How Everyday Businesses Can Leverage Social Media to Grow and Brand Their Business

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How Everyday Businesses Can Leverage Social Media to Grow and Brand Their Business

What began as a university networking tool and an outlet for adolescent boredom has, in about a decade, changed the way most of us communicate.

Social media has had dramatic effects on small and medium-sized businesses. Social platforms are leveling the playing field for organizations of all sizes, in just about every industry. Social is making and breaking small businesses, and earning big budgets of time and money in some of the largest corporations on the planet.

It’s an exciting and overwhelming time for small business owners. Social media is a big deal, and there are so many variables — from networks to strategies — that make it hard to get started.

Creating a powerful social media presence for your business doesn’t have to be scary. There are really only three things you have to do:

  1. Find your audience
  2. Create a killer social media plan
  3. Measure and maximize your results

Okay, those are three big things, but broken down and walked through, they become a very doable strategy for how everyday business owners can leverage social media to grow and brand their businesses.

How to Choose the Right Social Media Platform to Reach Your Audience

There are enough social networks available to keep a business owner busy for a long time, but if you don’t have hours of spare time every day, where do you start?

Finding the right social media platform for your unique business and your specific audience doesn’t have to be difficult. Each social media channel draws different audiences. When you combine best practices with the right network, you’re guaranteed to see success.

Learn About the Social Media Platforms

On the surface, it may seem like all the social media platforms do the same thing — and some do — but these platforms co-exist because they differ in some vital ways.

Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation Business Services, was one of our guest panelists for the fireside chat. She works extensively with business owners and entrepreneurs, and explained how these networks differ:

The goal of every social platform is to engage followers; keep them clicking on links, discovering new things, and socializing with new and familiar people. The way in which they engage their users differs with every platform. Instagram engages purely with pictures, Twitter with short bursts of words, and Facebook with a combination of the two — with an added emphasis on lengthier posts, creating room for in-depth discussion. - Deborah Sweeney (@DeborahSweeney), MyCorporation Business Services

Lauren Hogan — Digital Manager of HomeAdvisor and another fireside chat panelist — points out that each network attracts a different audience demographic as well.

Major differences [between social media networks] include age range, demographic, and type of user i.e. — a Facebook user is on the platform to escape and see what people are doing, where as a LinkedIn user is finding out information on his/her profession and/or career. - Lauren Hogan (@L_Hoges), HomeAdvisor

Some niches are easier to narrow down. Brittany Berger, a fireside panelist and Digital Content Supervisor at eZanga, focuses on a few industry-specific platforms to help her reach her audience.

If you’re a B2B company, platforms with a more professional focus, like LinkedIn or Quora, will probably be more helpful in reaching the people you need to reach, in the right context, than something like Pinterest or Instagram. That’s not to say you should ignore the others – a lot of B2B companies have found great success with other sites, too. - Brittany Berger (@BBerg1010), eZanga

Quora and HARO are good niche platforms for establishing your brand as a thought-leader in your industry.

The Pew Research Social Media 2013 study provides some beginner demographics for major social platforms:

  • Facebook is used by more women (76%) than men (66%), and more 18 to 29 year olds (84%) than any other age range.
  • Twitter is used by more black, non-hispanic internet users (29%) than white or Hispanic (16%), and more high-income earners (19%) than low (17%).
  • Instagram is used by more urban internet users (22%) than suburban (18%), and more 18 to 29 year olds (37%).
  • Pinterest is predominantly used by women (33% vs 8% of internet users who are men), and entertains a greater percentage of college graduates (25%) than any other network besides LinkedIn.
  • LinkedIn is the only network used by more men (24%) than women (19%), and more 30 to 49-year-olds (27%) than 50 to 64-year-olds (24%).

Target the platforms that attract the audience you’re trying to reach.That, of course, means you need to understand your target audience.

DO IT YOURSELF: Take a look at the Pew Research study results and identify which two platforms best represent your target audience. If you don’t already have a personal profile set up on those accounts, set one up and spend an evening getting used to that platform. Is your audience really there?

Learn About Your Audience

There is a wealth of information that you can gather about your target audience to help you make all kinds of marketing and development decisions, but as far as choosing a social platform to start with you only need some basic demographics.

Something to keep in mind is your audience demographic. If a lot of your audience consists of older, working mothers, it would be in your business’ best interest to try and get featured on some Mommy Blogs. If your audience is predominantly college students, stay up to date on the latest social platforms and gravitate towards those. Maybe your business can give Vining a go. - Deborah Sweeney (@DeborahSweeney)

Finding your target audience on social media means find where the platforms’ demographics and your audiences’ demographics overlap.

Understanding your audience will also help you connect with them on which ever platform(s) you decide to try. Just because they’re there doesn’t mean they will automatically connect with you. It’s your job to make the connection, so you need to understand what kind of content they prefer — especially on versatile networks like Facebook. There are two ways to find out: testing and asking.

Testing, testing, testing. You can’t ever rule anything out right away. Test a new type of content for a couple weeks. If it outperforms your typical posts, then you have a new content type to add to your strategy within that platform. - Lauren Hogan (@L_Hoges)
I always say that the easiest way to know what your audience wants is to simply ask them! Figuring out your customers doesn’t have to be some big, unsolvable puzzle. Put up a poll on your Facebook profile, or include a poll in your next company newsletter. If you pose the question as simply wanting to create the best experience for your customers, people will respond. They want the best possible experience, too, after all - Deborah Sweeney (@DeborahSweeney)

Of course, what people say they engage with and what they actually engage with are not always the same thing. A combination of asking and then testing their answers may be the most effective long-term solution.

Maximize Your Social Presence

Once you start on a social network, the question becomes, “Is it working?” Finding your audience on social media is the first step, but there are a lot of brands there as well, so you still need to make it work. Recognizing the impact you’re having, and when to move on to another platform if it’s just not working, are special skills that social marketers need to develop.


Before you start with a new social platform (or, if you’ve already started, before you quit a social platform) establish some goals. Social goals will be different for every brand and organization, but decide what you want to gain — exposure, leads, sales, etc. — from the platform so you can establish metrics, and so you can design a targeted content strategy. Don’t quit a social platform until you know you’ve done it well.

Establish metrics for what you want to see. When I establish a presence on a new social channel I give myself a timeline to hit those metrics, whether it’s followers, clicks, retweets, etc. Establishing where you want to go will help you decide if you should stay with that platform. - Lauren Hogan (@L_Hoges)

Rachael Nichol is the Social Media Manager and blogger for National Builder Supply. Her first step is always defining success for a social platform.

Before you decide if you should leave a social media channel, you must decide on your definition of success. Are you aiming to get leads or sales? Increase your brand and product awareness? Interact with members of your community? It's only once you have a definition of success that you can decide if a platform is unsuccessful. - Rachael Nichol (@RachaelNichol), National Builder Supply

With metrics established and success defined, if a social platform seems like it’s not working, you can determine if it’s because the platform is not a good fit or if it’s because you’re not using it well.

Samantha Raines, Marketing Coordinator for LED Lighting, emphasizes the importance of understanding why a particular platform isn’t working before moving on.

It is important to stick around on a particular channel to try and figure out why it's not working. Try posting different things and use analytics to see what people are responding to. - Samantha Raines (@LEDLightingInc), LED Lighting

CEO and Founder of Company Folders Inc., Vladimir Gendelman, also advocates changing the medium before giving up on a social channel.

It is important to understand why you¹re not seeing any success. If the problem is with the message you are putting out, then I would recommend changing the message and trying again. We've seen tremendous success with Facebook and Pinterest, but Twitter proved itself to be too expensive for our niche, so we moved on after about a year. - Vladimir Gendelman (@VGendelman), Company Folders Inc.

The first step to maximizing your presence on any social channel is defining success, and honing a content strategy that speaks to your audience in the language of the platform.

DO IT YOURSELF: Write down two or three goals for the two social platforms you decided to target. How many emails do you want to collect in six months? How many customer service conversations do you want to complete in the next year? Etc.

Social Platforms: All or Nothing?

Should you use every platform you can, or concentrate on doing just a couple of them well? Is it more important to have a broad reach, or a rich presence? There isn’t total agreement.

As CEO and Co-Founder of BloomNation, Farbod Shoraka, the fourth panelist from our fireside chat, leads his company’s vision and strategy. He recommends prioritizing the most effective networks, but also recognizes value in each.

Some are going to be more beneficial than others, but you should dedicate some resources to having a social presence on every platform. - Farbod Shoraka (@BloomNation), BloomNation

Raines recommends using as many platforms as possible in order to reach a wide audience.

It is important to be on as many social platforms as you can, because each channel has a different audience. You should not use the same post on Twitter that you would for LinkedIn. - Samantha Raines (@LEDLightingInc)

As the Director of Marketing for Alloy, Silverstein, Shapiro, Adams, Mulford, Cicalese, Wilson & Co., Adrienne Onorato recognizes the SEO value of maintaining a broad social presence.

People may not follow you, but it's still a great resource for information. Think about when you Google a new company — want to see their hours or address, or research their culture a bit for a job interview — sometimes their Facebook page is one of the top Google results. Don't be an online ghost! - Adrienne Onorato (@AdrienneMay_)

On the other hand, Billy Bauer, Marketing Director of Royce Leather, recommends concentrating your resources on creating a rich presence on the best social platforms.

Use only those channels you can manage. Yes, some may be using new platforms. However, for the time being, there exists critical mass on key platforms (e.g. LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and trade sites). Go deep, not wide. It is far more effective to manage messaging across fewer platforms, than on more platforms with less control. - Billy Bauer, Royce Leather

The key may be a balance between the two. Your audience will not be on every niche social media platform, but they will be spread out on several — and using each one for different tasks, from entertainment to business networking. You probably don’t need to master every social network you can dig up, but there is value in at least maintaining a consistent presence on every network that your audience is using — even while you focus the bulk of your resources on the most effective two or three.

Follow Your Crowd

Understanding the platforms available, your target audience, and how to maximize the space where the two overlap will help you create an effective social media strategy. Ultimately, remember that you’re following your audience’s lead on social media.

Lynn Maleh is the PR and Social Media Coordinator for The Alternative Board. She has experienced first-hand the power of following the brand’s audience online.

The TAB team and I recently decided to reallocate our focus on Facebook to an increased presence on LinkedIn. As a B2B business, we found Facebook better served the B2C market. While we were increasing TAB's following on Facebook, we were seeing little impact on conversions from the Facebook page. LinkedIn lends naturally to business owners, who are already using the platform to network. - Lynn Maleh (@TAB_Boards), The Alternative Board

Michelle Brammer, Marketing and PR Manager for eZanga, agrees that every business does not need to be on every network.

You need to find where your customers are having conversations and join them, not force them to find you. - Michelle Brammer (@eZangaMichelle), eZanga

There are dozens of social media platforms — used by different demographics for different purposes — which can make starting, or even expanding, your social media marketing strategy seem like a daunting task. Figure out where your audience is already spending time, and what they’re already sharing, and your social communications will start strong.

How to Create a Social Media Plan that Drives Results

Once you’ve identified a couple of the most strategic platforms for your brand to start with, what do you post? How do you actually get started developing your brand’s presence and building a strategic audience?

Sharing content on any social media platform is a combination of developing your own, and sharing what’s already out there. There are strategies and social media tools to help make your social voice influential, and enough collective experience to get you started a step ahead.

What to Post: Content Development vs Content Curation

Start with your own content and brand voice, and develop a presence. Sweeney likes social platforms for the opportunity to develop depth by moving beyond the brand.

Add some depth to your business by talking about traditional customers, employees, strategies, and then talk about more than that. - Deborah Sweeney (@DeborahSweeney)

When BloomNation set up their Facebook page it was the only online presence they had, but they didn’t use the platform to spread the word about their brand.

At BloomNation, we didn’t have a website. We literally started with a Facebook page. We weren’t promoting ourselves, but we were starting conversations around, “How can we help this industry?” - Farbod Shoraka (@BloomNation)

The content you create for your social networks should not sound like sales pitches. You can promote your brand on social by associating your brand with a lifestyle, and promoting and discussing that lifestyle. Start and participate in conversations about the industry, the aesthetic, the lifestyle.

And when you do mention your brand specifically, remember not to take yourself too seriously.

I think you can get away with a little more product-mentioning if you’re entertaining. - Brittany Berger (@BBerg1010)

In addition to creating original pieces for your social platforms, curating shareable, actionable content from other corners of the web helps to establish your brand as a thought-leader, and your social presence as a valuable resource on any platform. It also takes some of the work of creating great stuff off your shoulders.

No matter what you read or hear, there is no one-size-fits-all ratio for created/curated content on your social platforms. Different experts offer some guidelines, but each industry and brand is different.

Find out what works for your business, but you should never post more than 50% of your stuff about yourself. It’s like having an in-person conversation: you don’t talk about yourself the entire time. - Lauren Hogan (@L_Hoges)
It’s more of an art than a science. The goal is to make it feel authentic, not promoted. - Farbod Shoraka (@BloomNation)

Just like you followed your audience to the right social platforms to begin with, follow their lead on your content. If they’re not responding, it’s not because they’re not there. Try something else.

DO IT YOURSELF: Take a minute to think about what lifestyle your business or brand would easily associate with. Red Bull associates their brand with extreme sports. Coca-Cola associates with classic family values. What lifestyle does your product or service support that you can promote on social media to build your brand identity?

Tools for Your Social Media Belt

There is almost no end to the online tools and apps that promise to help with some aspect of your social media marketing strategy. Here are a few that came up during the Fireside Chat:

  • Hootsuite - Manage a variety of social platforms — including Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn — from one platform. Organize different streams to search for keywords or catch mentions of your brand, and schedule posts all in one place.
  • IFTTT - (“If This Then That”) Create recipes that respond automatically to actions on social channels. If someone tags you in a Facebook photo, for example, the app will download that photo to Dropbox. You set up the commands, and IFTTT does the rest.
  • Buffer - Similar to Hootsuite. Manage a variety of social networks, schedule posts, collaborate with team members, etc., all from one dashboard.
  • Latergram - An Instagram tool to upload and schedule posts, since most multi-network platforms don’t support Instagram.
  • Repost - An Instagram tool that allows you to quickly and easily repost pictures and video from other users. It automatically credits the original user, so everybody wins.

Social media tools can save you time, and can help make your social activity a regular part of your weekly schedule. They can keep your sharing consistent, and help you stick to the strategy you worked so hard to define.

To Outsource or Not to Outsource?

Developing a strategy, participating in conversations, and creating and curating content gets time consuming. There are people who will do it for you, but is it worth it?

3 Reasons You Should Absolutely Outsource Social Media

Outsourcing your social media presence can be a tempting prospect when you get busy or frustrated, and there are a lot of reasons why it’s a great option.

  1. Social media professionals are better at social media than small business owners. You would hire a marketing professional for your other marketing, or an accountant for your taxes, for the same reason.
    I highly recommend outsourcing social media. The work will be more creative and nuanced - rather than a business owner's afterthought. I would look for a social media company that also offers PR services. The rules and tactics of traditional PR can boost a social media strategy two-fold. - Lynn Maleh (@TAB_Boards)
  2. Small business owners are already unreasonably busy people. Derrick Kwa, CEO and Co-Founder of Thousand True Fans, knows because he’s one of them.
    As a business owner, your time is probably better spent doing something else (actually running your business). Unless these channels are something you're really passionate about, you're better off having someone who can fully dedicate their time and effort to running it. - Derrick Kwa (@DerrickKwa), Thousand True Fans
  3. Social media professionals can save you money. Putting their expertise into practice can help accomplish your social goals much faster, and thus much cheaper, than trying to do it yourself, as Freelanship Founder Lauren Holliday knows all too well.
    Outsourcing social media to a young freelancer can be beneficial because they save you time, they are cost-effective, they know more than you, and they are more creative than you. - Lauren Holliday (@LaurenHolliday_), Freelanship

3 Reasons Why You Should Absolutely NOT Outsource Social Media

With so much riding on your social media presence, however, it might be one of the few things you should keep in-house no matter what. There are good reasons to keep your social voice on a short leash.

  1. Don’t trust a stranger with your brand’s voice. A lot of strategic planning goes into developing the voice of your brand. Can you afford to hand it off?
    Social media isn't just the platform you're advertising on, it's the voice of your company. Your social media messaging should come from within so that it's an authentic representation of your brand; I don't see how anyone could outsource it. - Vladimir Gendelman (@VGendelman)
  2. Social is a two-way street. Half of the benefit of social media is hearing first-hand what your audience is saying, and learning about your industry.
    You are the expert! Twitter, especially, isn't just for posting news about you, but it's a wonderful platform to immerse yourself in your industry and be involved in the conversations of your industry leaders in real time. - Adrienne Onorato (@AdrienneMay_)
  3. Outsourcing sacrifices authenticity. People can sniff out a fake on social media, consider how it may (or may not) affect your trust factor if your audience realizes there’s someone else behind the curtain.
    Outsourcing is going down the wrong path of authenticity. What’s your value and your voice? Someone working remotely isn’t going to pick up on those little things. People are smart, and they pick up on this. You need to come from a very authentic place, whereas if you hire someone to outsource, I don’t think you’re going to get that. - Farbod Shoraka (@BloomNation)

If you do decide to outsource your social media, take the time to find the perfect fit for your brand:

  • Find a freelancer. If you can find an individual, rather than an agency, you will have a better chance of your brand voice being communicated clearly and consistently. If you do find an agency that you like, ask how content is created and shared — will the same one or two people be working on all of your platforms all of the time?
  • Over-share your vision, value, and goals. Anyone that you work with should schedule solid meeting time, or provide you with fairly lengthy questionnaires about your brand. If you find that an agency or freelancer isn’t taking time to really get to know your brand, find someone else.

There are pros and cons to outsourcing social media, and there probably isn’t one correct answer for every brand or industry. Do what works best for your business, and what fits within your budget and schedule.

Do As I Say: 4 Social Media Mistakes to Avoid

The socialscape is always changing. New platforms and tools are being developed while others are effectively laid to rest. Within any one platform, developers are always releasing updates and making changes.

And it’s hard to hit a moving target. That means that as marketers continue developing brand voices on social channels, and using them to engage audiences, mistakes will be made. You will make mistakes too, but here are a few that have been made enough for you to skip.

1 - Going In Without a Plan

Jumping into social media can be exciting. It’s supposed to be fun, after all. If you’re going in to represent your business, though, don’t start without some kind of plan.

The most common mistake I see is going at it with no clear-cut, sustainable plan. By nature, we're quick to jump on the trend of what is working for everyone else, but doing it without a plan is wasting time, effort, and money. Take the time to explore where your customers are having conversations and what they respond to. Develop your action plan, and set times to review its performance and adjust your plan as needed. Sure, it might take a bit more work to lay the foundation, but it will pay off substantially in the end. - Michelle Brammer (@eZangaMichelle)

Anthony Kirlew is the Chief Delivery Officer at Imagine WOW!, a full-service digital marketing agency. In over a decade of digital marketing, Kirlew has seen a lot of mistakes.

The most common mistakes I see businesses make in social media are jumping in without a strategy, not aligning the social media strategy with the overall business strategy, and pursuing one-off social media tactics as opposed to a holistic social media campaign. - Anthony Kirlew (@AnthonyKirlew), Imagine WOW!

Strategy, strategy, and more strategy.

The most important mistake is strategic, not tactical. The biggest thing most small business owners lack is a clear strategy and goal. There are many things you can do with social media. You need to know what you want to achieve - conversation? brand awareness? generating leads? If you don’t know where you want to be, you won't be able to get there. - Derrick Kwa (@DerrickKwa)

Each social media platform has a different audience and different language, so you’ll need to develop a unique plan for each that supports your overall marketing goals.

2 - Inconsistency

Often, marketers and business owners jump into social media, guns blazing, only to sputter out too soon. Social media is a long-game strategy, so consistency is crucial.

Kindra Svendsen is the Social Media Consultant for Speak Creative, a digital marketing agency based in Tennessee.

One of the biggest mistakes I see with SMBs is their lack of consistency. Often they know they should be online, and think that starting a page will help them grow triple-fold without much added effort. They may post a few times, but do not put effort or strategy behind what's being posted. When they don't automatically see the results they were hoping for, they wean off until it's a completely desolate page. - Kindra Svendsen (@KindraSven), Speak Creative

Hogan recommends using a tool like Hootsuite or Buffer to create and schedule social media posts ahead of time to avoid inconsistency.

There is nothing worse than being inconsistent because you forgot to publish a post on a given day. - Lauren Hogan (@L_Hoges)

If your social channel posts every day at first, and then once a month, and then several times a week, your audience will never be able to rely on your content. If all you can do is once per week that’s fine, just keep it consistent.

3 - Spreading Yourself Too Thin

Each social platform offers a unique connection to your market, and value to your marketing strategy. It’s natural to want to take advantage of every opportunity, but using too many platforms sometimes means effectively using none of them.

One of the largest mistakes business owners make is trying to use all social media platforms at once. Not every business should be on every platform! Instead, pick two and be AWESOME at those. Do you sell pretty products or design pretty rooms? You'll want to utilize the more visual social platforms like Pinterest, Google+, and Instagram. Do you sell a service or run a traditional institution like a bank? Twitter and Facebook are wonderful for quick messages to your customers. Know which platform your customers are using and go from there. - Rachael Nichol (@RachaelNichol)

Hogan agrees, and recommends starting small and only expanding as necessary.

[Don’t do] everything at once. Find one or two ... and start there. Then expand into other platforms if you find the need and have the time. - Lauren Hogan (@L_Hoges)

Some brands may seem to master all of the big social networks, but remember they didn’t start that way. Using more social platforms than you can manage isn’t going to help your marketing efforts.

4 - Not Engaging

Radio and television are broadcast channels, where marketers send a one-way message to an audience in hopes of that audience paying attention. The social web reopens the opposite lane for on-coming traffic, and brands that can’t adjust their communications appropriately can’t use social platforms effectively.

I think the biggest mistake for those new at social media is being, “Me, me, me.” Social media is a two-way street, and shouldn't solely be used as an advertising vehicle. You need to engage/spark conversation, you need to be relevant, and you need to listen. Only post if it will add value to your audience! - Adrienne Onorato (@AdrienneMay_)
Many small business owners think social media is simply for posting. Social media should be used for engaging with customers and media outlets. It requires marketing strategy and PR tactics. - Lynn Maleh (@TAB_Boards)

Engaging an audience is part listening, and part responding to what you’ve heard. Participate in conversations, and then make sure that your content is reflective of your audiences preferences.

The most common mistake I see business owners make is thinking that just because they have a Facebook account and post an image of a cute cat or pretty scenery once in a while, they will suddenly gain a huge following and tons of new clients. Things don¹t work that way. First and foremost, you have to produce amazing content. Then you share it on the social media channel that is most suitable for your target audience. Over time, you end up building a huge following that will eventually become your clientele. It is important to remember that people see all sorts of things on social media, so if your content doesn¹t solve problems, chances are you're wasting money for nothing. - Vladimir Gendelman (@VGendelman)

In any conversation, people recognize when they’re being talked to and when they’re being talked at. Millions of people have not flocked to social media sites to find more of the same one-way sales pitches that they see hundreds of times every day.

Engage your audience with a thoughtful, authentic blend of your own resourceful content and good, actionable information from all over the web, and you’ll be (slowly but surely) building a following before you know it.

DO IT YOURSELF: Has your social voice been inconsistent? Take some time to jot down a basic schedule for your posts. Assign each platform a day of the week (Twitter on Tuesdays and Facebook on Fridays, for example), or decide what to post each day (maybe a behind-the-scenes picture on Mondays, a link to a good article you read on Wednesdays, and a sales code on Fridays). Even a simple plan can help you stay on track.

How to Measure and Maximize Social Media Success

Business owners are nothing if not agile and efficient. If something isn’t working, you cut it off, but how do you measure social media? With so many variables, how do you quantify your success on social platforms, and how do you apply what’s working to improve your marketing and increase business?

Measuring Social Success

Before you dive into any social media platform, you will have outlined exactly how that channel fits into your overall marketing plan. Make sure part of that strategy clearly defines “success” for that platform as well.

When you set up a social channel, you want to set up what success means to you. For some, it may translate to purchases in-store, or new subscribers. You need to define what “success” means to you first. - Brittany Berger (@BBerg1010)
Every business has a different metric on what their success is. You really have to evaluate what you’re trying to get out of your social media. For a lot of e-commerce companies it’s more sales, but for other companies it might be brand awareness. I don’t think there’s a set metric that you can use for companies across the board. - Farbod Shoraka (@BloomNation)

If direct sales is the only goal, consider broadening your expectations.

Just like any other type of marketing, social media can draw people to your business all on its own. However, its much more effective when paired with other forms of marketing. Content marketing, traditional advertisements, a good reputation, and a quality site are all important as well. Social media marketing should be just one part of a multi-pronged marketing campaign. - Deborah Sweeney (@DeborahSweeney)

Nate Dame is the CEO and Founder of Propecta, an SEO, influencer engagement, and content marketing agency. He is an influential digital marketing thought leader on several social channels, including Twitter.

I'll be very candid: I have never yet earned a new sale solely or primarily because of Twitter. But my activity there, my following (as a sign of trust), and the insights I do share via tweets have definitely helped build trust, and I'd even say it's been a key part of building our business. - Nate Dame (@SEONate), Propecta

You may earn direct sales from your social platforms, and that’s a strategy that can be developed, but social media is about more than sales. Success won’t look the same for every brand or business on social, but there are a few targets that every organization can aim at. One of them is trust.

People have begun to tune out traditional ads, and there are so many companies using social marketing that you need to stand out. You need to see this as an opportunity to talk with your customers. A Nielsen study performed back in 2012 found that 46% of consumers research companies on social media before making a major purchase, and that has undoubtedly increased since then. Reaching and convincing those people to choose, and trust, your company should be your main priority. You do that by keeping your social marketing authentic, and by plugging content that your target market actually finds interesting. - Deborah Sweeney (@DeborahSweeney)
Nobody goes to social media to make a purchase (and NOBODY goes to Twitter to find their SEO agency!). But when comparing several companies, vendors, or individuals, consumers and decision makers today do their research online - and a big part of that research is social media. - Nate Dame (@SEONate), Propecta

As you define social media success, consider how you can measure trust as well as your other goals. Even if your primary target is direct sales or email addresses, consider that retweets and social shares are big trust signals that should be monitored as well.

DO IT YOURSELF: Are you listening? Participating in other people’s conversations? Set some goals. Create a To Do for yourself to participate in one LinkedIn Group conversation, or leave one comment on an industry blog, each week.

Maximizing Social Success to Improve Business

Once you’ve built a reputation on social media, and you’re starting to hit the targets you defined, you can then use that network and influence to help improve your business.

LinkedIn, for example, will help you make great business connections that you can network, but it’s also great for more subversive activities.

Not to sound creepy, but social media is the best spy tool a salesman could ask for! LinkedIn is the best business intelligence research tool, because it allows anybody to put their best foot forward with their business profile. When researching a customer or prospect in LinkedIn, I use it to understand their work history and current position details, and especially find and connect with their co-workers and boss(es). - Nate Dame (@SEONate), Propecta

Two-way conversations are the hallmark of social media marketing, but they don’t have to only benefit your audience. Start conversations that will build your brand and inform your marketing and/or development strategy.

The majority of our Facebook followers are florists and designers, so for us it’s an opportunity to get more sellers on our platform. Before we even launched BloomNation.com we had almost 1000 florists sign up as sellers. It made a big impact to get our business up and running. We really couldn’t have started our business without Facebook. - Farbod Shoraka (@BloomNation)

From unique insights to unique opportunities for conversation, a well-developed social media platform that users have come to trust can be a very powerful tool for every aspect of your business.

Don’t Quit Yet: 3 Common Social Media Frustrations

Social media marketing is a whole new experience for many marketers and small business owners, and the downside of all the measuring and monitoring is that sometimes the numbers don’t look the way you hoped they would look. It’s not just you, so don’t quit just yet.

1 - Growing Slower Than You Thought

There are those success stories — the ones who set up their social platforms and seem to be off to the races — but remember those are the exceptions to the rule. Healthy growth is slow and steady.

It’s really easy to get discouraged when your network doesn’t end up growing as fast as you thought it would — when you look at the great stuff you’re putting out and wondering why no one reacts. - Brittany Berger (@BBerg1010)
Small business owners want to see results quickly, but followers will not come instantly. It takes strategic planning and time. - Samantha Raines (@LEDLightingInc)
Numbers are always going to be low when you first start out, and that’s frustrating. It can feel like you’re talking to an empty room, and without any sort of engagement or reach a lot of smaller businesses quit before they really get started. That’s why I always tell people not to pay attention to ‘vanity’ metrics like follower totals when they first get started. Yes, the number of people who follow you is an important metric to track, but if you focus on it too much, you lose sight of the big picture. In our case, I just noticed one day that a lot of people were telling me how they were seeing me, and my business, everywhere. And that’s largely because we expanded our online presence through content and social marketing. - Deborah Sweeney (@DeborahSweeney)

Building a following takes time. Keep looking for ways to reach people and grow your audience. As long as your reach is expanding steadily, how quickly it is growing is less important.

2 - Learning to Measure Social ROI

You have metrics established for measuring standard ROI in other areas of your business, but social is different. You need to develop a new kind of ROI, and that learning curve can produce its own frustrations.

Learning to measure ROI for those who aren’t handling social in your company is a really big hurdle to get past when you’re initially starting. - Lauren Hogan (@L_Hoges)
The biggest challenge for SMBs is measuring the ROI, and the immediate impact. Social media requires consistent, strategized effort, and results may not increase sales in the beginning. ROI may come in the form of brand loyalty, improved brand recognition, or another similar way. - Kindra Svendsen (@KindraSven)

The answer to that frustration goes back to having a sound strategy in place, and a clear picture of what social media success looks like for your business.

Measuring the ROI of social marketing is very tricky. Traditionally, ROI is linked to revenue. If you make more money than you’re putting in, you have a positive ROI. But utilizing social media benefits more than just your bottom-line – it increases brand awareness, boosts PR, and fosters a deeper connection between the business and its customers. So the most important part of measuring your return on investment is figuring out why you’re using social media in the first place. - Deborah Sweeney (@DeborahSweeney)

ROI isn’t all about dollar signs on social media platforms. That can be hard for small business owners to submit to, and hard for marketers to explain to the C-Suite, but swallowing that pill is the first step to redefining ROI in ways that apply to social media so that you can measure your results.

3 - The Time Commitment

Social media is free in some ways, but it’s expensive in others. You may not spend the same amount of cash on social media as you would on PPC campaigns or other outbound strategies, but you’ll almost definitely spend more time on it — especially at the start.

Social media takes time and commitment to do well. You need to be able to respond to comments and questions, and engage your fans in conversations (and people never stop talking). You need to measure your efforts, and calibrate. You need to plan out objectives, figure out how to get to those objectives, and what kind of content to create. - Derrick Kwa (@DerrickKwa)
Many small business owners think they can manage their own social media, but with so much on their plates there's a good chance they'll be missing out on huge opportunities. Without hiring someone to manage their social media, there's a good chance they'll see limited results and give up on their efforts entirely. - Lynn Maleh (@TAB_Boards)

Even if you have someone on your team taking care of your marketing, social media can easily get neglected because of the time it requires.

It's tough to pay a full-time employee to manage social media, so often times it becomes a side project for someone in marketing. Other priorities come up, and social gets pushed to the wayside. Social needs to be continually cultivated, because once you lose your customers’ attention it is very difficult to win them back. - Michelle Brammer (@eZangaMichelle)

The time commitment is one more reason to start small. Pick one or two platforms that really speak to your target audience, and get those worked into your daily or weekly schedule before you try to take on more.

Once you establish a realistic definition of “success” for your social media platforms, you can monitor your progress and demonstrate how social is working (or figure out how to fix it if it’s not). It might take more time and effort than you initially anticipated, but as you build momentum you can use your network and influence to inform the rest of your marketing strategy. The rewards are well worth the effort.

Grow Your Business With Social Media

If you’ve been waiting to get started, now is the time to do a little research and figure out where your crowd is hanging out. If you’ve started, but haven’t seen much action, go back and make sure you have a plan that considers both the platform and your audience.

Social media has created new opportunities and presented new challenges for small business owners. Love it or hate it, social is here to stay, and businesses that can find and engage with their target audiences will reap big benefits.

Social Media Tools and Resources

Tools for Your Social Media Belt

There is almost no end to the online tools and apps that promise to help with some aspect of your social media marketing strategy. Here are a few that came up during the Fireside Chat:

  • Hootsuite - Manage a variety of social platforms — including Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn — from one platform. Organize different streams to search for keywords or catch mentions of your brand, and schedule posts all in one place.
  • IFTTT - (“If This Then That”) Create recipes that respond automatically to actions on social channels. If someone tags you in a Facebook photo, for example, the app will download that photo to Dropbox. You set up the commands, and IFTTT does the rest.
  • Buffer - Similar to Hootsuite. Manage a variety of social networks, schedule posts, collaborate with team members, etc., all from one dashboard.
  • Latergram - An Instagram tool to upload and schedule posts, since most multi-network platforms don’t support Instagram.
  • Repost - An Instagram tool that allows you to quickly and easily repost pictures and video from other users. It automatically credits the original user, so everybody wins.

Additional Articles and Resources

Other Resources to Help You Grow Your Business

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