Tips and traps for using social media for business

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Tips and traps for using social media for business

We talk to experts and business owners who are successfully using social media.

There's no doubting the popularity of social media. After all, somewhere between 60 and 70 percent of the Australians are now on Facebook alone. But can you use that reach to help your business and, if so, how?

That’s not a straightforward question to answer, so we talked to business owners who are successfully using social media, and asked social experts for their tips.

First, specialist retailers and a recruiter reveal their successes and learnings from using social media for their businesses. 

Kick Push

Skate and scooter retailer Kick Push founder Darin Gersbach told Business IT that social media is one of the company’s main marketing channels, alongside an email newsletter and Google AdWords advertising.

“Instagram is by far our most successful [social channel],” he said. It is youth-orientated, and the company sees much more interaction there than it does on Facebook.

Gersbach’s suggestions for using Instagram start with ensuring you have interesting and pleasing photos. That might seem obvious, but we’re not all as good a photographer as we’d like to think.

Kick Push uses Instagram to target the youth market.

Other tips include actively engaging with the audience (such as asking them questions and inviting them to contribute), posting regularly and responding to any messages you receive.

Building follower numbers can be a challenge. Some strategies include collaborating with other brands (this is probably relatively easy for retailers such as Kick Push, as their suppliers are likely to be active on social media as well), and by working with ambassadors (in Kick Push’s market, that could be a skateboarder with a large social following).

“We’re really happy” with 5,000 followers, said Gersbach, even though his biggest competitor has 400,000. “Once you get a big following it can double pretty quickly,” but getting into the 20,000–50,000 range is hard.

But social media isn’t just about connecting with existing and potential customers – it also provides a way to research your competitors’ activities, he said.

Nor is it all about ‘organic’ reach. Paid Facebook advertising “is an extremely good way to connect with an audience” as you can specify age, location and other parameters, allowing you to tailor ads to suit the people that will see them.

Gersbach has been using Google AdWords advertising since he set up shop. “It’s a great tool to get started.” While he still uses AdWords, he notes that the cost has risen over time and organic social media and email newsletters are more cost-effective forms of marketing.

“An all-in approach [to social media] is a great way to go,” he said, meaning that businesses should address potential customers from many directions, using the most cost-effective channel to reach each subset.

Incy Interiors

“Social media is essential to our business,” furniture vendor Incy Interiors founder and CEO Kristy Withers (no relation to the writer) told Business IT. And she really does mean essential: “Without social media, I don’t think we have a business.”

Of Incy Interiors’ nine employees, two work in marketing and around three-quarters of their time goes on social media. “Everything we do, everything we think about, is driven towards social media,” she added.

Facebook is a good choice for its reach and ability to quickly respond to customers.

The company does have the advantage of getting started on Facebook before the recent algorithm changes, but Withers says businesses need to understand the present capabilities and work around any issues. “Anything to do with business... is a challenge,” so owners need to obtain expert advice or learn how to do things for themselves. “If you can, outsource,” she advises.

The next company we spoke to did indeed opt for expert advice.

Affix

Technology recruiter Affix founder and CEO Jarrad Skeen thought potential candidates were jaded with traditional recruitment agencies, and he saw social media as a way of improving engagement. In particular, Affix didn’t want to be seen “as just another source of noise.”

Skeen was determined to address what he saw as fundamental flaws in the recruitment industry, especially the part of it that tries to serve the high-growth technology sector. It was therefore important to communicate the relatively new (est 2015) company’s points of difference, otherwise Affix would be regarded as just another player in an already crowded market.

LinkedIn is ideal for B2B and recruitment.

“We want long-term relationships,” said Skeen, observing that although that’s what the recruitment industry in general says, it doesn’t behave that way.

While the company had plenty of ideas for using social media to that end, it lacked the time needed to implement them and also saw the advantage of a review by a fresh set of eyes. So Skeen turned to Bench PR for assistance.

Bench’s social media expert Kimberley Lee explained the importance of understanding the audience in order to work out what they want to hear from you – which is not necessarily what you thought you wanted to tell them.

Skeen and Lee researched the habits of people in various specialities (software engineers, data scientists and so on), and found “they all hang out in different spaces,” he said.

So over the last six months they have been planning different types of content to suit different social media platforms in order to reach these different audiences. All of our content focusses on ‘finding your happy place at work,’ said Skeen.

Lee observed that Affix has now built up a presence on each channel, and is in a good position to determine exactly what the various groups want.

Asked about the return on investment, Skeen said Affix regards this as a long-term effort aimed at overcoming the industry’s poor reputation. Access to talent is the number one challenge, so the focus is on brand awareness and engagement. The hope is that making a meaningful contribution to the community will result in Affix being regarded as a genuine alternative to traditional recruiters.

“Social [media] is the greatest way to communicate with a broader audience” about that difference,” he said.

Using social media isn’t going to change your business in a month or two – “it’s a long-term investment” that involves testing different tactics. “Be prepared to be human, and be yourself,” he advised, because if your content is the same as your competitors, you’ll be put in the same category as them. Rather, be authentic, and speak to a premium offering with humanity.

Or as Lee expressed it, a business’s use of social media should reflect its reality.

Affix is seeing increased social media engagement levels (one example is the response to content about workplace benefits) and increased website traffic. Twitter impressions are up 462 percent, with page visits up 130 percent and engagement up 50 percent, while LinkedIn engagement has doubled.

Skeen isn’t yet ready to claim a causal relationship, but he sounds optimistic.

Next: experts’ tips for using social media for businesses

Experts' social media tips

Strategic marketing advisor Tina Manolitsas believes small and mid-sized businesses need to consider what the business is about and whether it needs to engage with large groups of people before plunging into social media.

Choose the right platform

Her advice is to think about which channel will be the most helpful towards meeting your business goals – who are you targeting, and where are they? Don’t blindly choose a platform just because that’s where everyone else seems to be going. (Didn’t your primary school teacher warn you about that sort of behaviour?) But it does make sense to see what’s working for your competitors and for similar businesses in other geographical markets, she suggested.

And while it’s tempting to focus on the number of people (or followers), the level of engagement is more important, according to Manolitsas.

If you’re in a B2B market, LinkedIn might be a good choice. An acid test is “Would you talk about this [subject] at a barbecue?” she suggested. If the answer is “no,” you shouldn’t use the more personal channels such as Facebook. But if you are trying to raise your business’s profile or to provide thought leadership within its industry, LinkedIn can be the place.

“YouTube is an underused social platform for businesses,” she observed. People don’t care who you are or what you do, providing you can help solve their problems or make their lives easier.

Provide the right content

“Focus on the pain points your customers have,” advised Manolitsas, whether that’s by showing them how to spend less time on their bookkeeping, or providing a tip that can reduce the number of headaches they get.

Social media involves a lot of work and requires a strategy, she warned. You don’t use it for its own sake, rather as a way of helping you achieve identified business goals. So think about what you need to do, how deep and how broad your efforts should be, and which are the relevant subsets of your audience.

“Tactically, it’s easy,” she said, but are you getting a return on the time or money that you are investing? If not, you need to identify the reasons why, which could be as simple as not using the platform that your audience frequents, or not providing the type of content they seek.

The aim is to “be useful, be helpful” to customers and potential customers, she said. If you don’t include a call to action, you’re having a one-way conversation. So invite comments, or recommend something that will have value for your audience – perhaps a relevant article you’ve recently read, a forthcoming event, or even a useful ebook or app.

Be responsive

“Become as intimate as you possibly can” with customers, as that will allow you to identify what they need.

While some small business operators are right to look after their own social media, others may need specialist help, perhaps in order to reach a particular audience. But it’s not just about social media strategy – not everyone is able to tell a good story, or create great visuals, she observed, so you may need a copywriter, a photographer or an artist.

Keep in mind that not everyone on social media is one of your fans. You may experience a backlash, such as criticism from people that have strongly negative opinions about the sorts of products or services you offer (such as nutritional supplements in general). This can result in social media doing you more harm than good, especially if you end up spending all your time defending your brand or product.

You need to be prepared for this sort of thing before you engage with the public – every small business that uses social media should have a crisis management plan, she says. For example, how are you going to respond if a customer mentions on Facebook or Twitter that her child nearly choked on your product? A natural reaction would be to apologise, but that could be interpreted as admitting fault. So you need to follow a plan - probably one that was prepared with advice from appropriate sources – rather than responding off the cuff.

Having developed a community of satisfied customers can be a great help, as they are likely to support you publicly when complaints are made, leaving you to deal privately with the complainant. If you’ve been helping your customers, they will probably help you.

Don't depend on social alone

More generally, this shows that a social media account isn’t sufficient: a large or small business also needs a social media strategy.

Part of that is that social media shouldn’t be used in isolation. At the very least, your social media and email marketing campaigns should be integrated, said Manolitsas, otherwise you can’t take full advantage of engagement. She likens the situation to the process of bringing another person into a conversation at a networking event – “your platforms have got to be fluid.”

Among the various social media channels, Facebook has particular pros and cons, said design agency Artful owner Nick Sibbing.

Somewhere between 60 and 70 percent of the Australian population have accounts, and for many of them Facebook has become their starting point when using the web, so they expect businesses to be there.

The problem – as Withers also pointed out – is that recent changes to Facebook’s algorithm means the organic (that is unpaid) reach of business pages is dropping significantly. (If you want to find out more about this, the internet marketing community calls it ‘Facebook Zero.’)

Consequently, it is now a lot harder to get your content in front of Facebook users – even those who have already liked your business – unless you pay for advertising. (For a cartoonist’s view of this problem, see Reaching people on the internet – warning: strong language.)

That said, social media is still “a great way to increase referral traffic and get positive reviews,” according to Sibbing, albeit one that requires a substantial time commitment.

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