“You need to be on social media.”
As an existing or new business owner, you’ve heard that advice more times than you can count. You get it—and now you’re taking the next step to figure out exactly how to use social media to boost your business.
Not sure where or how? That’s where this guide comes in.
We’re breaking down everything you need to know about social media for small businesses, including how to choose your platforms, how to create your strategy, and what you should be measuring.
What is social media marketing and what are its benefits?
Social media marketing means using one or more social media platforms to promote your business, products, or services. This marketing can be either paid advertising or organic engagement.
Moreover, it isn’t just a strategy for big businesses with large audiences. A reported 77.6% of small businesses use social media for promotion, and doing so offers impressive benefits.
1. Social media meets your customers where they already are
When it comes to your marketing efforts, it’s hard to know the right channels to reach your customers. How can you be certain that they’re reading that publication, listening to that radio station, or watching that television channel?
That’s less of a concern with social media marketing—because chances are good that a large chunk of your customer base is already spending their time there.
Currently, South Africa has an estimated 23 million active social media users. And, the majority of these people are doing more than just scrolling through their feeds occasionally. The average internet user spends nearly two and a half hours each day on social media platforms.
2. Social media provides opportunity for interaction
There are plenty of effective marketing tactics, but not many allow for the same level of engagement as social media. Rather than being a one-sided promotional message, social media marketing is more like a mutual conversation.
Your customers can leave comments, share or like your posts, and even send you direct messages to ask questions or offer feedback.
It’s a benefit that most people take full advantage of. 45% of customers say that social media is the first channel they turn to when they have questions or issues, and 21% say they’d rather message a brand on social media than call a customer service department.
The secret is to actually engage and respond to this outreach, as doing so can boost brand loyalty and trust. A separate study found that 55% of survey respondents state that “liking” or responding helps consumers feel more connected to those brands.
3. Social media is cost-effective to start
Placing an advertisement in your local paper or running a radio spot is going to require some budget. However, social media marketing doesn’t demand handfuls of cash—all you need to invest is your time.
It’s free to start a profile and begin posting to your business’ social media accounts. You’ll only need to open your wallet if you decide to use social media advertisements or outsource the management of our social accounts.
Which social platforms are best for my small business?
Gone are the days when you only needed a Facebook page for your business. Today’s social media landscape has tons of different platforms, and that can make it overwhelming to figure out where your business needs an active presence. Should you be on all of them? Or just a few?
Let’s take a look at some of the most popular social media networks out there, as well as how you can evaluate which are the best fit for your business. (Unless otherwise noted, all the below data has been compiled from either Statista or CoSchedule.)
Unless you’ve avoided social media entirely up to this point, you’re already somewhat familiar with Facebook. It’s been around for over a decade and, far and away, it’s the platform with the largest user base.
With a Facebook business page, you can post content and updates, “like” and share posts from others, and engage with your followers through comments and direct messages. People also have the opportunity to rate and review your business, and those reviews will be publicly displayed on your business profile.
- When it started: 2004
- Total number of users: 2.41 billion monthly active users
- Most prevalent age of users: 25 to 35 years old
- Predominant gender of users: Female
- Ideal posting frequency: One post per day
Twitter is all about more bite-sized conversations. Your business can post tweets (of 280 characters or less) that will appear on your profile, as well as in your followers’ feeds.
You can also interact through direct messages, liking other tweets, replying to tweets, and retweeting (meaning, reposting) content that others have shared.
- When it started: 2006
- Total number of users: 330 million monthly active users
- Most prevalent age of users: 18 to 29 years old
- Predominant gender of users: Male
- Ideal posting frequency: 15 tweets per day
No longer the new kid on the block, Instagram has become a Goliath in the social media world. It’s a highly-visual platform, where each post you share will be an image with a caption. You can also like and comment on photos that other people are sharing.
One of the biggest limitations of Instagram (especially when it comes to marketing your business) is its restrictions on linking. You can include one link in your Instagram bio. If you opt for a business account, you can also include buttons for followers to instantly call, text, email, or get directions to your business.
However, you can’t include links directly in captions, which makes it challenging to push your followers to a specific product, service, or promotion.
- When it started: 2010
- Total number of users: 1 billion monthly active users
- Most prevalent age of users: 25 to 34 years old
- Predominant gender of users: Female (but pretty evenly matched)
- Ideal posting frequency: One to two posts per day
Pinterest functions more like a search engine than your typical social media network. People turn to Pinterest to find everything from business advice to recipes to home decor inspiration.
With this platform, your business will “pin” content (whether it’s content you created or found on Pinterest and are re-pinning) to one of your boards.
A board is a space you’ve set up that essentially creates a category. When others click that pin, they’ll be brought directly to the web page where they can access that content in its full form. It’s another highly-visual network, and many people are strategic about the pins they design to generate more clicks.
On your business Pinterest page, you can include a bio and a link directly to your website. You can also follow other pinners and comment on pins you find interesting.
- When it started: 2010
- Total number of users: 300 million monthly active users
- Most prevalent age of users: 30-49 years old
- Predominant gender of users: Female
- Ideal posting frequency: 11 pins per day
Considered a networking platform for professionals, your LinkedIn business page will likely be less about connecting with consumers and more about maintaining relationships with your industry peers, vendors, and suppliers. It’s a little more buttoned-up than the other platforms, and on an individual level, you can think of your LinkedIn profile like an online resume.
However, your business LinkedIn profile will display basic information about your business, including your industry and how many employees work for you. Other LinkedIn users can follow your business page, and your employees can link their profile to you (which means they’ll show up under the “people” tab of your business page).
You can share content and posts that will display on your profile (as well as in your followers’ feeds) and even post open jobs and hire directly through the platform.
- When it started: 2002
- Total number of users: 645 million monthly active users
- Most prevalent age of users: 30 to 64 years old
- Predominant gender of users: Male
- Ideal posting frequency: 1 post per day
So, which ones should your business use?
The above nuts and bolts information is helpful in figuring out which platforms may or may not be right for your audience and your goals.
But, if you’re still feeling stumped about where you should be spending your time and energy on social media, here are a few more things to consider before settling on your chosen accounts.
4. Understand your resources and capabilities
Every social media platform boasts a pretty sizable audience, which makes it easy to think, “Well, shouldn’t I be leveraging all of them?”
If you think you have the time and resources to do that well, then by all means. But keep in mind that it’s far better to knock things out of the park on one platform than to do a lackluster job on all of them.
That’s why an important first step is to consider your resources and any limitations:
- How much time can you dedicate to social media on a daily basis?
- How many posts can you create on a daily or weekly basis?
- Do you have employees who can help you with social media responsibilities?
- Do you have the budget to outsource any social media marketing?
That’s why we made sure to include the ideal posting frequency for each platform. It will give you a realistic grasp of just what will be required of you to master your presence with each social network.
5. Figure out what type of content you want to share
Next, it’s worthwhile to think through what sort of content you intend to share (don’t worry—we’ll talk about a detailed social media strategy in a later section).
Are you a jewelry maker or a wedding photographer? A more visual platform like Instagram or Pinterest will probably be a better fit for you, as you’ll want to share a lot of images of your work. In contrast, if you’re a repair person who intends to share tutorials and bite-sized home repair tips, Facebook or Twitter is a more suitable choice.
Of course, you don’t have to have your content strategy set in stone at this point. But, giving some thought to what you’ll be posting on those accounts will help you zone in on the platforms that best support that type of content.
6. Know where your audience spends their time
You’re using social media to interact with your existing customers and hopefully attract some new ones. To do so, you need to know where your target customer is spending most of their time online.
The above demographic information for each platform can start to give you some insight about where your customer base might be hanging out.
But, the easiest way to know for sure is to just ask them. Whether you want to use a formal survey (and provide an incentive for people to actually fill it out!) or quickly ask people about their favorite social network while you’re completing their transaction at the cash register, that straightforward research will help you figure out the best place to reach your customers.
How to build a social media strategy and plan for your small business
You’ve laid the groundwork by choosing the social platforms that you want to use. But now you’ve run into another hurdle: What do you post? And when?
Putting together a small business social media strategy can feel overwhelming—especially if you haven’t been doing that much social media marketing so far. Follow these five steps to build a basic social media plan that you can use to get started.
7. Create customer personas
In order for any marketing tactic to be effective, you need to know exactly who you’re speaking to. This not only helps you use the right language and approach, but is also informative for figuring out what types of content they want to see from you.
The good news is that you probably already know way more about your customer base than you think you do—because you’re interacting with them on a daily basis.
Especially if you have more than one type of customer (which most businesses do), it can be helpful to create customer personas for the different types of people your business targets. If you run a bakery, for example, you might know you appeal to the following types of customers:
- The young professionals who frequently brings baked goods into work to share with their co-workers
- The parents who want customized cakes and cookies for birthday parties and special occasions
- The retired people who prefer to buy their loaves of bread at a bakery than in a grocery store
When creating a marketing persona, assign names to each of these types of customers to make them easier to remember and relate to. Mapping your customer journey is even more illuminating.
This might seem like a formality, but this exercise does help to give you a grasp on who you’re most likely to be speaking to through your social media channels and craft your content accordingly.
8. Set goals for each platform
As a business owner, you shouldn’t do anything without a goal attached to it. Especially when it comes to marketing, all of your efforts should be supporting a larger objective—like increasing your sales, gathering more positive reviews, or growing your email list.
So, for each platform you’ve decided to use, ask yourself: What do we want this platform to do for us?
Your answer needs to be better than, “Well, everyone is telling us that we need to be there.” Think through exactly what you want that platform to accomplish for your business.
Then, use the SMART goal framework to set an end goal that will help you focus your efforts and make the most of the time you spend on social media. A SMART goal is:
- Specific: Your goal should be highly-focused
- Measurable: Your goal should have a metric attached to it
- Achievable: Your goal should be realistic (while still being motivating!)
- Relevant: Your goal should matter—it needs to be relevant to your business success
- Time-Bound: Your goal should have a deadline
With that in mind, here’s an example of a SMART goal you could set for your company’s Facebook page:
Receive 25 five-star reviews on our Facebook page by the end of this quarter so that we can boost our reputation for people who are searching for coffee shops on Facebook.
Make sure that you set a separate goal for each of the social media accounts your business intends to use, as they can serve very different purposes.
9. Determine your posting frequency
How often will you post to each platform? Return to the breakdown of the different networks above to see what the recommended posting frequency is. But, keep in mind that’s not a hard and fast rule—and your frequency is going to depend on your own resources and limitations.
Similarly to how you set goals for each platform, settle on a posting frequency for each (because again, they can be different!). For example, maybe you’ll aim to post using the following guidelines for your two platforms:
- Facebook: Three posts per week
- Instagram: One post per week
Document that—it’ll be important information to have as you plan out your calendar and strategy.
10. Piece together your content calendar
The word “strategy” can be intimidating, so we’re going to keep this as simple as possible. By now, you know:
- Who your audience is
- What platforms you’ll be posting to
- How often you’ll be posting to those platforms
That’s all valuable information, but it still isn’t tied together in a cohesive plan. This is the time when you want to grab a notepad or calendar where you can map out your next month’s worth of content.
The easiest way to start is by building a repeatable format for yourself—where you’ll post the same type of content on a standard day. Using our bakery example and the posting frequency we outlined in the following step, that might look like:
Facebook: Three posts per week
- Every Monday: Post an announcement about what baked goods are on special that week
- Every Wednesday: Ask a baking-related trivia question (first to answer correctly in a comment wins a coupon)
- Every Friday: Share a recent review, customer testimonial, or piece of feedback (and nudge people to leave reviews themselves)
Instagram: One post per week
- Every Wednesday: Post a photo of a recent custom cake or bakery order that was completed, with a detailed description.
With that rough framework mapped out, you can begin planning out the actual content on a spreadsheet or in your calendar.
What photos will you post? What trivia questions will you ask? You can sort that all out ahead of time and even schedule your posts (more on scheduling tools in a later section) so that you can maintain a consistent social media presence—without needing to invest time into it every single day.
If you’re worried that this sort of straightforward approach will be repetitive for your followers, don’t be.
Nobody is monitoring your social media profiles as closely as you are, and the different algorithms mean that only a small percentage of people (maybe as little as 5% of your followers) are seeing every one of your posts in their feed. They likely won’t even catch on to your pattern, but will still appreciate the consistency.
11. Stick with your strategy
Your company has a budget, but the simple act of having that established doesn’t accomplish anything—it’s when you actually follow it that the magic happens.
The same holds true for your social media strategy. You need to stick with it and continue to post to your accounts on a consistent basis (challenge yourself to abide by the posting frequency guidelines you set earlier!).
You don’t need to reinvent the wheel each time. While you don’t want your different social platforms to be identical to one another (remember, they serve different goals and even audiences!), there’s no law saying you can’t use the same image or promote the same discount in numerous places.
In fact, repurposing your content is a great way to make social media marketing even a little more streamlined. Maybe that customer testimonial you shared on Facebook would make a great quote graphic for Instagram—go ahead and use it!
Finally, this point isn’t to say that your strategy can’t evolve. On the contrary, it should. As you get more comfortable and you learn more about what your audience likes and dislikes, you can continue to refine the content you’re sharing to be even more impactful.
Social media metrics: Which are most important to your small business?
When you set your goals for your social media platforms, you needed to make them measurable. You assigned some sort of digit so you could monitor your progress and know when you’ve been successful.
However, the world of social media metrics can feel like a whole new beast. Conversions? Click-through rates? Impressions? It’s enough to make your head spin.
When managing your business’ social media presence, you’ll have access to all sorts of analytics that tell you how you’re doing.
You’ll find your Facebook Insights, LinkedIn page analytics, and Twitter Analytics are accessible directly within your accounts on those platforms. Instagram and Pinterest will require that you have business profiles (and not individual accounts) before accessing that information.
If you’re investing any money into paid advertising—even if it’s limited to holiday campaigns on social—there will be additional metrics that you’ll want to keep your eye on to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth.
But, if you’re just getting started with social media marketing, start by monitoring the following four metrics.
12. Determine your audience size
What it measures: Your current amount of fans or followers, as well as how that number has increased or decreased over a set time period.
Why it matters: You don’t want to get overly-wrapped up in this sort of digit (sometimes called a “vanity metric”), since it’s certainly not the only indicator of how you’re performing on social media. However, it’s still important to check.
If people are rapidly or repeatedly unfollowing your accounts and your numbers are in a nosedive, that’s a sign that you need to change something about your approach. If you’re seeing steady growth (even if it’s slow), that’s a positive sign!
13. Measure average engagement
What it measures: The number of people who are liking, commenting, sharing, or interacting with the content you’re posting on social media.
Why it matters: You’re better to have a smaller, highly-engaged audience than a massive, disengaged audience. Especially if you plan to use, or already use, social channels for customer service.
This metric helps you understand how your content is resonating. You can also review your history to pull out any trends about what type of posts get the most engagement—so you can repeat that success with future posts.
14. Calculate your average reach
What it measures: The number of people who see your content.
Why it matters: Think this is the same as the number of people who follow you? Think again. We mentioned that those sneaky algorithms mean that not everybody in your audience will see your content.
However, you also need to consider that when your posts are shared by your followers, their audiences will see that content. Those are people who might not follow you (at least not yet!), but are exposed to what you’re posting.
This is a helpful number to monitor, especially if you’re using social media as a tool to reach new customers.
15. Monitor social conversion rates
What it measures: The number of people who are taking the action you want them to.
Why it matters: You’ll occasionally post content that directs your followers elsewhere—whether it’s to click through to your website, subscribe to your newsletter, read a blog post, or enter your contest. This metric details how many of those people are actually clicking through and completing that action.
Be aware that this will be tougher to track through your social platforms directly, since it involves your website. You’ll need to get this information from Google Analytics, a separate tool for monitoring performance.
Best social media management tools for small business
You don’t have to handle social media marketing all on your own. You can outsource help, and you can also rely on a variety of tools that can make this project easier.
Whether you want to dive deeper into your analytics or create custom graphics (despite not being a designer!), we’ve listed some of our favorite tools in several categories below. Click through to find out more about each of them.
16. Select the right scheduling tools
Scheduling your social media posts ahead of time allows you to work more efficiently and can save you hours, and there’s no shortage of different schedulers available.
Not all of these schedulers work with every social network (some specialize!), and some are comprehensive marketing platforms that offer way more than just scheduling tools (meaning they’ll have a heftier price tag).
So, commit to some research to find the one that fits your needs best.
17. Leverage social media analytics tools
Again, most social networks will have built-in insights or analytics that you can access—especially if you have a business account or profile. However, that information can be limited.
Using a third-party analytics tool gives you greater detail about who’s seeing your content and how it’s performing.
Be aware that many of the scheduling tools in the previous section also offer analytics on the content that is scheduled through that platform. You might not even need two separate tools for scheduling and analytics.
18. Use image creation tools
If you don’t consider yourself a photographer or a designer (or even if you do!), the below tools make it easy to create customized images to include with your social media posts.
Creating your images will be a breeze—and you might even have some fun doing it.
19. Find high-quality stock photo sites
Not every image you use needs to be custom or personalized. Use some of these stock photo resources to find free-to-use photography that will complement your written content.
Search a key term for a type of photo you want (i.e. “cup of coffee” or “home repair”), and you’ll get tons of photos that you can use for free.
Social media tips and best practices
We’ve covered a lot that will help you ace your social media efforts. You’ve done your research, crafted your strategy, figured out how you’ll monitor progress, and selected your tools.
You’re off to a great start. But, as you start posting content to your small business social media accounts, here are a few more tips to implement.
20. Use relevant hashtags
Hashtags are essentially search terms, and they work on nearly all social media platforms these days. You simply put a pound symbol (#) in front of a word—like #coffee or #bakery.
When you do that, that term will become clickable. People can click through to view other content that’s tagged with that same hashtag.
Using hashtags is helpful, as it means your social media content can be found by people who are searching for a certain type of content.
Within Instagram, for example, someone can search #coffee using the search function and see recent posts that use that hashtag. Ideally, your own content will appear in those results and, if the person likes what they see, they might just follow you and learn more about your business.
Obvious hashtags that fit your industry or business are great, but there might be some lesser-known ones that could be worth including. Check out some of your competitors’ social media posts to see if they’re frequently using any hashtags that are worth you jumping in on!
21. Remember to interact
Social media is all about being social—you can’t leave comments and messages unanswered.
Even if you schedule all of your social media content and your strategy is running like a well-oiled machine, you (or someone on your team) still need to invest the manual effort to check in and respond to your followers. This is tough to automate, and people generally see through generic responses anyway.
Set aside some time each day—even if it’s five minutes when you get in each day and five minutes before you leave—when you can check in on your accounts and interact with your audience. It really does make all the difference.
22. Promote your social presence
These days, it’s assumed that your business will be on social media, but it still doesn’t hurt to let people know where they can find you.
On your business cards, posters, shopping bags, flyers, and more, include the icons for the social accounts where you’re active as well as your handle—e.g., @gooddogcoffee—so that people can easily find you.
It’s a small change that can really help boost your social presence (and your following!).
Social media for small businesses doesn’t need to be overwhelming
If you’ve continued to push your business social media presence to the backburner until now, we certainly can’t blame you. Getting started can feel intimidating.
Fortunately, this guide will help you take things one step at a time, and you’ll be up and running on social media before you know it.
Just remember that it’s like any other step you’ve taken with your business: You’ll need to go through some trial and error, and you’ll learn a lot along the way.