to take on those responsibilities. All the social media responsibilities don’t have to fall on you.
Robert Bruce is a senior writer for The Penny Hoarder.