Social media is everywhere.

People spend hours everyday posting to Facebook, checking Twitter, viewing Instagram or connecting on Snapchat. For small businesses especially, social media is a game changer. It allows you to build a community of current and potential customers, receiving and distributing feedback and reviews, sharing information and offers, and finding out what customers want. The personalised aspect also allows ads to be targeted at the people most likely to want your product, at a cost that can be as low as pennies per customer.

With so many choices and opportunities it can be hard to know where to start. Here are a few tips to get your business’s social media presence up and running

Know where your audience is

There are many different social media platforms, from the huge giants that every company should have a presence on, Facebook for example is used by a fifth of the world’s population, to the niche, bulletin boards for specific interest groups or professions.

Which platforms you use will come down to audience. If your target market is the over-50s, there is little point being on Snapchat, which is a must if you are targeting 13-25 year-olds. Professionals use LinkedIn, arts and crafts fans adore Pinterest. Consider what you are selling; Instagram is ideal for pictures of products, inspirational images, or letting your customers get an insight into your company ethos. Twitter lets firms show that they are in touch with their field by sharing and commenting on relevant news stories. Take a good look at the various platforms and how they are used, before choosing where your brand belongs.

Make a plan

Before you start posting take a moment to make sure you know what you are doing. For each social media platform, create a written strategy. Do you understand the platform and its users? What do you hope to achieve? What will you do to achieve this? Have companies run into problems from this platform? How will you manage the risks? How will you interact with customers if they inquire or complain over the platform? Knowing what want and how you plan to achieve it will boost your chances of success.

Engage

Social media is a conversation, not just an advert. Don’t talk at your audience, but rather try to talk with them. Listen as much, if not more, than you talk. Above all join the wider conversation that your potential customers are having, instead of just talking about you and your company. A common idea is that you should make 10 posts for every post that advertises your business. The thinking here is that people will switch off and unfollow if your stream is a one-way flow of advertising.

Be careful

Remember that this is not your personal account, where you interact with your friends and social circle. This account is for the business that forms your livelihood. A poorly thought out joke can damage even a multinational’s reputation and the press is littered with stories of social media gone wrong. On the other hand, there a plentiful stories of companies whose quick, personal and helpful responses to customer complaints have turned an unfortunate product experience into a great customer care one.

Think about paying

Being on social media is a good thing for any business, but its true value is for advertising. There is a saying you may have heard to do with social media: “if you’re using a service and not paying, you’re not the customer, you’re the product”. Put more nicely users are buying a service but instead of cash they pay with their data.

 

The power of social media for small businesses is that data, and how it changes the advertising game. In the past for a small business to advertise was a huge outlay for a small chance of being seen by an appropriate potential customer. The masses of data collected by social platforms, turn this cost-benefit ratio on its head. Gone is the scattergun approach: If your ideal customer is a 34-year-old single female in south west London who does yoga and owns a Labrador, Facebook shows your ad only to people who tick all of those boxes. Advertising for small businesses has never been so targeted or so cheap.

Be prepared to work patiently at your social media presence, followings grow slowly, but the two-way communication it allows will pay off.