Tips and traps for using social media for business

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Tips and traps for using social media for business
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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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