- Social media is an incredibly effective way to engage with new, current and prospective customers.
- Not every social media platform is created equally. To develop an effective social strategy, focus on the social channels that best suit your brand.
- Social media platforms that work well for businesses include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, Pinterest and LinkedIn.
- This article is for small business owners who want to learn about using social media for business and benefit from an effective social media strategy.
If your small business doesn’t have a social media presence, you may be missing out on significant benefits for your brand. Through social media, you can gain new customers and engage more insightfully with recurring ones. Social media can be a highly cost-effective and personalized way of reaching your customers while providing valuable insights into your brand.
“Social media provides targeting capability, as well as reach and scale, at a lower cost than almost all other marketing channels,” said Abdul Muhammad, chief digital officer and partner at RBB Communications. “People are on social media all day, every day. Brands must go where the people are.”
We’ll explore social media’s most effective business uses, best practices for an effective social media marketing strategy, how to measure social media ROI and how to select the best social platform for your brand.
How to use social media for business
These are some of the aspects of business that can benefit from a social media presence:
- Customer service
- Recruiting and hiring
- Crisis management
1. Use social media for marketing.
When you incorporate an effective social media presence into your small business marketing plan, you can reach customers and prospects where they are. Here are some tips and best practices for creating a successful presence on social media to market your brand:
- Craft a social media marketing strategy. The best way to ensure success on social media is to go in with a plan. This means devising a social media marketing strategy that includes each platform you plan to use.
- Post consistently. Your followers value a steady presence, so follow a consistent posting schedule. While being consistent, avoid posting too much, which can be off-putting for your followers.
- Develop a clear voice. Create a consistent voice and tone in your social media presence – one that resonates with your audience and influences how they see your brand. Listen to your audience and find ways to relate to them without looking like you’re trying too hard. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to show a little personality. This helps present your business as adaptive, friendly and relevant.
- Have fun with social media. Provide fun ways to generate more leads and engage with your customers, like running social media contests, linking to your website or special offers in your profile bio, and hosting live videos with exciting updates or news.
- Know your audience. Use your analytics tools to see demographic information, customer behavior and social media trends to inform your content. Knowing what your audience wants to see from you and responding accordingly can go a long way toward boosting your engagement rates.
Social media can make or break a small business’s success. Study lessons about social media from big brands to ensure you’re putting your best foot forward.
2. Use social media for customer service.
Because so many customers already communicate through social media, using social media for customer service is a no-brainer. Through social media communication, you can address customer problems quickly and efficiently, helping you create a loyal customer base.
- Respond to customer issues quickly. Many businesses approach social media as another channel for self-promotion and don’t always respond when customers comment on their posts or tweet at them. According to research from Convince & Convert, 42% of consumers expect a response to a complaint on social media within 60 minutes, and nearly one-third expect a response within half an hour. Monitoring social media channels and responding to concerns promptly can help you build strong relationships with customers.
- Use hashtags strategically. How hashtags operate within a social media platform’s algorithm is likely to change frequently, so stay updated on your social platforms’ hashtag recommendations and best practices. Hashtags help keep topics organized and easy to navigate, especially on platforms like Twitter. You can also add more information and curate content to your hashtags.
- Take public conversations private. Many angry or frustrated customers leave public comments on a brand’s Instagram and Facebook accounts or tweet at a business. While you shouldn’t ignore these messages, it’s not always wise to handle the entire encounter publicly. Show other customers that you value their input and time by sending an initial response requesting to continue the conversation privately.
3. Use social media for sales.
One of the most direct and lucrative ways to experience the power of social media is through increased sales. You can boost sales on social media in various ways:
- Advertise on social media. The major social platforms, including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, have advertising platforms that help you reach your target audience and monitor your ad campaigns.
- Sell on social media. Facebook and Instagram offer sales platforms and shoppable posts that make it easy for businesses to start selling online.
- Work with brand ambassadors. Finding social media influencers or enthusiastic customers to act as brand ambassadors is an effective way to boost word-of-mouth buzz about your business and boost sales.
- Improve your business with social listening. Social listening is a process in which organizations take a macro view of what customers are saying online about the brand and use the information to improve the business. Social listening provides a broader view of industry trends and customer sentiment that may directly or indirectly impact a brand and its sales.
4. Use social media for recruiting and hiring.
In the modern hiring process, social media platforms provide an excellent way to recruit potential talent. Social media recruiting through sites like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter lets employers access a broad candidate pool and efficiently sort through viable recruits.
A business’s social media channels are also an essential recruitment tool. Potential employees are likely to be more excited about joining your team if your social media platforms reflect your brand and share your company’s values.
If you’re a job candidate seeking employment, understand that social media screening is a common practice. Ensure your social media presence reflects the person you want potential employers to see.
5. Use social media for crisis management.
What did your business tweet in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings? What did you post on Facebook? Whether you chose to send a heartfelt message to your business’s social media followers or ride out the week in silence, you were probably unsure of how to proceed amid such a tragedy.
Unfortunately, there’s no etiquette book on handling social media marketing when the headlines turn horrific. There are, however, several schools of thought on how businesses should use social media to react to tragic events.
Here are some tips for using social media during a crisis:
- If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
- Silence is rarely the correct response in a tragic situation.
- Have a social media strategy ready so you’re less likely to be caught off guard by a tragedy or other crisis.
- Choose your words carefully, and always speak from the heart.
- As soon as you hear of a tragic event, check your calendar and pause any nonessential posts.
- Look for ways your business can meaningfully help.
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How does social media benefit your business?
Using social media for business has many advantages. Here are eight business benefits that social media provides.
- Brand awareness: Billions of people worldwide use social media every day, and it makes sense to put your business where the customers are. For example, according to Facebook, about 60% of Instagram users find new products using the platform. Social media is an invaluable tool for building a brand and boosting brand awareness.
- Brand personality: It’s becoming more crucial than ever for businesses to have a distinct voice and engage with customers on a human level. Social media provides an easy avenue for creating a visual brand, allowing you to develop an identity and a voice to showcase your brand values and engage with followers.
- Thought leadership: Social media allows businesses to become thought leaders and stand out from their competitors, establishing themselves as industry leaders through engaging and relevant content. You can do this by sharing creative content on Instagram, writing thoughtful blog posts for LinkedIn or showing a fresh perspective in tweets.
- Increased website traffic: If your followers like your social media content, they become interested in you and will go to your business website to learn more about your company. This means higher website traffic and potentially more sales for you.
- Reputation management: Reputation is everything, and social media gives you the perfect opportunity to communicate with customers and solve issues quickly. You can even create a unique hashtag your followers can use if they have a question or complaint to ensure the right people see it. You can also use social media to highlight positive reviews or comments.
- Analytics and insights: Most social media platforms have analytics tools, allowing you to monitor follower counts, engagement rates and click-through rates. These numbers can help you determine the kinds of content your followers respond to best and tweak your marketing strategy accordingly.
- Targeted advertisements: It’s easy to create ads on social platforms, and the benefit is that you can specifically target them to suit your audience. Research has shown that users respond better when ads are tailored to them, which often increases engagement.
- Competitor analysis: Aside from engaging with customers, social media helps you monitor your competitors. Follow your competitors and note what works well for them and what doesn’t. Work those insights into your social media marketing strategy.
A competitive analysis can help you improve your products or services, serve your target audience better, and boost profits.
How to track social media ROI
You’ll need to consider several factors when formulating, setting up and tracking your business’s social media ROI.
- Determine your immediate goals. Many organizations that have difficulty measuring social media ROI haven’t defined specific, tangible goals. The key to successfully measuring ROI is setting achievable business goals and building your strategy to accomplish them.
- Understand your long-term goals. Ensure you understand your ultimate goal – what all your smaller, more immediate goals will build to. This end-goal vision will unify your social media efforts. Your ultimate goal should align with your business’s branding and communications guidelines.
- Pinpoint metrics to track. Once you know your goals and how to achieve them, pinpoint the metrics you want to track, including engagement, audience, reach and sentiment. Understand how you’ll apply that information to your strategy.
- Ignore “vanity metrics.” You’ll track several metrics once your social media marketing campaign gets underway. Some of these metrics are called “vanity metrics” because they’re visible to the naked eye but don’t necessarily tell the whole story about a campaign’s success. Consider tracking more in-depth metrics, such as conversions from the traffic generated by a campaign, to tell the whole story and properly measure ROI. [Learn more about tracking your conversions.]
- Build relationships with your followers. When your followers feel that they have a relationship with you, they’re more likely to engage with your content and follow through with a purchase or commitment to your business.
- Focus on quality, not quantity. Be thoughtful with your social media posts, providing carefully considered content. Your social media is there to serve your business and achieve a goal, not just to exist. Spend time considering your photos, captions and hashtags appropriately for each platform. Publishing tools like Hootsuite or Later can help you set up and preview posts before they go live.
- Analyze spending against your success rates. Spending is one of the most straightforward metrics to measure. As you analyze the success of your campaign, be sure to consider all the money spent and how it was utilized.
Use Google Analytics to track your website traffic and see if your social media channels are generating website visits and sales.
Social media platforms for businesses
Here’s an overview of the most popular social media platforms and their business tools.
Facebook is an extremely popular social media network with a varied audience of more than 2.9 billion active monthly users as of 2022. It’s worthwhile for any business of any size to use Facebook’s business tools and have a Facebook business page.
Use Facebook to share everything from photos to essential company updates. With a business account, you have access to powerful advertising tools and in-depth analytics. Business pages also have many customization options, highlighting your contact information, hours of operation, the products and services you offer, and much more.
If your business considers senior citizens a key demographic, Facebook may be a great way to reach them. Roughly half of the 47 million seniors living in the U.S. use the social media platform, and seniors are the fastest growing user group on Facebook today.
Instagram is also incredibly popular, with more than 1.1 billion active users in 2022. From Instagram Live to Instagram Stories, there is no shortage of Instagram business tools that help brands promote and sell their services and products. Instagram is a visual platform focused on photo and video posts, so it’s an excellent tool for businesses with strong visual content to share. It’s also almost entirely mobile, with tools and services optimized for mobile.
More artistic niches tend to excel on Instagram, but most businesses can benefit from the platform and its broad user base if you target your audience. Your Instagram account manager should have a good eye for detail and some photography skills, ensuring the photos and videos posted to your account are high quality.
While Twitter is great for short updates, engaging with followers and sharing links to blog posts, the platform isn’t ideal for all businesses.
On Twitter, you can share short tweets (240 characters or fewer), videos, images, links, polls and more. It’s also easy to interact with your audience on this platform by mentioning users in your posts along with liking and retweeting tweets.
If you’re a highly visual business or you don’t have a strong brand voice, you may want to skip this social media network. However, many companies excel on Twitter because they have a unique, on-brand voice they use to their advantage.
Other companies use Twitter for business functions like handling customer service; active Twitter-using customers will seek out companies to express concerns or share praise.
If you have interesting content and can engagingly voice that content, Twitter is an excellent tool for quickly spreading the word. Hashtags help boost posts, and if a user with many followers retweets you, your content could go viral.
It’s essential to find balance with Twitter. Don’t just share your links or media; ensure you’re also sharing interesting, relevant content from other Twitter users.
This visually oriented platform allows users to save and display content by “pinning” digital bulletin boards, which can be organized by category. For example, a personal user might have a food board dedicated to pinning recipes, another board dedicated to photography and so on.
Pinterest uses for business include a series of special pins called Rich Pins, which brands can use to add specific information to their pins, including product details and location maps. Every pin on Pinterest includes an image or video, making it a purely visual platform. As such, Pinterest is not the place for you to share information like your business hours.
Pinterest is great for niche businesses, but it may not be for every company. Popular categories on the site are DIY projects, fashion, exercise, beauty, photography and food. That’s not to say that businesses outside these categories can’t succeed on the platform, but it makes Pinterest an especially good marketing tool for businesses in those areas.
Snapchat is a mobile-only, visual social media network known for its disappearing content. Users can send videos and photos to each other or post content to their public Stories, which disappear after 24 hours. The app has expanded to include chat, messaging, image storage, events and media content. Now, content posted on Snapchat can easily be saved and uploaded elsewhere.
Because posts are temporary, there is less pressure to create super-polished content. You can also see how many and which specific users viewed your story. When it comes to Snapchat for business, a small business will most likely utilize the platform’s Stories feature. However, keep in mind that only users who have added you can view your Stories content. Once you have an audience, Stories allows you to easily create story-driven and interactive content.
Google-owned YouTube is a video-sharing platform where people can view, upload, rate, share and comment on content. The site is a massive hub for news and entertainment.
Many businesses on YouTube have a creative, visual or educational component. The platform is heavily creative, so it’s essential to have a dedicated video editor producing content. However, your business doesn’t need a channel to market on the platform; there’s a subculture of YouTube influencers who publish frequent videos and often maintain large audiences.
Often, businesses partner with YouTubers for product placement because these users already have engaged audiences. Using YouTube influencers can be an easier way of marketing your business on the platform since you don’t have to put in the time and effort to create content and build a following, which can take years.
LinkedIn has 260 million monthly users and is the best platform for professional networking. As far as LinkedIn business uses, it’s an excellent place to find top talent, position yourself as an industry leader and promote your business.
LinkedIn is designed to be more professional than other social media platforms and is geared toward businesses and professionals. Users create profiles similar to resumes, and companies can create pages that showcase their business. Because LinkedIn is a professional platform, it’s the best place to post job openings and information about your company culture.
You can join industry-specific LinkedIn Groups to ask and answer questions, which can help you establish brand recognition and bring users to your company page and website. Like on Twitter, it is best to have a mix of original and shared content on your page, so commit to creating polished, professional content related to your business.
TikTok, the relatively new hit platform where users create and share short videos, can be an immensely effective option for businesses, but only if used properly. Because TikTok is primarily popular with the infamously discerning Generation Z, it can be challenging to strike the right tone for business success on the platform.
To use TikTok for business, you need a keen understanding of your brand and how that translates to TikTok specifically. Examine how other businesses are tackling TikTok before trying it yourself.
TikTok is an example of a platform optimized for experiential marketing, which directly engages followers and encourages them to participate in a brand experience.
Social media for business FAQs
Which social media platform is best for business?
This largely depends on the type of business and its social media goals. Facebook has the largest audience and the most room to customize your social media marketing. Twitter is the best for receiving feedback from and directly engaging with customers. Pinterest is ideal for small and niche businesses that can market directly on the site. YouTube is arguably the best social media platform for driving traffic to other websites, such as a company landing page where customers can make purchases.
The best social media site is one you can leverage for your business’s specific goals. With that in mind, though, a combination of social media usage on multiple sites will typically yield the best results.
What are the disadvantages of social media for business?
The disadvantages of social media largely depend on the platforms you use, but there are some universal drawbacks.
- Time investment: It takes a lot of time to manage a social media account, and if you are outsourcing the work, it will take a lot of money to pay for that time. While the initial outreach generated from those investments is usually worthwhile, social media investments generate smaller returns over time.
- Bad publicity: Another major drawback is the potential for bad publicity. Something as simple as a typo can send the wrong message, and even after you correct it, the consequences of bad publicity will persist. It is practically inevitable that a social media account will encounter political or otherwise controversial topics, and someone is guaranteed to dislike your business’s discourse.
- Undue influence: One of the most challenging risks to manage is the influence of your social media followers. They will always represent a small portion of your total customers, but they will be the most vocal, and they could lead you to misread what most of your customers really want or think. Putting too much stock in social media can send a business down a bad path.
What budget should you set for social media marketing?
There is no magic number for social media marketing. While you should probably spend at least a little money on it, how much you get out of your spending will depend on the efficiency of your campaign.
According to WebStrategies, companies typically spend 15% to 25% of their total digital marketing budget on social media. That marks a nice place to start, but you can and should adjust your spending according to your ROI statistics once those numbers are available.
Kiely Kuligowski and Saige Driver contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Source interviews were conducted for previous versions of this article.