We're well into the new millennium now, and if you're a business owner who's paying attention, you know that your business could benefit from some savvy social media use.
The lifeblood of any business is its customers, and social media offers ways to reach many potential customers and ways to maintain relationships with existing ones. Here are some strategies to consider for several social media platforms -- as well as a few things to not do.
General social media tips
The best way to go about growing your number of customers via social media -- or strengthening your relationships with existing customers -- is to have a plan and goals (ideally specific and measurable ones so that you can better track your success). Better still, keep your plan in flux, tweaking it as needed. You might experiment with posting to your accounts at differing intervals and at different times of the day and week. There are tools such as tweetdeck.twitter.com and the Hootsuite and Buffer apps that can let you schedule lots of posts to roll out over many days. See which kinds of posts have the most impact -- something you can assess in part by how many times they're liked or shared.
Consumers are more likely to appreciate (and perhaps share) a posting that makes them laugh or think or surprises them as opposed to one that's more serious and just brags about product features. There are some apps and tools you can use to evaluate your progress in social media, too. Crowdfire, for example, is a free app that can show you how many followers you're gaining and losing each day, along with offering tips. It helps to know who your customers are, too, along with which social media platforms they frequent most and what kinds of content they respond to.
If you can regularly provide entertaining, helpful, or engaging material, you'll be more likely to attract and keep followers. Consider running contests, posting polls, and sharing uplifting stories, such as those of satisfied customers. Get conversations related to your business going, such as by asking questions like "What's the best vacation you've ever taken?" or "What was your favorite book when you were young?" If you're a salon owner, you might post before and after photos of customers and invite readers to share their own great or laughable haircuts.
It's also effective to find "influencers" in the social media realm and aim to have them posting positively about your business or sharing your content. For example, you might work on getting some high-profile people in the food world or some celebrities to endorse your business in some way. If a celebrity posts about a good experience with your restaurant or shoe or service, that can reach a lot of people.
For best results, spend a little time exploring the social media accounts of your competitors and lots of other successful companies. Odds are you'll collect a lot of great ideas to try in your own social media campaigns.
As with many social media platforms, be sure to do a lot of entertaining or informing with your content on Facebook, along with a little explicit promotion of your products and services. If you're an ice cream company, for example, you can go ahead and convey what wholesome ingredients you use and what great new flavors you use, but most of your posts should be less about promoting yourself and more about keeping readers engaged. You might share stories of customers' experiences with your ice creams or run contests or polls for new flavors or invite submissions of stories readers have related to ice cream.
Facebook includes an "About" page for accounts, so be sure that yours is full of information about your business, with links to your website, contact information, and perhaps lists of locations, hours, and other key data. On Facebook and most platforms, aim to include photos or images in all or most of your posts, as they tend to draw the most eyeballs.
First off, understand that Twitter limits each post to 280 characters, along with one or more images. You also get 160 characters for your profile, where you can describe yourself or your goal succinctly. It's helpful to have your account "verified" as authentic, but as of this writing, Twitter seems to have put its verification process on hold.
Twitter is a chatty platform, and you might learn a lot about your business and how it's perceived and experienced by reading and listening to folks talk about it. If you're seeing criticism, it's good to not get defensive about it but to take note of possible problems to address and perhaps to politely respond.
Instagram is all about photos and videos, so you'll need to have a visual strategy on this platform. You can include multiple photos or videos in a single post, which can allow you to tell a story through them -- and remember to make good use of captions, too. Hashtag use is particularly important on Instagram, so be prepared to use hashtags and to use them well. When you start typing a hashtag in a post, Instagram will suggest a variety of related hashtags, showing you how powerful each is as well.
The folks at Hootsuite offer this advice for succeeding on Instagram: "Search industry hashtags and make your presence known by commenting on photos and following people who participate in these discussions. You'd be surprised how quickly this can expand your following on Instagram." It's also recommended to establish and maintain a certain style and look for your posts so that people can easily identify them.
LinkedIn can be a great way to house a lot of information about your business in an easily accessible place. It's not just for job hunters and recruiters. Fill your LinkedIn account with vital and interesting content about your company, perhaps including stats (your number of employees, number of locations, awards won, miles traveled by your delivery folks, achievements in sustainability initiatives, and so on. It's also smart to post something once a day or so, even if you're sharing an article from elsewhere that's related to your company or industry and developments in it. That can make your LinkedIn account worth following to lots of people interested in those developments.
What not to do on social media
A key error many businesses make is setting up social media accounts and then not interacting with people on them. Many customers, for example, may address you through social media, perhaps complaining about one of your offerings or maybe praising you. It's smart to respond, especially to complaints, lest you appear AWOL or disinterested.
Don't look desperate, either, such as by urging readers to retweet or share your posts. Trust them to do so if your content is sufficiently compelling, and aim to make it that compelling.
Finally, aim to not limit yourself to just one or two social media platforms. There are more than the ones above -- such as Pinterest and YouTube -- and the more platforms you're on, the more people you can connect with. Ideally, you'll create content specific for each site and won't just cross-post the same content to all platforms frequently, as certain kinds of posts will work best with certain platforms.
Many social media platforms have hundreds of millions or more than a billion monthly users. You won't reach all of them, and you don't need to, but with a solid social media strategy, you can reach lots of existing and would-be customers and build your company's image and business.