For startups and small businesses, gaining traction on social media may appear fraught with difficulties. We held a live Q&A on the topic, with advice from a panel of experts. From gaining followers to picking the best channel for you, here’s what they suggested:
“When your followers engage with you, make sure you respond. You will gain new followers more quickly if people see that you take the time,” says Erica Douglas, marketing consultant to small businesses. “If you want to speed up this process you can use Facebook advertising.”
Small business owners tempted to buy their followers should think twice, panelists advised. Claire Mitchell, who runs The Girls Mean Business, says: “It’s much better to have a smaller number of perfect fit fans who love you and your business than thousands of people who don’t really care.”
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James Kelliher, chairman and CEO of Whiteoaks, agrees. “On Twitter you’re far better having 10 high-quality followers (eg. customers, prospects, influencers) than 100 non-qualified followers,” he says.
Entrepreneurs should beware of using their Twitter feed as an extension of the sales team. Thomas Brown, director of strategy and insights at the Chartered Institute of Marketing, says: “The biggest mistake a business can make is seeing Twitter (or any other social media platform) as a broadcast channel. It’s not – it’s a place that people get together to have conversations and share. If you want to contribute to that, you’ve got to understand the etiquette.”
I know nothing about social media – where do I start?
If your head’s still stuck in the days of dial-up internet, navigating the plethora of social media options will require time.
Douglas says: “I would take a very methodical approach. Look at your business plan and identify who your target market is, then try to establish which online marketing methods you will use to the best reach this market.”
This could mean starting a blog, opening several social media accounts and monitoring engagement or reaching out for expert advice.
“There are lots of business networking groups that run very low-cost but effective social media training – it really shouldn’t be expensive or overly intensive,” says Mike Tinmouth, head of social and PR at Azimo.
Brown adds: “Don’t fall into the trap of seeing social media as some sort of dark art of digital. The basic questions remain the same: who are your potential customers/guests? Where are you likely to find them? What do they do there? Is there a role you can play?”
If you are tempted to outsource social media from day one, the panelists advise against it.
Lloyd Price, co-founder and COO of Zesty, says: “In the early stages you are building trust and your online reputation so want to be in control of the content, engagement and relationships being built across your social media channels.”
How often should I be posting?
Once you have chosen your platforms, a host of follow-up questions present themselves. How frequent should your posts be, and what type of content is most appealing?
A word of warning for small businesses – one of the main reasons people stop following a brand is because they post too frequently, according to Rachel Kneen, who works in the social media team at O2. “As a small business I would post no more than five times a week on Facebook, but on Twitter I think you should push out at least three pieces of content per day.”
She adds: “Facebook has an algorithm called EdgeRank which stops people seeing all of your posts. The more you engage with a brand, the more likely you are to see their posts. If people aren’t engaging with your content on Facebook, chances are they aren’t seeing it.”
A beginner’s guide to Pinterest…
While many of us have got the hang of Facebook and Twitter, Pinterest can still cause confusion. Pinterest describes its service as a “visual discovery tool”, where users create and share boards or ideas.
Kristian Lorenzon, head of social media at O2 Telefónica UK, says: “Content on Pinterest lives on for a long time, you’ll find that people will be pinning your content months down the line.
“I would recommend having a mixture of your own images and others (re-pinning is a great way to be discovered by others) to capitalise on this.”
Make sure you use the right language and tags so that people can discover your products, and consider engaging in one-to-one chats with people on Pinterest, Lorenzon adds.
… and LinkedIn is a business-oriented networking platform, where it is often important for small businesses to have visibility.
“Creating a fantastic LinkedIn profile is vital,” says Adam Gordon, managing director of Social Media Search. “Get connected with every potential buyer and influencer and they become your audience when you share terrific content, daily.”
He adds: “People are selective about connecting with people they don’t yet know. They need you to appear useful and relevant if they’re going to let you into their network. Take relationships offline with the most important people in your network.”
Bear in mind that LinkedIn works like a search engine and SEO rules apply, says Kneen. “Think about what keywords you want to appear in rankings and repeat them where you can. This could be in your headline, job titles and descriptions.”
It is important that your company page is up to date, containing the right branding, links and business details. Kneen recommends sharing three updates a week on your personal and business profiles.
Can I post the same content on different channels?
Beware of posting the same content on every channel possible, says Gordon.
“Some of your content will be appropriate for all channels, some will not. I would almost never post the same content on LinkedIn as I would on Facebook but I would post it all on Twitter Our Planetary.”
Price adds: “If you’re finding it hard to differentiate between channels, it’s always a good idea to look around and see what kind of content is shared by companies in your industry and what kind of content gets the best response.”
Just remember that social media should not replace sales campaigns, says Kelliher. “They complement each other. Once the right people are engaged there is nothing wrong with using other traditional tools like phone, email or face-to-face, to target and convert sales.”