Social media is one of the most powerful marketing tools available to businesses today. However, if you don't know how to make the most of these online resources, you’re missing out on all the potential benefits.
There are a few mistakes that businesses commonly make. Sounding overly promotional about your products or services can easily drive followers away. Avoiding questions and complaints from customers who post on your page can ruin your brand's reputation.
Social media marketing is about creating meaningful connections with customers. Here are four tips to improve your business' social media strategy, according to top entrepreneurs and social marketing experts.
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Hire a professional
As a small business owner, you manage and delegate tasks to employees, and that should be your main focus. Like accounting and human resources, social media deserves its own department, and you shouldn't manage your company's online presence alone.
To get the best results, hire a social media strategist to help grow your audience and engagement while promoting your business's products and services at the same time. Consider it a small but necessary business investment. Once you gain a larger following, your profits could be enough to pay your social media strategists and much more.
"Hash the Tag: The Complete Beginner's Guide to Live Tweeting" (Amazon Digital Services, 2016) author and social media consultant Brit McGinnis recommends a unique approach to social media through real-time content marketing, or "live-tweeting." In her book, she discusses the basics, but a true professional will know how to shape your brand's voice, use the best hashtags, and reach a far bigger audience of past and future customers.
Use Twitter lists
Twitter moves quickly, and it can be hard to keep up. Stay focused with Twitter lists, which allow users to organize followed accounts to keep track of relevant content and other influencers.
"When you create Twitter lists, you're able to significantly improve the signal-to-noise ratio on Twitter and focus on interacting with the right people," said Kari DePhillips, owner of The Content Factory, a digital PR agency. This can especially help you target future customers.
Twitter lists do more than organize the content you're seeing; they can also help you network and build a better audience, which leads to higher engagement.
"If you're smart about … your Twitter lists and write flattering descriptions that make people want to be included in your lists, you can get off on the right foot as you start building relationships with your targets," DePhillips said. "We've seen Twitter lists drive engagement and followers [and result] in media coverage."
Focus on relationships
Businesses should be careful to focus on the social aspect of social media and build relationships with other users.
"Social media is, above all, a social undertaking," said Shane Walton, founder of Green Vine Marketing, an SEO and web services company. "[Traditional marketing] is a shotgun approach, and you want as many people as possible to see your newspaper ad, billboard or TV spot. Social media, on the other hand, is a participatory marketing channel."
Because social media platforms allow you to engage with customers directly, you need to create real connections with your audience, Walton said. If people enjoy your content, they will follow you, and you will have the opportunity to continue marketing to them for years to come, he said. However, Walton warned that content that lacks value will scare potential followers and clients away.
"The most successful social media marketers provide excellent content," Walton added. "They educate and entertain their audience. They care about them, just like they would a friend. They build relationships. And when they take this approach, the market responds. Their content is shared. They see an ever-increasing following and [they see] sales rise."
Schedule ahead (but don't automate!)
"When managing social media for your business, it's important to maintain consistency," said Laura Nunemaker, an online marketing specialist and owner of Social Media for Small Business, a social media management company.
There are many free and inexpensive tools that can help you schedule social media posts ahead of time, and they can be great resources if you use them correctly.
"Schedule time once a week to sit down and use a scheduling tool like Buffer or Hootsuite to lay down a minimum amount of posts for each of your accounts," Nunemaker advised. "For most platforms, one post a day is fine. On Twitter, you probably want to schedule at least three."
Be wary of automating your entire online presence, though. Nunemaker noted that scheduled posts are the bare minimum and should be treated like a starting point to build off of in real time. Or, they should be a backup plan when you don't have time to focus on your networks, she said.
"Throughout the week, you can add posts that are more in the now," Nunemaker said. "But if you're too busy or can't think of anything, you've got a safety net of the posts you already scheduled."
Additional reporting by Brittney Morgan (Helmrich). Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.